BRITISH COLUMBIA

Art Therapy Program Cuts Endanger Mental Health, Say Patients

07/05/2013 08:41 EDT | Updated 09/06/2013 05:12 EDT
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Participants in a unique art therapy program run by Vancouver Coastal Health for people with mental illness are fighting to keep the 21-year-old program alive.

About 600 people participate in the programs offered at The Art Studios every year, taking a variety of classes that combine artwork with therapy, counselling and skill building.

The studio, at East 44th Avenue and Victoria Drive, is slated to be closed in August after Vancouver Coastal Health announced cuts to mental health programs in June.

Julie Kerr, who has bipolar disorder, has been taking classes at The Art Studios for two years.

"It's not just an art class, it's a community, it's a safe haven, it's a place where people can express themselves," she said at a rally organized by the studio on Friday.

More than two dozen people gathered in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery Friday to protest The Art Studios' closure.

"They're taking away our medicine. They're putting people at risk of relapse or worse."

Kerr and the other participants say organizing a public rally was stressful for them, but they felt they had to do something to save the unique program, which encourages participants to become teachers.

"It brought me out of my shell again. Made me want to get up in front of the class and talk to people," said Colleen McNeil, an instructor at The Art Studios. "Art has always been my one constant companion, my one true saviour."

Clay Adams, spokesman for Vancouver Coastal Health, says the program costs $350,000 a year.

"We took a hard look at it and realized that while they are doing very good work, very good therapeutic work, it wasn't really falling within the mandate of direct or core services," he said, adding that the health authority was looking for alternative funding from private donors or grants.

On Friday, Vancouver Councillor Kerry Jang attended the rally and said he is hoping to find municipal funding to keep The Art Studios open.

"Arts program like this are absolutely essential to make sure people stay well," he said.

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