Five years ago, artist and author Jay Quinn joined the Brushes with Life Arts Program after hearing about it from his psychiatrist. He had just moved to Chapel Hill from South Florida and decided to reinvest in his artistic pursuits, including representational acrylic and mixed media works with text incorporation.
“I became a regular member and went each week,” Quinn said. “I rediscovered a lot of my own talent that had been asleep for a long while and was inspired and motivated to reopen that part of my life."
Brushes with Life hosts weekly meetings at the UNC Schizophrenia Treatment and Evaluation Program (STEP) Community Clinic at the Carr Mill Mall in Carrboro. Members often join after seeing brochures or receiving emails about the program at the STEP Clinic and other hospitals and clinics nearby, said Shreya Gunna, a graduate student at the UNC School of Medicine.
Matt Ballard is the program manager at the UNC Farm at Penny Lane, a property being developed for multiple therapeutic programs. Ballard said Brushes with Life is important because as an nontraditional, non-medical form of therapy, it allows people to communicate what they’re going through in a way that fits them.
"Sometimes speaking about it verbally can be limiting for people,” Ballard said. “This gives them a certain voice that may be more appropriate for them to demonstrate their feelings and emotions."
Grayson Bowen, a certified peer support specialist with a master’s in fine arts, started and taught Brushes with Life when Quinn joined, although he eventually left to pursue another job.
"Grayson had an amazing gift for making the program open and welcoming for everyone that came in,” Quinn said.
Next week Quinn will lead the first Brushes with Life class of the year with co-facilitator Manmohan Sihra. The two took over as art directors about a year ago after a hiatus following Bowen’s departure, Quinn said.
He and Sihra have added more structure and direction to the program, he said, while still maintaining Bowen’s spirit.