Entering its tenth year, National Alliance on Mental Illness Wisconsin’s healing art show looks to give people with mental illnesses a creative outlet that brings the whole community together.

What began in a NAMI office conference room in 2006 with just a few visitors has now become an event that attracts more than 200 people annually. NAMI spokesperson Jamie Gurgul said this year’s exhibit showcased art from 35 artists from a variety of backgrounds representing different parts of Wisconsin. Having artists with different experiences with mental illness is what makes the show so unique and powerful, she said.

The whole purpose is to showcase artist talent rather than a disability caused from a diagnosis of a mental illness,” Gurgul said.

Gurgul said having an outlet like art helps people connect with their emotions, thoughts and feelings in an “incredible, beautiful” manner. Each artist uses art in a different way, which can aid in their recovery from mental illness. 

Jed Dietenberger, a 40-year-old artist who has been displaying his art at NAMI’s shows since 2015, said drawing and painting has been a therapeutic outlet for him for “as far back as [he] can remember.” Dietenberger, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder, said being part of the show was “freeing” and really pushed him and other artists like him to celebrate their issues and the ways in which they coped.

It was the first time that I had publicly displayed paintings and it was a genuine thrill just to be a part of it and the opening night festivities had my heart grinning ear to ear,” Dietenberger said. “If one’s heart can grin ear to ear.”

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Dietenberger, whose artist name is “Jed” (not Jedidiah), said showcasing his art allowed him to show others just how important it is and what it means to him. Even if people do not fully understand the “pain and ugliness” that goes into his work, Dietenberger said there is beauty in creating something that makes people think.

Several community members have shown interest in the healing art show and this interest has been growing, Gurgul said. Artists and community members had an opportunity to meet Oct. 7 when the show opened, which Gurgul said was a “really special moment” for everyone.

While NAMI’s University of Wisconsin chapter did not directly play a role in the showcase, UW NAMI students did work toward spreading the word on the showcase among students, Gurgul said.

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Dietenberger said NAMI has been an invaluable part of his recovery and has shown him that he can be an “active and beautiful” part of a solution. Being able to share with and listen to others has given him the ability to see humor in his problems and help others see it in theirs as well. Dietenberger said it is important that people know there is support for them if they need it.

“I’ve only ever wanted to express those feelings and would encourage everyone reading this to do the same,” Dietenberger said. “Draw, dance, paint, sing, etc. — if we never try, we never succeed and I’ll never paint the Mona Lisa, but then again, Leonardo da Vinci never used enough glitter for my tastes.”

NAMI Wisconsin’s healing art show runs until Nov. 30 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is located at 1709 Aberg Avenue.