The words emanate powerfully from video playing on a giant white screen on the wall at Stephens College’s Kimball Ballroom, where a just-opened art exhibit focuses on Missourians and their mental health experiences.
The message on the video: “Just because you have moments of weakness doesn’t mean you aren’t strong.”
That message was from Shelby Thompson, a recent graduate of Stephens College. Thompson was among 23 people featured in the new exhibit, titled the “Art of Being ME,” which is open to the public and scheduled to run through Sept. 30.
The exhibit is a collaboration between the private college in Columbia and the Burrell Foundation, a fundraising arm of Burrell Behavioral Health. The showing features a series of photographs and personal stories that detail Missouri residents’ experiences with mental health.
At the gallery’s opening Thursday, Stephens College President Dianne Lynch spoke about how she hoped the exhibit would resonate with patrons.
“I know that there’s not a single person in this room whose lives have not been touched by the experience of mental health conditions and diagnosis,” Lynch said. “Among their loved ones, parents, children, friends, neighbors or students.”
The artist behind the exhibit, photographer Randy Bacon, said the exhibit “is about creating a voice for people that typically don’t get a voice.”
“We really need to do something to shake people a little bit on this topic of mental health, not a specific part of mental health, but a broad spectrum,” he said. “Let’s get it out of the backroom. Let’s get it in the front. So people do feel like there’s hope.”
Thompson, from Reeds Spring in southwest Missouri, was introduced to the Burrell Foundation and Bacon through her therapist last fall.
Thompson said art conveys a dimension to mental illness that typical methods lack.
“I think imagery and video are very raw, especially when it’s not scripted,” Thompson said. “You can get to know a lot. I mean, they say a picture’s worth 1,000 words. I don’t know what other medium you could do this in that you could experience.”
Thompson also hopes patrons benefit from the harrowing retelling of her own struggles with mental health as a teenager.
“I hope it helps people,” Thompson said. “Because I know that 14-year-old I would have loved something like this, where mental health is just openly talked about.”
When the exhibit closes Sept. 30 at Stephens College, it will then travel to locations such as Kansas City, St. Louis and Los Angeles — with Bacon adding a new story to the exhibit at every stop along the way.