Right now, if you stepped inside the adolescent floor of the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute (PPI), you’d be greeted by plain, white, hospital-like walls. Not something teenagers want to look at every day.
PPI’s Dr. Elisabeth Kunkel decided it was time to change that.
In December, she issued a call for artists, and students of the Lower Dauphin School District responded. Since then, they’ve created 12 murals, which will be placed on PPI’s adolescent floor in late June or July. Some of the pieces include a tree landscape, a peacock, mandala and abstract works.
“We know through research and experience that being able to view art is good for your mental wellness,” said Ruth Moore, PPI’s director of business development and admissions. “And the reason why we wanted to work with a school district is because we wanted the young people to understand that they were doing this for their peers.”
Guided by their art teacher, Dana Attivo, and local artist Linda Billet, nearly 400 Lower Dauphin students had a hand in brightening up the institute. This weekend, you can lend a hand, as well.
For their last mural, the students are bringing a lotus flower mural to Artsfest in Harrisburg and having members of the community contribute to it. According to Attivio, she and the students loved the idea of a lotus because it represents the possibility of growth.
“It’s the idea of the flowers growing out of the muck and blooming from maybe not-so-pretty circumstances,” she said. “It represents going through a dark time and coming out on the other end.”
PPI’s adolescent unit currently houses 16 people from ages 13 to 18. Though the main goal is to brighten up their floor, the project serves as a lesson for the Lower Dauphin students, as well.
When it came to art, senior Caitlin Cummings usually worked alone. Now she spends a chunk of her day cutting glass and layering paper with as many as 19 other students.
“It’s a really good project. There is good meaning behind it, and it has good potential,” she said. “I get to work with actual artists, and it’s been really beneficial to me.”
Olivia Dreon, another senior, loved the idea that her contributions to the project were going toward the health of others.
“It is an awesome project to be a part of because you’re helping people who are the same age as you, and you’re having an impact on their wellbeing,” she said. “You’re also able to use your skills and abilities to this project, and I think that’s awesome.”
Attivo hopes the project teaches the students about empathy, too.
“I want them to be able to think about creating for other people,” she said. “In our classes, we push for students finding their own voice, but these projects push them to think about and create something for others”
The project was funded entirely by donations, including from the Pinnacle Health Foundation, Dauphin County Medical Society Alliance, PA Foundation for the Arts and others. So far, the institute has raised $48,000 and is still seeking contributions to cover additional costs.
PPI is pushing for mental health awareness along with the creation of the murals. Dr. Kunkel will represent PPI at the mural’s tent near Kunkel Plaza during Artsfest and provide visitors with mental health information. Next month, Moore is training Lower Dauphin School District officials in recognizing mental health warning signs and symptoms in youth.
“We’re very interested in ensuring that young people get the best care possible and get the right tools and therapy to ensure their wellness,” Moore said.
You can contribute to the Lower Dauphin student’s mural this weekend, May 25 to May 27, at Artsfest in Harrisburg’s Riverfront Park. For more information on the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute and their services visit www.ppimhs.org.