Guest Blogger: Amy Kinney, Program Director, PeaceLove Studios

Today is “Inspire Your Heart with Art” day, and we can’t think of better embodiments of this day than Jeff Sparr and Matt Kaplan, Co-Founders of PeaceLove Foundation. This amazing organization, through the sister PeaceLove Studios, helps people living with mental illness through art. Kaplan and Sparr have become close friends of Alex and Ani. Kaplan gave a workshop at our corporate retreat earlier this year and also spoke at a TED Talk we were present at. His honesty, sense of humor, and passion for bringing mental illness into the spotlight is truly admirable.

We are lucky to have PeaceLove Studios‘ Program Director, Amy Kinney, as a guest blogger this month. Below she shares her personal story of battling mental illness and becoming an advocate for change in a powerful way.

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My name is Amy Kinney and I am an artist, teacher, and a mental health advocate. For years I lived with depression, anxiety and an eating disorder in silence. I suffered in my own darkness, while on the surface I wore masks to hide my negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. When finally hospitalized for treatment, I began drawing pictures to express my unspoken feelings. The meaning of these drawings changed on the day I was asked to join someone else’s family therapy meeting. In stunned silence, I watched a fellow patient open my tiny sketch pad and then turning it towards her parents and doctors, point emphatically at one picture and exclaim, “This!  This is what I’ve been trying to tell you!” Though still far from healthy, the patient’s words crept into my then hollow spirit to inspire a purpose for living. And so began my journey to share how artistic expression can promote emotional healing while also educating the community about mental illness.

A few years later I stumbled joyfully across PeaceLove Studios, an organization sharing my creative vision for changing the face of mental illness and providing life-changing expressive arts experiences to communities in need. By joining forces, we expanded our reach and developed meaningful ways of reaching the community. Knowing that 1 in 4 people has a diagnosable mental illness; we recognize that nearly everyone is affected in some way. We engage a variety of populations, ranging from schools, recovery programs, hospitals, corporations, veterans’ organizations, and boys & girls clubs.

One of our recent programs involved collaborating with Alex and Ani’s Charity by Design department to bring expressive arts to Project Common Bond, an organization that brings together teens from around the world who have been affected by terrorism. We met the teens on their first day when they were still shy and uncertain about the adventure they were about to embark upon, but it only took a few minutes with their hands in art supplies to break through the quiet to a room full of chatter and excitement. I shared my story with them and talked about how we all share the common bond of working to be positive and maintain mental wellness in the face of adversity. We decorated shoes, plain and common items, to be beautifully embellished pieces of artwork about ourselves and our lives. We traced and wrote on our footprints to tell each of our stories. The shoes and footprints were then put together on display representing the common ground we walk along despite all of our differences. The teens had much to say about themselves and their unique journeys of mental and emotional wellness. The profoundness of their shoes and stories was awe inspiring to all of us there and bonded all of us together.

We hope you will join us in finding creativity, understanding, and hope by visiting our website, www.PeaceLoveStudios.com, or dropping by our Studio. Together we can make the world a kinder, gentler place!

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