“Open Space,” Mural in Psychiatric Hospital

Content Warning: mental health, mental illness

My name is David Ohm and I am an Art Therapist currently in the Community Engagement Doctoral Program. I have been involved in community arts projects for 30 years. I am a painter sculptor with an interest in all the arts. This project is a form of activism as it seeks equity of the visual environment. There were aesthetically pleasing environments in medical hospitals, however some psychiatric units were visually unkempt. I began researching and transforming space with aesthetic empathy in mind. The activism was the process of engaging patients using an artist’s identity to collaborate in changing the environment and perception of care at local psychiatric hospital. The unit walls were barren prior to collaborative mural project. The name of the mural is “Open Space” and was a collaboration that began when patients expressed feeling “closed in” at the locked setting, with no windows in the patient areas.

I assert that the patient-artist could benefit from the support of others and from being part of creating this artistic sense of community.

The aforesaid preliminary mural project goals were:

a. To increase patient-artist level of self- confidence via collaborative painting
b. To enhance group cohesion and participation and encourage collaboration between unit staff and patients
c. To encourage a voice for mental health consumers, an often-marginalized group
d. To create a safe space to express thoughts and emotions
e. To create a sense of community and investment in the milieu space and provide an opportunity for patients to be involved in creating something larger than themselves to be viewed by future patients, staff, and visitors
f. To encourage motivation and purpose – because many patients are pessimistic about their future; seeing possibilities and being involved in the murals provides a space for hope and encouragement
g. To encourage discussion and distraction while waiting in a medication line, a possible source of anxiety and an area with a history of aggressive activity
h. To create a restorative, stimulating, recovery-based environment using aesthetic empathy

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David Ohm
David Ohm is an Art Therapist and activist exploring the use of Art to engage mental health communities in developing restorative narratives. He has 30 years' Art Therapy experience and is currently a Community Engagement Doctoral Candidate. Collaborative murals within a psychiatric hospital and community arts projects are his tools for encouraging equity and political change.