Nova Scotia

The Broken Deck Project shows how art can help overcome mental illness

PTSD sufferer says an art therapy group gave her life back. Now her work is part of an art show in Halifax.

Outsider Insight hosts art show featuring skateboard decks as canvasses

Phaedon Tingley, Gavin Quinn and Anica James are part of The Broken Art Project art show at Just Us! café in Halifax. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

Following a violent attack by a patient when she was a registered nurse more than 10 years ago, Phaedon Tingley became a recluse and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

It was her psychiatrist who first suggested she join Outsider Insight, a group founded three years ago with the aim of helping people with mental illness through art. 

"In about a year I was doing some art courses," says Tingley, 62. "I'm trying to get my fine arts degree ... It's changed my whole life. They've given me my life back."

This evening, Oct. 3, Tingley will be one of the artists whose work is on display at Just Us!, a café on Spring Garden Road in Halifax. 

The Broken Deck Project

The art show and sale is being hosted by Outsider Insight and is called The Broken Deck Project — where broken skateboard decks (donated by PRO Skates) have become canvasses.

It's just one of the recent endeavours by the organization, which has also begun to reach out to people affected by someone with mental illness.

Painted skateboard decks at The Broken Deck Project art show. (CBC)

Outsider Insight just opened a gallery in Dartmouth and started a clothing line. And it offers workshops to encourage people to keep well by making art.

"We're trying to offer up prevention methods to getting sick," says founder Gavin Quinn. "We want people to stay well. We want our members to thrive and do well and become successful and do great things. 

"In my own personal experience, art has helped me so much work through my own mental health. We're just trying to give everyone an opportunity to join in and be a part of a very large family."

This evening's Broken Deck Project and art sale begins at 6:30 p.m. Sixty per cent of proceeds go to the artist, 20 per cent to Outsider Insight, and the rest to the Black Book Collective, a group that brings large-scale mural artists to Halifax.

'A lot of us are broken and scratched'

Tingley's "art deck" combines painting, sculpted clay and found objects: "It has a medieval scene of a maiden being saved by a sculpted dragon."

When she first saw the broken skateboards, she says she could see emotion, pain and love in each one. "We're like the boards," she says. "A lot of us are broken and scratched." 

For Tingley, PTSD means she has "heavy" anger issues, anxiety issues and a tendency to become very reclusive and "fade away." 

She calls art an anti-depressant and the best therapy she's ever had.

"It's something that you can pour all your anger, and your pain ... I'm 62 and I really thought that basically my life was over. And it's really because of Outsider Insight it's just beginning."

"Just by picking up paint and brush or getting your hands on something you get rid of the demons that have been there, the anger."


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