Amy Kinney’s Story & Art
My name is Amy Kinney and I am an artist, teacher and advocate. When first hospitalized for treatment of depression, anxiety and an eating disorder, I began drawing pictures to express my unspoken feelings. The meaning of these drawings changed on the day I was asked to join someone else’s family therapy meeting. In stunned silence, I watched a fellow patient open my tiny sketch pad and then turning it toward her parents and doctors, point emphatically at one picture and exclaim, “This! This is what I’ve been trying to tell you!” Though still far from healthy, the patient’s words crept into my then hollow spirit to inspire a purpose for living. And so began Healing Through Art, a project demonstrating how artistic expression can promote emotional healing while also educating the community about mental illness.
Opening up about my struggles and publicly sharing my artwork is a major part of my healing and transformation. By focusing my creative life on helping others, I am able to reach out to the greater community with my artwork and initiate conversations where they are very much needed. Art is a simple yet powerful tool for engaging people in conversations that are not whispered in secrecy.
Seeking assistance from the community for each artistic endeavor is one way to provide the opportunity for these conversations. An example of this cooperation is the display entitled, “Unraveling My Purple Sweater: The Beginning of My Journey Through Depression.” This exhibit travels nationwide and showcases prints of the original hospital drawings, telling my story from the darkest moments to the early seeds of hope. I encourage members of the local community to assist with extensive set-up and take down of the exhibit whenever it is displayed. This collaboration introduces different populations to each other and effortlessly establishes a meaningful link between them.
Dedication shells hang alongside the artwork on knitted scarves donated to the project. These shells are purchased at the exhibit in honor or memory of a loved one and help to fund the entire Healing Through Art project. The sacred quietness when the scarves are being unrolled is amazing as the set-up crew realizes what they are holding. Everyone starts to read the messages and suddenly it is a powerful new exhibit reaching far beyond my drawings. Visitors often end up walking through the show several times, once for my artwork and then again for the shells. After writing a dedication, an individual may choose where in the exhibit to hang it, most often going back to the image that connected to his or her own experiences. The shells remain as a permanent fixture of the exhibit, creating a living tribute to all those who suffer. Walking through the “Unraveling My Purple Sweater” exhibit tells not one person’s journey, but a community of stories literally woven together through hope.
The original hospital drawings were also published as an art book by the same name. While Unraveling My Purple Sweater is available for purchase, I also established an Art Book Donation Program to sponsor copies for donation to local schools, community programs and mental health organizations on Cape Cod. This program aims to increase exposure to Cape residents of the healing power of artistic expression, while also reaching out to individuals in need, and raising awareness about mental illness. Anyone opening a sponsored book will find a book plate naming both the recipient and the sponsor, displaying to the reader how the community came forward to support the arts and spread hope and healing for the mentally ill.
Having gone through times of despair myself, I now act as a Lay Minister at First Parish Brewster Unitarian Universalist Church to reach out to those who are suffering. The Lay Ministry Program supports the healing of emotional, physical and spiritual needs of individuals and will soon incorporate expressive arts as part of its outreach work.
Similarly, I co-facilitate expressive art projects for patients at the Psych Center of Cape Cod Hospital and am assisting in the development of an outpatient peer support program. Independent of the professional medical community, this program will allow individuals the opportunity to learn from each others’ experiences, share healthy coping strategies and offer each other encouragement through the ups and downs of healing.
I also feel strongly about offering support to the families and caregivers of people living with a mental illness. One method of doing this is through groups like NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) whose “Family To Family” course is an educational program for friends and family members of the struggling individuals.
Participating as a guest speaker, I role play, and begin by saying, “For tonight, let me be your loved one.” After viewing and experiencing the drawings from “Unraveling My Purple Sweater,” many course participants are inspired to ask me questions that may be too emotionally charged to ask their own family members. Receiving honest and candid answers can provide insight, encouragement and hope in a very unique way. I may not be able to speak exactly for their loved ones, but perhaps hearing my own experiences can offer a new perspective and glimmer of understanding. At the same time, I’ve learned so much about my own family from these groups.
The most important part of my healing is continuing to pursue my own life as a visual artist. My recent works are on display at Portside Gallery in Dennisport and at the Cape Cod Art Association in Barnstable. Continuing to create and share artwork is an important part of maintaining my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Some people do yoga or tai chi to center themselves; others find solace in reiki or kembali. Like many artists who describe their artwork as their sanity or refuge, my peace and healing comes from artistic expression. Creative energy nourishes my spirit, connects me to the world and acts as a form of meditation.
I can remember back to when I hid my artwork in fear, believing that it was not “real art.” Sadly, many other artists still do not believe in the worth of their creations. Having overcome this hurdle of self-confidence, I now know it is important for these artists to receive encouragement and support for their creative process even if they do not want to display their work. Should artists express interest in sharing, my online Community Gallery offers a safe venue to begin this journey.
One member of the Community Gallery describes his experience. “When I was putting my work onto the Community Gallery website, Amy took the time to act as a mentor to me…I was very fearful that I was not good enough as an artist. [Selling my drawings] gave me the confidence to make personal contacts and share my business cards…It opened up a whole new world to me.” For many, it is the first public display of their artwork. The non-competitive environment supports them through the initial process of presenting it.
When I first started the Healing Through Art project, I talked about all the things that I intended to do someday as an artist. Now all the pieces are coming together and the universe is telling me that I am ready for the next step. I move forward on my journey of healing, embracing each opportunity with enthusiasm, and quietly encouraging you to remember the “art” in “healing arts.” - CHA
Local sponsors to the Art Book Donation Program currently include the Seagull Motel in Truro, the Portuguese Bakery in Provincetown, Beans and Bears in Dennisport, Stella Pizza in Orleans, individual teachers at Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in Harwich, and The Family School in Brewster, as well as numerous anonymous friends. The Unraveling My Purple Sweater exhibit will display twice on Cape Cod in the upcoming year: at the Psych Center of Cape Cod Hospital and First Parish Brewster Unitarian Universalist Church. To participate as a sponsor in the Art Book Donation Program or to learn more about “Healing Through Art” and upcoming events, please visit www.amys-art.com or contact Amy by email at email@example.com.