In an effort to take part of Mental Health Awareness Month, the Arts Warehouse partnered with Deon Jefferson and BeWellPBC to host not only an event, but also a month-long exhibit that shined a light on mental health and our local artists.
“The idea for Express Yourself Fashion Art Ball was one of inclusiveness, awareness, and celebration of a topic (mental health) that is sometimes overlooked or shied away from. Arts Warehouse supports creative expression, and I thought this was a perfect opportunity to showcase different types of art – visual, performance, fashion – to be able to reach a broader audience with mental health awareness,” said Grace Gdaniec, Arts Warehouse manager. “Additionally, partnering with Deon Jefferson and BeWellPBC was a great match. It’s important to support other organizations with a strong message, and give them a space to get the message across. We’re glad that Arts Warehouse was a good fit as a venue for the event.”
The Express Yourself Fashion Art Ball was held at the Arts Warehouse on Saturday, May 8 from 6 to 8 p.m. with a goal to help break the stigma of mental illness and to encourage people to get the help they need. The Art Ball encompassed the visual arts on multiple levels, including an art exhibition and fashion show. The goal was to ultimately draw attention to mental health and the importance of openness and representation of various mental health issues in different arenas.
“I received a grant from BeWellPBC, which is a community initiative that deals with mental and behavioral health. The grant funded some of the decor for the event as well as the website that we used for promotion,” said Deon Jefferson, a creative artist, journalist, singer, and designer. “Because of the grant, we were able to pay for promotion, production of a few of the dresses, the shipping of the dresses, the deejay, a few of the promotional photoshoots, and so much more. Because of the grant, the admission was free.”
The team received submissions from more than 100 artists to be part of the exhibition, and selected a final 21 artists and 22 works in total. It’s a great exhibition, exploring different aspects of mental health, relationships, and self-reflection through 2D and 3D mediums, with all of the fashion show clothing being custom made. Visitors of the exhibition were also able to read each artist’s statement about their piece, which is a great way to keep the conversation going about mental health, said Gdaniec.
For Jefferson, it’s also about supporting the local artist community in Palm Beach County. Because COVID slowed a lot of venues and workspaces for artists, his goal was to give them the freedom to showcase what they’ve been working on. Also, to shine light on mental illness from a fashion, art and music angle.
“I think that talking about mental health is very important because so many people have the wrong idea of what it means. Before really diving into the project, I never really took the time to educate myself on what mental illness was,” said Jefferson, whose grandmother and grandfather both had Alzheimers. “My understanding of mental health was that if you had the illness, you were crazy. Learning about someone’s mental struggles can help you interact with people, strengthen your relationships, and navigate through life being more considerate.”
While the event was – for now – a one-off function, because it was so well received, Jefferson and Gdaniec both hope that there can be a “part two” or annual aspect.
“It’s important to remember that those living with mental health issues, or with people in their lives that are, that they are deserving of understanding, compassion, and perhaps tools to assist with daily life. This narrative can be showcased through many avenues, including visual art. Reaching an audience through art may impact someone more than perhaps reading an article or listening to a podcast about it,” Gdaniec said. “Also, seeing mental health – on varying levels – expressed in a person’s artwork really adds a person and approachable connection to something that may seem foreign to some. Ultimately, being able to express ourselves and be compassionate individuals towards one another make for a better community makeup.”
Overall, the event was a celebration of community. Breaking free of the stigma that mental health circumstances may not be something usually spoken about or shared with one another, which can be isolating. In true Delray Beach fashion, community once again came together to lift each other up!