ArtPrize – A Powerful Environment for Healing

Healing Artprize artwork

Teri Keegan-Castrop, “Marci Waiting”


Art is healing. Looking at art, creating art, being in the room while others create art… is healing. And I’ve made it my professional mission to share this idea with others.


Healing art

Alexandria McAughey, “Subjective Perceptions”


As an art therapist at Sanford House, my role is to encourage clients to explore alternative modalities of treatment. (Modalities outside the traditional view of what counseling should and should not be). I help individuals to be playful in their communication style. Try new things. A typical art therapy session includes experimentation, discomfort, reflection… all in community. We value community greatly in art therapy. We respect the energy we create and contain when we work together. As a therapist, it’s my job to help cultivate that community. After all, we believe healing happens best when it’s in relation to others.


Artprize art

Sarupa Sidaarth, “Palimpsest” from the series Suspension


This week, we took art therapy on the road and visited ArtPrize 2017. Artprize is an open, independently organized international art competition that happens every autumn in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Individuals from all over the globe show their work at Artprize. There are few limitations in terms of space or media, and more than five hundred thousand dollars are awarded in prizes. In fact, Artprize has been named the most attended public art event in the world. The Grand Rapids community works together to decide which art pieces will win the prize and the notoriety. During Artprize, all of Grand Rapids is an art museum. All Grand Rapids residents are artists. All Grand Rapids visitors are critics.


Art beneficial to health

Oaklee Thiele, “Goodbye House”


This is a special time for me. The seasons are changing (albeit we have had unseasonably warm weather in Michigan). Locals and visitors are physically active, folks are moving their bodies more. Local businesses receive higher traffic. And there is art hidden everywhere (over 1300 entries housed within 179 venues).


To me, this is a powerful environment in which to heal.


There are so many benefits to living and working in Grand Rapids during Artprize. And working at a treatment center, this is especially poignant. I take Sanford House clients on an Excursion to Artprize each year, here’s why:


Why viewing art is beneficial to our mental health

  •  Our spaces, or the “aesthetics” of our environment, impact our mood, decisions, and self-concept. This is one reason Sanford House has crafted our facilities to be inviting, comfortable, and warm.
  • Local art stimulates the brain
  • And the body. We spent an entire morning walking around the downtown area… crouching down and reaching up… in an effort to see as many entries as possible.
  • Art elicits a reaction (serenity, disgust, boredom… all “feeling” words). It inherently sparks conversation. In this way, art can ease communication. Our friends at i understand created The Door is Always Open “to evoke conversation and self-reflection about the cages we create for ourselves, or the limitations that illnesses impose on us, despite the open door and ability to see the potential for freedom, recovery, light and love.” More information about how i understand combats the stigma of mental illness HERE.


These types of experiences… making art or seeing local sights… nurture the healing process. It’s important to discover the beauty of our surroundings, and be grateful. Being sober helps us to do that.




Author Jess Kimmel has always had a passion for art and when she discovered art therapy it just made sense. Jess is an Art Therapist who serves as Clinical Manager, Sanford House at Cherry Street for Women. Jess has a B.S in Psychology and an M.S. in Art Therapy. Art therapy allows her creativity to shine through her work and she thrives on seeing the confidence grow in the individuals she works with at Sanford Behavioral Health. Jess is from Hartland, Michigan and currently lives in Grand Rapids.