Arts Community Connections Schools and Youth

Castilleja arts showcase shines a light on mental illness

AWAH dancers bring art to life. Photo credit: Castilleja School

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” This quote from Edgar Degas set the theme for Castilleja School’s 2017 Arts With a Heart (AWAH) event, which used music, dance and visual arts to raise awareness and support for mental illness treatment.

Funds raised will support CHC’s Teen Mental Health Initiative

Entitled “Head, Heart, Humanity,” the 2017 AWAH performances raised about $20,000* for the Children’s Health Council of Palo Alto and its new Teen Mental Health Initiative through ticket sales, sponsorships and other fundraising.

Dance, music and visual arts enlighten and inform

AWAH 2017 used dance, music, video, visual art and song to both explain the facts about mental illness and build a new understanding about people who suffer from mental disabilities.

The visual art was provided by ArtLifting, a unique public benefit business that helps homeless and disabled artists sell their work online and in galleries. Castilleja alumna Kelly McKenna was a founding team member of ArtLifting and helped forge the partnership with AWAH.

120 Castilleja students in all grades worked together on AWAH

Over 120 Castilleja students in grades six through 12 participated in AWAH this year, rehearsing during lunchtime and on the weekends for months to prepare for the show, which took place February 10-12. AWAH is open to all students, regardless of prior experience with dance or performing. The show is managed Castilleja high school students, who work together on choreography, production design, fundraising, marketing and more.

photo credit: Castilleja School

Dance and art dispel the stigma

During the show, dance numbers were interspersed with facts regarding different mental illnesses such as bipolar and schizophrenia, along with art from ArtLifting artists who are diagnosed with these disorders. The visually arresting art and quotes from the artists served to dispel common misperceptions about mental illness.

Swimming with Vincent, by ArtLifting artist Randy Nicholson

For example, a painting called “Swimming with Vincent,” was shown before a dance number choreographed to Don McLean’s song, “For Vincent,” which allowed the audience to consider how artists use creativity to cope with mental disorders.

AWAH dancers bring art to life. Photo credit: Castilleja School

Participants give back and learn new skills

“Nothing makes me feel more confident about the future than seeing 120 young women work selflessly for such an important reason,” said Castilleja dance teacher Georgiana Shea, who served as artistic director for AWAH. “Through their efforts, these students are helping to a erase the stigma of mental illness in the Castilleja community, the Palo Alto community and the Global community.”

Photo credit: Castilleja School

Nicole Orsak, a Castilleja senior who was an executive producer this year said, “I am so grateful to have been a part of Arts with a Heart these past six years–first a performer and now a producer. I have learned countless skills, from costuming to teaching effective leadership skills, that I know will help me even beyond our production.”

photo credit: Castilleja

A ‘pop-up’ gallery at Casti showcases work from ArtLifting artists

Before the opening show and during intermission of all three AWAH performances, attendees could view and buy art from ArtLifting artists at a special ‘pop-up’ gallery that was temporarily installed in Castilleja’s gym. A few of the Artlifting artists were also on hand to answer questions. The art showcased at the gallery and during AWAH is also for sale online at the Artlifting website, along with notebooks, iphone covers and notecards.

Art validates and creates cycle of hope and renewal

A common thread throughout AWAH 2017 was the role of creativity in giving people hope and connection, especially those who may feel isolated as a result of mental illness. By showcasing art from ArtLifting and forming a web of “Heart, Hope, Humanity,” through music and dance, AWAH not only raised funds, it also raised the spirit of everyone in the audience.

photo credit: Castilleja School

* Note: the exact amount raised by AWAH for the CHC had not been calculated at the time this story was published. This amount is an estimate based on past fundraising results.

About the author

Victoria Thorp

Victoria Thorp

Victoria is the founder and editor of Palo Alto Pulse and has lived in Palo Alto since 2007. Victoria's diverse professional background includes working as the editor of GreatSchools.org , as a senior writer for KIPP and Teach for America, and as a radio producer for City Visions on KALW (91.7FM San Francisco). She is a graduate of Leadership Palo Alto and a member of the Palo Alto Partners in Education Advisory Board.

She has a BA in English from Tufts University and Masters in Education and Secondary Teaching Credential in English from UCLA.

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