Five Rusk State Hospital patients walked through the doors of downtown Rusk’s Singletary Memorial Library and each stopped to gaze in wonder and joy. The lower room was jam-packed with colorful artwork. They had seen much of it before — not because they were art students, but because they were the artists.
The Out of the Darkness and Into the Light Art Show raised funds for the hospital’s art therapy program, with 110 pieces of art sold and more than $2,500 raised. Its mission was to bring the patients into the community and to see the community accept them.
It didn’t take long to find success.
Artist Jenea channeled her depression into a painting called “Lightness in the Dark.” When a customer asked her how much she would take for it, she shyly said, “$25?” When the customer counteroffered $50, she brightened and blushed at the same time.
Jenea, a patient at Rusk for two years, has been painting since middle school. The art program “reached out to me, and I felt like it was very therapeutic to my recovery to participate,” she said.
The Visionary Creations Art Program at the hospital is a peer support group encouraging a sense of ownership by allowing artists to sell their work to fund the program, Community Relations Director D.D. Clark said.
Clark was in charge of getting the approvals from treatment teams and judges to allow the patients to participate. Hours prior to the show, Clark gave the five remaining artists who were getting ready in the basement of the campus chapel an impromptu lesson on how to deal with the stress of crowds and noise.
There was little concern. The women were immersed in primer and brushes, hair curlers and blushes. Melody inspected her eye makeup in the mirror. She has been a patient at Rusk since January and hadn’t left the campus since she arrived.
“I never started painting until I got here, so I’m actually proud of myself,” she said.
The patients mingled with the crowd and were happy to be a part of the event.
Joann Jackson, a prominent Rusk businesswoman, walked slowly through the maze of canvases and paused in front of Melody’s display. Melody spoke confidently, describing the message of unity that inspired the painting Jackson was studying.
Jackson quickly agreed to buy the artwork, titled “We Are 1.”
“When she explained what it meant and how we are all in this together, it just sold me,” she said.
The sense of unity between the Rusk community and the state hospital has always been strong. Charles Hassell, a long-time supporter of the hospital, didn’t hesitate to embrace the art show.
“We are proud to welcome them into the community,” he said. “This is just fantastic. Rusk State Hospital is the best neighbor you could have.”
Clark was impressed by how it came together.
“In all my 28 years of serving the underserved, this was the most powerful event I’ve been a part of,” she said. “The courage of the artists was equaled only by the humble reception of our community. Supporting recovery is in the DNA of East Texas.”