Every Thursday at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in the west end of Toronto, sterile plastic chairs are pushed aside to make way for a graffiti-covered cart stocked with paint, felt, scissors and paper.
Patients peek their heads into the otherwise grey, multi-purpose room, lured by the sound of laughter. Disposable water bottles filled with bright paints are piled around large white sheets of paper on tables as patients gather around, tools in hand.
The Art Cart program is run by Gifts of Light, a group funded entirely by donations that supplies patients with free hygiene products, clothing — and now, art classes. It began as a pilot project one year ago and has expanded to offer improv comedy classes, painting and drum-making.
Sheri Stranger, an instructor for the Art Cart sessions, came to art as a way to deal with her own mental health struggles.
“For me any kind of art is art therapy,” she says. “I like doing expressive arts … because you don’t have to have any art skills to do it.”
Gifts of Light manager Quinn Kirby says staff have been blown away by the results.
“It just sparks this other aspect to the treatment,” she says. “I think a lot of people can really bond over this.”
For Delroy Flowers, 40, the classes are a part of a weekly routine that he looks forward to. He says painting helps him relax and treat his schizophrenia.
“When you do it by yourself, you’re not so relaxed. But when you do it with other people, you actually grow,” he says.
Staff say many of their patients rarely see visitors, so the art classes help break up the boredom. Many patients say they plan to take their new skills and the lessons that come with them and into recovery.
“Just like life, sometimes you got to wipe it clean and start all over again,” says Stranger, as she does just that to paint on a canvas.
“See? I just learned something new,” replies Flowers.