Recovery through expression: Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare showcases therapeutic art

Syracuse residents overcoming addiction showcase the art they created as a form of therapy at the third annual Recovery Arts Festival.

For those recovering from addiction at Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare, art is transformative. It is a path to self-discovery, and during the month of September, they have the opportunity to showcase their talents and share their journeys with the Syracuse community.

“You see a dumpster. They might see a place they used to live,” said Jeremy Klemanski, president and CEO at Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare. “You see a grate on the side of a building. They might see the place where they got heat when they were homeless and active in their addiction.”

Photo: Sarah Hope
Visitors to the Recovery Arts Festival gather for refreshments between observing the artwork.

Now in its third year, the Recovery Arts Festival & Exhibit’s opening night drew a diverse crowd. The Learbury Centre on North Salina Street buzzed as friends, family and community members greeted one another. In the gallery hung 20 pieces of art by 13 different artists -- all of whom are in recovery from addiction, and several of whom were present to share their stories.

“This is our best year so far, both in the quality of the submissions and the diversity of the submissions,” said Jason Torreano, SBH’s fundraising and development coordinator, and one of the event’s coordinators. Though he and his colleague Bethanie Hemingway, a resource development specialist for SBH, don’t often get to work directly with clients, they said this is always an “eye-opening experience” for them, as well as for the community.

“People expect a certain type of person and expect a certain type of work to be on the wall when they hear about recovery,” Torreano said. “This exhibit serves as a way to showcase the recovery process and get people talking constructively.”

Klemanski said the Recovery Arts Festival was inspired by the creativity and intelligence of the clients his staff helps every day.

“A lot of people only hear about negative things in the media, about things people do when they’re active in addiction,” he said. “The media doesn’t often demonstrate for us what people do with their lives after some of the turmoil.”

Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare is a non-profit rehabilitative health center with operations in Syracuse and Rochester that offers inpatient and outpatient services to those struggling with substance addiction. Part of their mission includes community outreach and events like the Recovery Arts Festival & Exhibit.

In past years, the art exhibit was only open to photographers. This year’s exhibit was open to submissions of all types of art.

Also, in addition to reaching out to their own clients, this year the SBH staff reached out to the community; the submissions include work from those who have struggled with other types of addiction, like eating disorders.

Art work on display in the gallery includes a collection of nature-themed and self-portrait photography from an artist named Amber, a drawing of a man with chains pulling at his head, graffiti, poetry and a collage of polaroid photos of the artist’s and others’ feet in various places around the world.

Quotations mounted below some of the works put them into context, crystalizing for the viewer the artists’ varied experiences before, during and after recovery.

For Sean Dell, 26, graffiti art is a way to express his emotions and get things off of his chest. He started drawing when he was 14. When he got into trouble and ended up in prison, he used his art to transform himself -- and to help others.

“I would draw for people, and for a way for them to express their feelings,” he said. “They would tell me what they want, then I’d draw it, and they’d send it to their family.”

Dell said that completing a piece of art gives him a sense of accomplishment, though he’s his own worst critic. But, he said, the important thing is to keep doing it.

“As long as I stay interactive and participating with things like this, then recovery works,” he said. “Through art, music, however people have to stay sober. It’s a better life.”

The art exhibit will be open to the public from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday during the month of September. It is housed at the Learbury Center at 329 N. Salina Street in Syracuse.

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