Street artist makes mental health installation with Kalamazoo teens

Sep 5, 2013

“You’re crazy.” Those words might not hurt you, but to someone with a mental illness or disability it’s a phrase they have to deal with all too often. Artist Patrick Hershberger, also known as Bonus Saves, has collaborated with a youth group to create art that stresses how important language can be in mental health. It will be in the Park Trades Center’s Saniwax Gallery. The main reception is on Friday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

On Wednesday, Hershberger and the teens were setting up their installation in the Park Trades Center’s Saniwax Gallery. They’re high school students from a group called Calling All Youth.

“It's a group of 15 to 17-year-old youth who have mental health challenges who are interested in advocating for changes to help better support youth,” says Kristina Dristy the youth involvement coordinator for Advocacy Services for Kids—the program that created Calling All Youth.

Elmahdi is a sophomore and has bipolar disorder. He says the group painted the three panels in the installation black and then wrote hurtful words about people with mental disabilities in white.

“We took them from our personal…personal disabilities and how we were treated and stereotypes and stuff like that,” he says.

“It was just like negativity—like ‘teacher stubborn,’ ‘crazy,’‘hard,’’destructive,’” says Jaimie, a junior. “Calling All Youth has helped me by letting people know I have depression and it’s not a problem. So I can talk to people about it and be up front about it that I’m not oh so angry all the time. And I just talked to Krissy and I’ve learned a lot and I’ve grown a lot. I’ve been in Calling All Youth for almost two years.”

This is the kind of program Bonus Saves loves to work with. Bonus Saves was Patrick Hershberger’s moniker back when he was more of a street artist in Chicago.

“It took me a while once I moved back to Kalamazoo to really find myself and how I wanted to use the art form I felt comfortable with in Chicago using the streets. And around here vandalism isn’t a really a priority for art form," says Hershberger. "And so I wanted to look at a way of using a positive way where you can still display your work and involve other people. And the more and more I use my art with other people, their ideas come out in my artwork.”

After the kids wrote negative words on the installation, Hershberger painted a large positive word in stylized bubble letters on each of the panels. All together it reads “restore, discern, amend.” Hershberger says these words won’t fix discrimination, but they give people with mental disabilities strength and help others accept them into their lives.

“It’s about realizing that there are all these things, there are all these roadblocks in our lives that are always going to be there, you know? And they’re in high school right now, wait till college happens, wait till the work force happens, wait till all these other things come up. You know so many people deal with not finding a job or not having a home, or having family that just drops out of their life or friends that do the same thing. It can be devastating for people. And so like how do you pick yourself up? People need communities that are understanding and are there for people who fall through the cracks. And a lot of times people with mental health fall through the cracks.”

“These are people we live right next to," says Hershberger. "These may be our family members. This may be a person down the street. This may be someone in our school, in our church. It doesn’t matter, we’re all here and we need to be kind to each other because everybody has a different situation.”

Tasha is a freshman in high school. She has both dyslexia and dysgraphia which makes her writing less legible. 

Thiele: “What does it mean to you to put up these things that are more positive words about mental health?”

Tasha: “I think it gives me some strength to do what I believe in.