Transit gallery using art to arrive at destination of mental health awareness

If you take public transit in Calgary, you are in for a free art show over the next few weeks, and it’s got a connection to a topic that is near and dear for a University of Calgary art instructor.

'I have witnessed a lot of anxiety in the classroom so it seemed like a natural fit,' says art instructor

Dick Averns says the art project now on Calgary buses, trains and billboards is about starting a conversation about mental health. (Ellis Choe/CBC)

If you take public transit in Calgary, you are in for a free art show over the next few weeks, and it's got a connection to a topic that is near and dear for a University of Calgary art instructor.

"I have witnessed a lot of anxiety in the classroom so it seemed like a natural fit to do this project," Dick Averns told The Homestretch.

"Visual art as a medium has the opportunity to use images rather than words which have immediacy to them. Buses are used by all ages across all demographics for work and recreation, so you have a ready-made audience. If you turn a bus into an art gallery and deck it out with 18 different artworks, you are going to catch a large population."

Mental Health is Like Going Into A Bad Neighbourhood (Anonymous)

The project, Recognition… Validation… Reassurance…, hit the road this week with artwork added to buses, trains and billboards. More than 130 average Calgarians aged 16 to late 70s created 189 pieces of art.

"There are collages, drawings, text-based art, visualizations, depictions. There are articulations of frames of mind towards improving individual and collective mental health," Averns said.

And it's personal to him.

I am not a Pill U R not a Pill (Kaj Korvela)

"I was diagnosed well into adulthood with Tourette syndrome, and had dealt with a lot of misdiagnosis throughout my life. Once I was finally diagnosed, it radically improved my mental wellness," the art instructor of 15 years explained.

"It's pretty clear there is an epidemic of mental health challenges within our community. In post-secondary, rates of anxiety and depression are around 60 to 70 per cent during four years. Less than half will seek professional help for that."

Art and mental health have some beautiful potential connections, he said.

Its OK to Not Know the Answer (Kyrsten Lofts)

"People's mental health is generally invisible. It is highly stigmatized, people don't talk about it. Visual art obviously makes things visible. You are overcoming this aspect of the unseen," Averns said.

"The relationship between mental health and art goes deeper than that. One's mental health is about self-expression and art is all about self-expression. It is a hand-in-glove fit to be able to address a topic that is of great value to a lot of people."

Soon The Light Will Burn Our Shade (Corsa)

He is hoping the imagery gets people talking and walking towards a better frame of mind.

"I hope there will be not just awareness, but conversation and people taking action towards their own mental wellness and towards a collective mental wellness."

The project — funded by the city's public art program — runs on select buses and trains until the end of August.

If you're riding the bus today, you may notice some new artwork above the windows. It's part of a new month long art project that addresses mental health. It's called 'Recognition, Validation, Reassurance.' The Homestretch's Ellis Choe took a ride on a city bus with the creator of the project, Dick Averns, a visual arts professor from the University of Calgary. 5:44

With files from Ellis Choe and The Homestretch