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Mental Health

Creative Learning

Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design

Heather Mitchell, Dawn Whitworth, and Dr. Rory Wallace

Reprinted from "Supported Education" issue of Visions Journal, 2003, No. 17, pp. 35-36

Van Gogh, Brontë, Hemingway, Tolstoy, Picasso, Plath, Goya, and Dickinson are some of the more famous creative names associated with mental illness. The complex relationship that has always seemed to exist between mental illness and creativity has been the focus of many studies. Researchers have long hypothesized that the emotional, intuitive or ‘subjective’ professions, such as abstract painting and poetry are better suited to people dealing with mental illness issues than are the more ‘objective’ professions such as engineering and physics.

Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design is 77 years old. Situated on Granville Island in the heart of Vancouver, we offer Bachelor degrees in design, fine arts and media arts, in programs mixing academic and studio instruction. Our students graduate to careers in film, graphic arts and education and as professional artists, to name a few. Many students set up small businesses as consultants, small manufacturers or designers. As one of Canada’s foremost centres of visual art and design instruction, we welcome 1,250 students annually. Around five per cent of this student population discloses disability and requests services. One aspect of the application process to attend Emily Carr Institute that appeals to students is our emphasis on the creative, rather than just the academic. The challenge for applicants who meet the minimum academic eligibility requirement is to present a uniquely creative and inventive art portfolio and special project to our selection committee. It is these items that will determine acceptance.

Louise, a 4th year visual arts student with a mental health disability describes Emily Carr this way: “It is an intimate environment that fosters autonomy and supports exploration. You’re encouraged to find your voice and discover where you fit in the context of other artists in the world around you.”

“People have a lot of time for you; there are not huge line-ups, but support and a relaxing atmosphere to learn in. Instructors are working artists or academics who — while staying within the educational constraint — teach you to think outside the box,” she says. “This is attractive to someone who has ideas of their own. Emphasis is placed on the process and this is important to the emerging artist because you’re new and if you’re so worried about the end product, you lose out on your exploration.”

Dr. Rory Wallace, an instructor in the academic program at Emily Carr, works to make the classroom a good learning environment for all students. “At Emily Carr, more than anywhere else I know, students and faculty realize that our personal differences are an important part of who we are as creative people and of what we have to say as individuals.”

Besides the full-time programs leading to Bachelor degrees, Emily Carr Institute offers non-credit, part-time courses through the Continuing Studies department. The Continuing Studies program allows registrants to enroll in courses while working or parenting; these programs are focused on evenings and weekends, but some programs run during weekdays as well. People as young as sixteen can consider Transition to the Arts courses that aim to assist participants in exploring their creative potential.

This fall, Elizabeth, a student with Down Syndrome whose life-long dream is to study art, enrolled in Continuing Studies. In accepting this student, Emily Carr became the first postsecondary-degree-granting institution in British Columbia to extend inclusion to adults with intellectual disabilities.

An arts or design education concentrates on self-expression and creativity. It’s a form of higher education that can lead to careers of personal satisfaction and a healthy income.

 
About the author

Heather is Emily Carr’s Disability Services Coordinator and Intake Counsellor

Dawn is the Career and Cooperative Education Coordinator

Rory is an Associate Professor in the Department of Critical + Cultural Studies

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