Youth-led Project in Medfield Demonstrates Power of Art & Creative Expression in Mental Health & Community Well-Being
On Sunday, October 17th, more than 150 members of the Medfield community gathered at the former Medfield State Hospital to experience a youth-led public art project called “Reaching Into Medfield.”
“Reaching into Medfield” is a unique partnership between young people, artists, and mental health care professionals, that demonstrates the power of art and creative expression to improve mental health and community well-being.
As the first gathering to mark the transformation of the space into a new arts & culture center, the event unveiled a series of colorful mosaic tiles and wooden benches restored and redesigned with life-affirming mosaics conveying messages such as “Hope” and “Resilience.” On the benches and tiles, QR codes were placed that have links to videos made by the students explaining the project, suicide hotlines, and other services for those in need of mental health support. The students noted the symbolism of addressing mental health through community-based creative expression in a place where those struggling with mental illness were often isolated and forgotten not that long ago.
“Today, we see mental health as a common focus in our lives, and something that we shouldn’t feel is a foreign topic. Instead of avoiding and pushing away the all-too-important issue we have on our hands, we have made great steps toward giving people the resources they need to heal. We still have large steps to make in our battle with mental health, but let this place be a source of hope for how far we have come,” said Tay Frankel, Medfield High School student.
SPOKE worked alongside the Cultural Alliance of Medfield, Medfield Outreach, Medfield Cares About Prevention (MCAP), and students from Medfield High School to create a project to raise awareness and change the stigma surrounding mental health care, serving as a foundation for substance abuse prevention.
After receiving funding from the Drug-Free Communities Grant, the Medfield Cultural Council, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Cultural Alliance of Medfield, and the Medfield Cares About Prevention (MCAP) coalition set out to create a project rooted in substance abuse prevention. Executive Director of the Cultural Alliance of Medfield Jean Mineo called upon SPOKE Founder/Artistic Director Michael Dowling and his organization to help facilitate this creative placemaking initiative, due to his celebrated work at No Man’s Land and in South Boston’s Old Colony neighborhood.
The question, “What issues need to be addressed in Medfield?” was posed to the students, and was explored through dialogue and writing exercises in poetry and spoken word. After considering the issues of social pressure, substance abuse, and racial injustice in their town, the group recognized that all of these were rooted in mental health, and ultimately chose this overarching problem as the topic for their project.
“Prevention is prevention is prevention,” said Meri Haas, Substance Use Prevention Coordinator with Medfield Outreach. “Attributing greater importance to mental health is the foundation of substance use prevention. It’s all the same work. It’s about creating connections and lifting barriers to care, and having real conversations.”
The group came upon four benches that were awkwardly, sporadically spread out on the grounds. These benches – this manifestation of being in conversation with others and fostering connection – became the focus of the project. “These benches here are the same ones many people had to sit on during their most difficult times [at the Medfield State Hospital]. We hope our repurposing of these benches gives people a space to be themselves,” said Chloe Hunt, Medfield High School student. Under SPOKE’s project leadership, the benches were redone with mosaic slats that contain inspirational words related to mental health from their poetry exercises: “fearless,” “resilient,” “hopeful for world’s strength,” and “bravery.” In the refurbishment process, the original wood of the benches was discovered to be purple heart rainforest wood – a beauty that would have never been revealed without the love, labor, and thought poured into this project.
”It was more than a collaboration, it was cooperation, it was a connector. No one voice or organization put in more than the other, we were all invested, as well as the youth.” said Haas. “With the heart that SPOKE’s Michael and Richie brought to the project, they encouraged us all to be brave in our words and actions. Uniting Medfield students and South Boston teaching artists was a valuable cultural interaction that wouldn’t have happened without this project.”
Despite the students’ concerns about how the project would be received by the community, due to the stigma surrounding mental health and substance abuse, and preconceived ageism questioning the value of young peoples’ perspectives, the culminating event was a success. Community members from all generations, old and young, came out to support the students, along with one Medfield Selectmen Osler “Pete” Peterson, and Medfield TV to capture it all. The afternoon was complete with speeches from the students, rock painting, face painting, quilt-square making for SPOKE’s upcoming “Touched” installation, and music from SPOKE’s Daniel Morrison Fellow Charles Murrell III.
