By Alyssa Stein
Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., recently began a very unique outreach strategy designed to combat the stigma surrounding mental health and psychiatric hospitals. Through its newest partnership with Dutch arts-residence program Beautiful Distress Foundation, and additional help from New York-based non-profit Residency Unlimited, Dutch artists have taken residency in the hospital’s Behavioral Health Center, where they serve as both mentors and participants in the hospital’s progressive art therapy programs. This program began last year and is currently hosting its second artist-in-residence, Aldo van den Broek, an Amsterdam-native and painter who has spent much of his career based in Berlin.
Through their residencies, artists like van den Broek are not necessarily taking on the roles of art therapists, but are instead opening up doors to meet and collaborate with patients on their own terms. “The artists are here to be influenced in this environment,” explains Carlos Rodriguez Perez, Director of the Wellness and Recovery Division at Kings County. “The artists can have as much freedom in meeting and collaborating with the patients as they want.”
While some patients have been apprehensive about the arrival of the artists, they typically become more welcoming as time progresses. “The patients connect [with the artists] by trying to figure out ‘who are you and how am I relating to you,’ and in that it has been very, very positive,” he adds.
Though the partnership may be only in its infancy, there are big plans for its future. Kings County has arranged for one more artist-in-residence and is hoping for a group exhibition featuring pieces from all three participating artists upon completion. “The main aim of the Beautiful Distress Foundation is to reduce the stigma of mental illness by creating this residency,” Rodriguez Perez states. “In that sense, having a group exhibition of the work of the three artists would help communicate that to the outside world and community. Psychiatric institutions tend to become very insular, which creates stigma. We want to open it up, and what better way than to use art to start bringing attention and connecting with the community in Brooklyn and beyond?”