A wonderful article in the Pioneer Presss about A=RT - the project started by LLC member Shelly Losee.
With fresh paint and unique works by local artists, the Ramsey County Detoxification Center looks less like a jail.
The change is the result of work by a group of Lowertown St. Paul artists called Art Equals Real Transformation, or A=rt, who place art in health facilities that have limited funding -- state-run hospitals, county detox centers and homeless shelters -- in hopes they will be more conducive to healing. The detoxification center on University Avenue in St. Paul is its first project.
"When you know somebody who has struggled with addiction or mental health and they're just a person to you, you just want them to have something beautiful," said full-time social worker and part-time artist Shelly Losse, who is leading the project.
Tom Abel of St. Paul created this mixed-medium piece titled "A Bridge To Health and Wellness" out of hollow ceramic rocks, glass, and maple wood for the Ramsey County detox center in St. Paul. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)
While many hospitals, such as Mayo Clinic in Rochester, have large budgets or grants to purchase and display art, most state-run facilities have little or no budget for art. As a result, many facilities, especially in rural Minnesota, have bare, beige walls. Some have no windows, poor lighting and other aesthetic issues, Losse said. She said many of the clients who are admitted to these centers feel like they are being brought to a correctional facility instead of a healing center.
Losse came up with the idea for A=rt in January after she toured the detox center, noticed the blank walls and heard about the center's desire to change -- spotlighting art is just one of many steps the facility has taken.
"When you're on the other side of it as a social worker trying to convince somebody to go get help, they go, 'I don't want to go to that place,' " said Loss, whose clients in Dakota County are referred to the detox center. "But now I think I could really say, 'Oh, it's going to be OK.' "
In a matter of months, Losse and her team raised almost $30,000 for the program by selling T-shirts and prints of artwork that will fill the walls of the center. They took steps to change their organization's status from for-profit to nonprofit and soon will be supported by Springboard for the Arts. The one hurdle the team had to jump for the detox center project was getting permission from the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners.
"We're very rule-bound here," said Alyssa Conducy, who manages the county's chemical and adult mental health programs. "Hanging a picture can take months."
But the county has placed priority on improving mental health services, said County Commissioner Rafael Ortega, and board members approved the idea.
"It was just a matter of folks getting connected with the fabric of the community, determining what are the needs," Ortega said. "Folks stepped up to the plate."
The idea of art in a health care facility is nothing new.
More than a century ago, nursing theorist Florence Nightingale emphasized the importance of not only fresh air, sunlight and cleanliness, but changes in color and art in health care institutions.
"Art can not only reduce anxiety and stress and have a positive space, but art can also just sometimes be a stimulus and catalyst for people to reflect. And it can be conducive to the whole process to healing," said Mary Jo Kreitzer, founder and director of the University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality and Healing.
The artists who contributed to the detox center put much thought into the subject matter of their pieces and the placement within the facility, Losse said.
For example, ceramist Tom Abel purposefully cracks his pottery. Since many of the people Losse works with describe themselves as "broken," she thought his art would be perfect for the facility.
After several attempts at creating the perfect piece, he crafted a rickety wooden bridge over shattered glass water, with fractured, rocky shores. He said the meaning of his piece is that the bridge to healing isn't always easy.
Contributing artist Kristi Abbott creates artwork out of hundreds of pieces of paper. She said she wants individuals to see the pieces and remember that, although life can be messy and torn apart sometimes, each piece is part of a greater whole.
Before A=rt came to the center, the first thing most arriving clients saw was a plain concrete wall, Losse said. Now blue, the wall is adorned with one of Losse's paintings of blue wildflowers with white stars and gold circles in their centers, representing Buddhist ideals of enlightenment.
As she painted the piece, Losse said, she had in mind a quote from poet Mary Oliver: "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
When the artists came to put up art in the facility, they explained the meaning of each of their pieces to the staff.
"They about had us in tears," Bob Rohret, the center's program director, said.
The artists' final project in the detox center is to redo the seclusion rooms. The rooms are a challenge to decorate, Losse said. During withdrawals, individuals may fall or hallucinate and see things like bugs and want to hit the walls. Almost all of the surfaces in these rooms minus the ceilings are padded.
Three contributing artists -- Abel, Joseph Sip and Kristi Abbott -- discussed possible solutions, which include creating fiber art, painting blue skies on the ceilings or airbrushing art in portions of the rooms.
A=rt plans to transform three more facilities in 2015 -- the Ramsey County Mental Health Center, a homeless shelter and its biggest project yet, the Juvenile and Family Justice Center.
Each project is different, Losse said. In some locations, the organizaiton might offer art classes, in others it might refurnish and replace lighting. But all of them will include art.
Losse said her project has opened doors for many facilities that were looking for inspiration to change. Since the installation of her art, the Ramsey County Detoxification Center has considered changing its food and playing music.
Before the new Ramsey County Detoxification Center was built three years ago as part of an effort to improve chemical dependency and mental health services, Losse might have had a much harder time implementing her plan.
The old facility at 16 E. Kellogg Blvd. had no windows, no painted walls and certainly no art.
"It was very institutional-looking, and it was run like an institution," Rohret said.
He said many facilities throughout the state and the nation are still run this way. Other changes at the center include new training for trauma-informed care, motivational interviewing and peer advocates. Additionally, the center has unlocked its doors so that individuals admitted are not held against their will.
"We want to be a place where people choose to come here to get help, rather than a place where they feel coerced or are dragged in," Rohret said.
Nursing supervisor Nina Keeling, who has been at the Ramsey detox centers for 12 years, said that since the county has brought in new training and art, she has seen significant positive changes for the patients and staff, such as an increase in the number of self-admitted patients, fewer patient stays in seclusion rooms for bad behavior and a drop in worker injuries.
Ortega said that even with financial limitations, a statewide transformation is possible.
"We're hoping that we're a model to many of the counties," he said, "because if it becomes a priority to many of the counties throughout the state, then we have a case for the state Legislature that this is needed."