The Columbus Program exhibits works by artists impacted by mental illness and substance use disorders

Fresh AIR strives to break the stigma, educate the community, and focus on the artistic vision and professional development of program artists.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Fresh AIR (Artists In Recovery) Gallery is an art gallery in Columbus with a unique mission: to exhibit works by artists with mental illness and substance use disorders.

A program of the not-for-profit Southeast Healthcare mental, behavioral and primary health care clinic located in the city’s downtown core, Fresh AIR strives to break stigma, educate the community and focus on the artistic vision and professional development of the artists in the program.

With an emphasis on using art as therapy, the Fresh AIR program offers participants a variety of ways to address their mental health and addiction issues through self-expression.

“My art helps me explore the deep, inner part of me that I can’t express,” says Marianne Philip, a multimedia artist who found solace in her former mental health and addiction struggles through the program. “If it wasn’t for art, if it wasn’t for Fresh AIR Gallery, I wouldn’t know where I would be.”

For program participants, Fresh AIR not only provides an outlet for creativity, but also a supportive community.

“Mental health issues and substance use issues can be incredibly isolating, so having art as a way to reconnect with society and build those relationships is also a key part of how important recovery is,” says Lauren Pond, director of the Fresh AIR Gallery. .

“Being in this environment helped me to feel that I was not alone”, reinforces Philip.

And it’s not just a supportive community for gallery artists. The program also helps foster support from the broader arts community.

“I’ve had people come out of carpentry and [tell] talk to me about their depression or anxiety issues,” says Kristin Morris, another artist-in-residence on the program. “I no longer feel like I’m alone; I feel like I belong to a community of people.

Morris is a sculptor who came to Fresh AIR with a long history of mental health issues, including obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to Morris, she is able to channel her OCD into her artwork, which includes making clay figurines with incredibly fine detail work.

“It’s been such an amazing experience for me,” she says. “It’s been so positive.”

All Fresh AIR studio artists complete the mission of the program, which means they have all been impacted in some way by mental health and/or addiction issues. Providing workspace for these resident artists is one aspect of the Fresh AIR program. Another is the presentation of artists through gallery exhibitions.

During the pandemic, the exhibit space in the lobby of Southeast Healthcare’s downtown building was closed in order to provide safer patient care. Fortunately, the program was able to repurpose some of its grant-funded studio space in the Chromedge Studios building in Franklinton to accommodate exhibits.

The exhibition which opened in April 2022 is a collection of new works by painter Austin Tolliver. Tolliver turned to art as a way to help manage symptoms of anxiety and depression. Tolliver is grateful for an environment like Fresh AIR where he can interact with people who, by the nature of the gallery’s mission, already have an understanding of Tolliver’s background and the nature of his creative inspiration.

“Coming here is great to not worry about judgment and to be able to be yourself,” Tolliver says. He explains that it’s more comfortable to be in a space where he knows he’ll be around people who already know some of what he’s going through. “I find it very exhausting when I have to walk into a room and face people like, ‘What’s wrong? Are you tired? What’s going on? How are you?'”

“I think art is a phenomenal thing for getting in touch with your feelings and your sanity,” Morris says of her willingness to incorporate her artistic pursuits into all aspects of her healing journey. “It’s so nice to be able to express yourself…in everything you do. It’s so powerful.

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