Making Art After the Fall of HAI

By Laura Anne Walker

2016 was a difficult year for many people, especially because of the presidential race. In addition to the political atmosphere, those of us who attended the Healing Arts Initiative (HAI) Art Studio (created by Francis Palazzolo and directed by him from 1994 to 2016) lost the Art Studio and HAI, which went out of business. Many people, including staff and participants, were displaced. Palazzolo took that devastating loss as a magnificent opportunity to charge forward, fill the void, and create Being Neighborly, an independent art collective, comprised of former HAI Art Studio members and new artists as well. Ever hopeful, Palazzolo has kept it together for us and has given it to us to be active participants in Being Neighborly: We each contribute our gifts, talents, resources, connections, and time.

The Being Neighborly art collective has already had two exhibitions in its short existence: “Bring da Beach ta’da Hood” at the Open Source Gallery; “Evolutions of Us,” at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in collab-oration with the SVA MPS Art Therapy Department, interns, students and staff at 132 West 21st Street, 5th floor Studio, by appointment.

The opening reception for Evolutions of Us was on Saturday, February 18, from 2:30-4:00PM, and was well attended. The artists in the exhibit were: Jenny Chan, Michael Johnson, El Kuumba, Ray Lopez, Linda Moses, Girl Negron, Georgia Redd, Aracelis Rivera, Vincent Salas, Cynthia Timms, Laura Anne Walker (myself), and Lawrence Willoughby. A number of us spoke about our art. I read my original poetry from my art, and spoke about the content, which explores my journey from psychiatric hospitalization to stabilization and how I came to terms with the diagnoses I’ve been labeled. Others spoke spontaneously. For example, Cynthia Timms described her loveletter artwork to Rosa Parks and, in doing so, tried to put herself in Rosa’s shoes, hoping that she would have had the same courage as Parks on that bus. El Kuumba spoke of his paintings, one of which had both Mr. and Mrs. Obama, and Mr. and Mrs. Dr. Martin Luther King in the same painting. Ray Lopez spoke of his work, which is often provocative and controversial. Vincent Salas talked of the Shamans in his work and other themes. He also played a hand-beaten drum, which he invited others to play with him. Lawrence Willoughby spoke of his paintings, which depict everyday scenes in the city, such as the New York City skyline, and an MTA bus. Speaking about art is an exciting new feature of the exhibitions. Having a supportive, art-loving audience continues to be an amazing experience.

The MPS Art Therapy Students, led by Supervising Art Therapist, Sheila Fontanive, LCAT, are: Yi-Chien Chang, Saeideh Goiji, Laura Hetzel, RJ Huguenard, Andrea Juliano, Rebecca Rodas, and Gabby Simpson. They creatively helped us to get to the point of exhibition. The entire staff was overseen by Special Projects Coordinator Val Sereno, LCAT ATRBC, who, overall, was instrumental in assisting us to put on this exhibition. We thank them.

We have coverage on the SVA blog: and in a press release. On Facebook, search “Being Neighborly.” If you want more, you can view profiles, spread the word, and help us reach our goals at

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Expressing Emotion and Experience

By Lisa Roma and Reginald True Coleman

Have you ever come across a piece of jewelry that caught your eye, and as you looked closer there was one thing about it that sold you? Then, after having it for some time, it seemed to be more attractive the longer you owned it. That is one way to describe the “Evolutions of Us” art exhibit. When we walked into the room we knew we had stumbled upon a jewel. But the longer we stayed the more interesting it became.

It was a mild winter day, Saturday, February 18th when we arrived. The brightly lit walls of the ample sized gallery were lined with quite a variety of art styles. The space was filled with guests and exhibitors. A spread of refreshments covered a table near one corner of the large square room at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) 5th floor gallery located at 321 West 21st Street in Manhattan. The exhibit featured the work of 12 artists, five of whom spoke.

Viewers listened intently while various artists stood in front of their respective exhibits and shared what their artwork meant to them and why they created it. Several exhibitors voiced how creating their art helped them to express their feelings and experience some level of healing. Others chose to express a political point of view.

The artwork covered a range of topics. Some of the paintings were photo-realistic portraits, while others were surreal. Some combined retouched photographs with typed words. One artist combined dream-images that he described while beating an African hand drum. Some artists included controversial political content while other described their art as being an extension of their mental health journey.

Laura Anne Walker, the event’s host, opened the exhibit with a reading of her poetry before discussing her art, whose colorful drawings were prominently displayed. Her eloquent poetry and art spoke about her experiences with hospitalization and recovery.

Guest viewer Steph Walker shared the words of photo-realistic artist El Kuumba: “He said he uses his artwork to express his pain, and that’s how he processes his pain. It also helps him connect to who he is.”

Artist Cynthia Timms spoke about her art project, which revolves around her letter to Rosa Parks, and said she believes “in art and activism. What can I do as an artist, as a writer, as a citizen, as a woman, as a black woman?” Vincent Salas, whose art expressed his spiritual and shamanic phase, also played an African hand drum during his talk, explaining how he added paper from his prescription drugs as a background to some of his art. Artist Ray Lopez spoke of the controversial and political views expressed in his work. Artist Lawrence Willoughby talked about his New York City painting. The other artists whose work was displayed, but who did not speak, were: Jenny Chan, Michael Johnson, Linda Moses, Girl Negron, Georgia Redd and Aracelis Rivera.

The “Evolutions of Us” art exhibit was curated by Being Neighborly, a not for profit organization, in collaboration with The School of Visual Arts art therapy program. Being Neighborly is directed by artist Francis Palazzolo, who formerly created and directed the HAI Art Studio.

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