Free your mind, and the rest will follow.
Maybe it’s not that simple, but the newest exhibit at the Rochester Art Center certainly conveys the inverse: If you’re struggling mentally, every other part of your life will suffer.
Hosted by Mayo Clinic, Mental Health: Mind Matters traveled from the Science Museum of Minnesota to Rochester early in May. It’s the second summer science exhibit hosted by the Rochester Art Center (after last year’s stint with Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code).
It’s bigger (as in, it took two semi trucks to get it here in early May, says RAC artistic director Sheila Dickinson). And the exhibit takes up the entire second floor of the Art Center, instead of just the main galleries.
Most importantly, it’ll have an impact on Rochester long after this summer.
The Mind Matters exhibit won’t ask you to put yourself in a mentally ill person’s shoes … but you may find yourself in their living room.
While making your way through the exhibit, you’ll have a chance to look at depictions of mental illness—and societal reactions—in tiny toy theater sets. Test your knowledge of common mental illnesses. Slip on noise-distorting headphones to get a first-person experience of how some people with psychoses have trouble filtering out noises around them.
Continue on and you’ll be invited into the living room of a man with depression, and listen to his inner monologue, as well of those of his immediate family. Act out emotions with your face alone, then don an oversized mask and try to do the same using only body language. Write down your anxieties and run them through the Worry Shredder.
You can also play games—“Are You Afraid?” is a full-body game that asks you to approach glowing eyes in a dark, creepy forest scene, which hones one’s ability to face fears. Other games are designed to improve your attention or short-term memory, and are similar to exercises people in therapy for illnesses like schizophrenia might do.
All of those bits and bobs create what Bruce Sutor, chief resident in Mayo Clinic’s Department of Psychiatry and Psychology, calls an active learning environment.
That means you’re going to learn through doing things at this exhibit—not just sitting back and observing.
“Oftentimes, people have preconceived notions about what an anxiety disorder is, what depression is, what bipolar is,” Sutor says. “The program is really aimed at giving people an understanding of what people experience, but also, what’s behind it.”
The Mind Matters exhibit itself is, in some ways, a work of art.
“It’s a really beautiful exhibition, actually,” Dickinson says. “It originated in Finland, [and] has this sort of Nordic spareness to the design.”
That beauty and simplicity “leaves room for the content to blossom.”
“Every single piece of it has something for the viewer or audience member to engage with,” Dickinson says. “It has that engagement that a lot of contemporary art is seeking, and they do a nice job with it.”
The RAC also curated several pieces to go with the exhibit.
Rochester visual artist Bobby Marines will be part of the group exhibition in the third-floor west studio space.
Marines’ work in the exhibit centers around environmental stressors and mental health. Incarceration, poverty, domestic violence, homelessness, and divorce all appear in his paintings. The shack he’s constructed out of corn husks represents one he shared with his father at one point in his life.
Marines’ work focuses heavily on community trauma, Dickinson says. And it’s just one way to use art to parse mental health.
“Art has a freedom to it that one can access their creativity, or use creativity to access feelings, emotions, ideas,” she says. “It helps with coping with the stress around mental illness.”
Minneapolis-based artist Christi Furnas, who is open about living with mental illness, will exhibit her graphic novel, Crazy Like a Fox: Adventures in Schizophrenia. Melissa Borman’s video piece, “Storms Are Part of Life at Sea,” looks at life with a parent who has borderline personality disorder.
And Jess Hirsch, who struggles with anxiety, will have a long-term effect on the city. Hirsch’s project, “Prescription Gardens,” will include one meditation garden inside the Rochester Art Center—and three more in downtown Rochester (locations to be determined).
Each of the wildflower gardens will be filled with native Minnesota plants, as well as a plaque with a phone number. Dial it, and you’ll be taken to a voice message that asks you how you’re feeling.
Based on your answers, you’ll be led through a guided meditation to connect you with the flowers. And those plants? They’ll need about three years to fully bloom and be at their best—so yes, they’ll be around long past this summer.
Most of the RAC’s schedule for the exhibit had yet to be roughed out when we spoke to them in early May. Keep an eye on the RAC website for speakers.
We do know about a Family Day during Rochesterfest (on June 29), where adults can get a dollar off exhibit admission with a Rochesterfest button.
Mental Health: Mind Matters opened May 25, and will be open to the public Tuesdays through Saturdays, through September 10. Tickets are $5 for adults; kids 14 and younger are free. Purchase tickets to the exhibit on rochesterartcenter.org.
Mental Health: Mind Matters is hosted by Mayo Clinic at the Rochester Art Center, and also presented by Olmsted Medical Center and Rochester Area Foundation.