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A Rhode Island Spotlight Feature Video

A Powerful Symbol

One in four Americans has a diagnosed form of mental illness, but two out of three don’t seek help because of a perceived stigma. Since 2009 PeaceLove Studios in Pawtucket has offered help to thousands through expressive art. This month Jim Hummel takes a look what happens when people step inside the studio doors.

Click here for more information about the Peace Love Studios.



``It’s about art. Who likes art?’’
The dozen girls and boys who have gathered around a set of tables for this workshop don’t know it yet, but the masks they create over the next 90 minutes will help many of them work through issues they are facing: maybe problems at home, or school or with friends. And they will share their feelings of frustration, happiness, or worry.
``This is me being kind of sad, with a little bit of happiness there.’’
The kids are candid and the atmosphere at this studio in the heart of Pawtucket’s Hope Artiste Village is one of safety and support. It’s what you might expect at a place called PeaceLove Studios. Peace of mind, and love for yourself.
Sparr: ``Our vision was when you walk in the doors here, we don’t care who you are, what you are, what you got, it doesn’t matter. We’re all people.’’
Jeff Sparr co-founded PeaceLove in 2009 with his cousin Matt Kaplan. Their mission: to help people facing mental health issues through art. The numbers tell the story: one in four Americans has a diagnosed mental illness, but two out of three will not go for help because of a perceived stigma.
Sparr knows it all firsthand: a star tennis player at Ohio State who came back to Rhode Island to run his family’s textile business, he has suffered most of his life from OCD - obsessive compulsive disorder. Desperation pushed him toward expressive art.
Sparr: ``Mental illness robs you of the sense of control and I was immediately attracted to the sense of control. When I painted I was in control. I found that kind of invigorating for my soul.’’
And he thought it could help others.
Hummel: ``Why has mental health, people have always been a little bit on eggshells?’’
Sparr: ``The answer is twofold. Very simple - invisible, and misunderstood. How do you fix something…it’s hard to fix something you can’t see and you can’t understand.’’
PeaceLove runs a variety of workshops for all ages. The mask-making workshop often fills up quickly. An 10-week after-school class has these Providence public school students making transformational collages.
And one night we sat in on a drumming workshop for two dozen adults. Dr. Hank Brightman, a trauma and wellness specialist, took the group through a variety of exercises using drums, transitioning into an art project that focused on purging negative thoughts and issues.

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