Stopping stigma, saving self-esteem

Art on the Street event includes over 22 artists

Street Health Centre counsellor Kelly Sexsmith says the goal of Art on the Street is to reduce stigma and build self-esteem for the artists involved.
Street Health Centre counsellor Kelly Sexsmith says the goal of Art on the Street is to reduce stigma and build self-esteem for the artists involved.

Four porcelain enclosed walls didn’t stop John MacFarlane from creating his art.

He’s one of many who’ve created their art for the Art on the Street exhibit from inside Kingston Penitentiary, the place he ended up after committing a series of bank robberies.

Art on the Street has had over 200 individual pieces shown in the past six years of its existence.

The annual exhibit showcases the work of Street Health Centre clients, those who’ve dealt with long-term substance abuse or mental health problems.

Kelly Sexsmith is the Street Health Centre counsellor responsible for coming up with the original concept for the art show.

“People have to apply to get a registration to produce art in prison, but John’s being released this year so he’ll be able to be at the show, which will be nice,” she said. The exhibit, which varies from drawings of jumbled up words to picturesque nature, has 22 artists involved this year.

Sexsmith said the main goal of the show is two-fold: reduce the stigma coming from the viewers and build up the self-esteem of the artists.

“We really try not to target the fact that these people’s lives might have been marginalized,” she said.

The quality of the artwork on the walls was as good as anything viewed at another Kingston art gallery. The intricacies and attention paid to detail in each piece was, to say the least, breathtaking.

“There are some people who have been involved in the program year after year and you look at their artwork and see how it’s completely evolved and they get more serious about it,” she said. “Where they’re at now in their art is pretty phenomenal.”

All the necessary components of the exhibit are donated — from the food and refreshments to the lighting and floors themselves.

None of the artwork submitted is eliminated, Sexsmith said.

It’s important that the artists feel their work is being presented in a professional artistic setting, she said.

Most of the pieces of art currently on exhibit are for sale, and Sexmith said 90 per cent of the profit goes to the artist, with 10 per cent being used to offset costs for the exhibit, as opposed to the 40 to 60 per cent that galleries usually take.

Sexsmith said this show is unique in the physical and emotional feedback it can give the artists.

“I think the artists just want to talk to people — it’s sort of the biggest event for their year.”

Art on the Street runs until Sunday night at 275 Princess St.

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