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Outsider Insight chance 

Outsider Insight workshops provide valuable peer support for artists living with mental health issues.

click to enlarge MEGHAN TANSEY WHITTON
  • Meghan Tansey Whitton

"I know how much art did for me and my mental health. I thought it would be good. I thought it would be cool for other people with mental illness to experience how therapeutic it can be," says Gavin Quinn through a smile.

Quinn is the project coordinator and impetus behind Outsider Insight, a peer-support program aimed at educating artists with mental illness on self-employment in the arts. Outsider Insight will be offering free workshops at Veith Street Gallery, a gallery for cross-disabled artists, starting in late January. Workshops include framing and matte-cutting, writing for the arts, using a portfolio, accounting, public speaking and running a small business.

Quinn calls Veith Street Gallery his "headquarters." He says: "I'm stoked. I love this place. The first show I ever did was here. It was so much fun and I wanted others to have that therapeutic experience."

Quinn's journey as an artist and mental health consumer led him to Veith Street Gallery where he met Justina Dollard, gallery curator and administrator. Quinn and Dollard began working together and soon their vision became a reality. Beth Carmichael at Self-Help Connection helped the duo secure a grant from the Department of Health and Wellness, and the grant enabled them to develop their innovative program.

"There are similar projects in almost every province but there wasn't one in Nova Scotia," explains Quinn. "We filled a niche," adds Dollard, "if we can create artists who are sustainable and they can keep making art, it can continue being therapeutic."

Outsider Insight educates and supports artists living with mental illness through every step of the creative and commercial process. Whether it's brand new portfolios, a trip to the emergency room, or a cup of herbal tea, Outsider Insight uses and shares resources to help everyone in the program accomplish their goals.

To that end, Quinn and Dollard are busy educating themselves so they can offer effective peer support. "Peer support is really the backbone of this whole thing," says Dollard. This month the duo will be certified in Mental Health 101 by Susan Roper Kilbride of Empowerment Connection. In future months Quinn and Dollard plan to be certified in non-violent crises intervention and patient advocacy.

To round out the program, Outsider Insight runs a bi-weekly coffee house on Saturdays for organizers, instructors and participants. "Creating a more solid group can really help the program," says Dollard. She hopes this unstructured social space will foster member retention and morale.

Outsider Insight is beneficial not only to individual artists but to the community as a whole. The program aims to make artists more productive, self-sustaining, and in turn, less of a strain on the system. The program aims to reduce its members' reliance on health care, social assistance and even homeless shelters. "Plus, venues get really good art shows and it benefits everyone who sees it," says Quinn. More than a dozen local galleries, coffee shops and storefronts have already shown interest in hosting Outsider Insight art shows.

Quinn and Dollard have created a beneficial program with far-reaching effects: artists learn how to make the product of their passion commercially viable, they feel positive and productive, they have the opportunity to inspire their community, and engage their local economy.

"It's about keeping people creating and keeping people well," says Dollard.

Outsider Insight Workshops begin January 29 Veith House, 3115 Veith Street For info on the program or to donate, contact


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