The Medfield community was incredibly impressed by this unique, collaborative, youth-led program. “Youth are typically meant to receive information, but they were the leaders here, which was the goal for this project to begin with. It was very important for us to get that idea across to the community.” The success of this project will act as a catalyst for future youth-led programs, as Medfield Outreach is newly inspired to create a youth coalition that will lead their prevention efforts.
This program is supported in part by a grant from the Medfield Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.
SPOKE activates art to heal, transform communities, and drive social progress across Greater Boston. We work alongside artists to triage urgent public problems, from addiction and alcoholism to racial justice, HIV/AIDS, and climate change. We create public spaces that inspire and heal. Young people learn and grow as essential contributors to our work. Creating art together, we reach a deeper understanding of ourselves, each other, and the world we share. For more information, visit https://mwponline.org/wordpress/.
About The Cultural Alliance of Medfield (CAM):
The Cultural Alliance of Medfield (CAM) is a 501(c)3 organization established in 2015 to support artists, expand cultural opportunities and nurture the creative community. CAM holds a lease on two buildings at the former Medfield State Hospital to create a performing arts and education center. For more information, visit www.MedfieldCulture.org.
About Medfield Cares About Prevention (MCAP):
Medfield Cares About Prevention (MCAP) is a coalition of people who live and work in the Medfield community and who care about the well-being of our youth. This coalition has broad representation of parents, youth, businesses, schools, healthcare professionals, private organizations, and public agencies. MCAP’s mission is to reduce youth substance use, promote healthy decisions, and build a culture of safety in Medfield. MCAP is currently working to specifically target alcohol, marijuana and electronic vapor products and to promote positive alternatives to substance use through community collaboration.
About Medfield Outreach:
Medfield Outreach is a municipal department of the Town of Medfield, serving the social, emotional, and financial needs of Medfield residents. Through collaboration with a wide network of organizations, professional associations, religious institutions, consortiums, and civic groups, Medfield Outreach provides a variety of services including:
· Free and confidential counseling services
· Referrals to needs-based assistance and services
· Prevention Programs
Interested in joining the coalition? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information, follow us on social media @medfieldcares or visit https://medfieldcares.org
We invite you to celebrate the grand opening of Reaching Into Medfield’s Collaborative Art Project on Sunday, October 17 at 2 PM. This public art project explores student perspectives around fitting in; being good enough; achieving; finding purpose; mental health; and substance use. This group has come together to connect with each other and the community-at-large to remind us that the struggle is real – but so is our support for each other. Come see what we’ve created!
The hard work put into this project by this group of Medfield High School students will be celebrated with the community that it intends to serve and hold space for. There will be speakers, music, food, activities, and even a spoken word performance by the students responsible for the creation of the project.
We hope that you will join us to reflect on the vision, process, and creation put into this project by local youth. These upcycled benches are a symbol of our communal struggles and the dream of a future where we can talk about mental health more openly, encourage each other’s creativity, and explore these themes of struggle & resilience that touch us all.
In 2003, the once bustling grounds of the Medfield State Hospital (originally known as the Medfield Insane Asylum) shut down and the space lay abandoned despite the occasional trespassing. However, the potential of these grounds to host exciting opportunities did not go unnoticed for long. The old medical facility may appear to be shrouded in mystery, but in reality, it is unfolding into a colorful haven for local creatives.
SPOKE was invited by the Medfield Cultural Alliance to pair up with Medfield Outreach and gather a group of local teenagers to work on cultivating an artistic healing space on the grounds of the hospital. The focus of the project was to create a piece that would spark a greater dialogue between these teenage artists and their audience on issues of substance abuse in the community. The site had been previously known for being a space where folks would come to drink alcohol and use drugs. However, as the project progressed, it was revealed to those participating that substance abuse itself was much more than a one-dimensional issue – it was one that was deeply interlaced with societal pressures, lack of community, the stigma around mental health, and more.
The group came upon four benches that were awkwardly located on the grounds. Benches are meant to be a place for folks to come gather with each other and appreciate what’s around them, but the state and placement of these benches created a sense of confinement instead. These benches – this tangible, small element of being in community with others – became the focus of a beautiful project. The benches were redone with mosaic slats that contain inspirational words or sayings: fearless, resilient, hopeful for world’s strength, and bravery. After being stripped down, the original wood of the benches was discovered to be purple heart rainforest wood – a beauty that would have never been revealed without the love, labor, and thought poured into this project. On the benches, QR codes were placed that have links to suicide hotlines and other services that those in need of mental health support could utilize.