HELENA — A new exhibition at the Holter Museum of Art called “Healing Art” showcases the work of St. Peter’s Health patients that were hospitalized for a mental health crisis at their Behavioral Health Unit (BHU).
Over the past year, St. Peter’s and the Holter have been partnering to offer “Healing Arts” as a creative outlet, which is part of their holistic approach. While not billed as therapy, hospital staff say there’s no denying the benefits they’ve seen from participating patients.
“The first time [the patient] came in, maybe they weren’t as open or more nervous about it. Over the hour and a half to two hours they just calmed and really got into that flow state and being present,” said St. Peter’s BHU Recreation Therapist Heather Myers, CTRS.
For years, Myers has offered art options to patients, but the partnership with the Holter has taken the team’s therapeutic and recreational offerings to a new level.
“The Holter’s Healing Arts Program on our unit has provided a different level of offering art to our patients. It’s given patients the opportunity to find new ways to be creative while also being therapeutic,” said Myers.
For patient and featured artist Lisa Santillanez, the program helped her rediscover her passion for art and build back up her confidence.
“If it wasn’t for them I probably wouldn’t have been able to get through this pandemic so lightly,” said Santillanez with a laugh. “Everything was just hectic and they were there.”
Santillanez had been working with others in town for her mental health but had gotten o a point where she was ready to try anything. She told MTN she was so thankful she gave the BHU at St. Peter’s a chance.
“It’s a safe environment,” she explained. “They’ve shown me that they are caring beyond all I could ask for and it’s absolutely amazing.”
Santillanez says the help and care they provided has had a tremendous impact on her life and now she wants to help give back. She now volunteers at the Holter and helped set up the exhibition.
Holter Director of Education Sondra Hines says sometimes people can be intimidated because they don’t see themselves as an artist, which is why she works hard to let the patients know that it just supposed to be an expression.
“I’d say, ‘Go easy on yourself. How many times have you uses this kind of ink or how many times have you painted with acrylic paint? So let’s just give it a try,’ and the things that. They come up with are just really inspiring to me,” said Hines.
Although no one is being graded on technical skills, the exhibition is full of truly beautiful pieces. Each piece of the showcase represents a true expression of an individual at that moment.
“I have observed and witnessed amazing things take place through this program for both adult and senior patients,” said Myers. “On one occasion, we were creating rag dolls and the patient needed some encouraging. But she worked through it and created something she was very proud of. She was informed that she could keep her doll or donate it to be displayed in the exhibit. She began crying with tears of joy and gratitude that someone would be interested in seeing her creation.”
Santillanez, Myers and Hines also hope the artwork can help inspire others to not be afraid of seeking out and receiving care for behavioral health at a place like St. Peter’s.
The community can view the exhibit at no-cost by visiting the Holter Museum at 12 E. Lawrence Street in Helena, Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and noon to 4:00 p.m. on Sundays.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, know that help is available. In Lewis and Clark County when people call 9-1-1 that are in crisis, trained behavioral health professionals will be dispatched to the home to help.
The Montana Suicide Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 or you can text “MT” to 741 741. The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.