Healing Arts: New Exhibit at Holter Museum of Art Features Patient Artwork

May 18, 2021

Holter Museum and St. Peter’s Health Partner to Bring Art Classes to Patients Experiencing Mental Health Crises

Today, the Holter Museum of Art announced the opening of a new exhibit, Healing Art, located in the Museum’s Sherman Gallery. The exhibit features works from patients hospitalized on the St. Peter’s Health Behavioral Health Unit (BHU), a unit dedicated to helping adults and seniors experiencing a mental health crisis return to life with new skills and new hope. The community can view the exhibit at no-cost by visiting the Holter Museum at 12 E. Lawrence Street in Helena, Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and noon to 4:00 p.m. on Sundays. 

In June 2020, the Holter Museum started to offer bi-weekly art classes on the unit through a unique partnership with St. Peter’s. Sondra Hines is the Curator of Education at the Holter Museum and has conducted nearly 100 classes, visiting the unit every Tuesday and Thursday. Hines commented that “our goals for the program are to offer a creative environment for patients to experiment with art materials in a space that is therapeutic, but not formal therapy. Perhaps the patients will make creativity a part of their lives in the future or maybe they will simply have a fond memory of creating. Either way, we believe that art can help us heal from lots of different ailments and experiences and having the opportunity to share creativity in an accessible way is thrilling for me.”

The program is part of St. Peter’s commitment to provide holistic care to patients who are hospitalized due to a mental health crisis. St. Peter’s BHU caregivers provide a range of services for many mental health concerns, including suicidal ideation, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and psychotic disorders. St. Peter’s also offers the only geriatric inpatient program in Montana for people experiencing acute dementia symptoms.

Heather Myers, CTRS is the St. Peter’s BHU Recreation Therapist. Myers helps coordinate and provide a variety of opportunities for hospitalized patients. Group therapy is central to the unit’s approach to care, and the team offers several options including medication groups, therapeutic groups, music groups and pet therapy. For years, Myers has offered art options to patients, but the partnership with the Holter has taken the team’s therapeutic and recreational offerings to a new level, “The Holter’s Healing Arts Program on our unit has provided a different level of offering art to our patients. It’s given patients the opportunity to find new ways to be creative while also being therapeutic.”

Artwork displayed includes collage, weaving, sculpture, and mixed-media pieces. Projects were designed to introduce new materials as well as allowing for experimentation with familiar materials.

“I have observed and witnessed amazing things take place through this program for both adult and senior patients,” said Myers. “On one occasion, we were creating rag dolls and the patient needed some encouraging. But she worked through it and created something she was very proud of. She was informed that she could keep her doll or donate it to be displayed in the exhibit. She began crying with tears of joy and gratitude that someone would be interested in seeing her creation.”

For both Myers and Hines one of the most rewarding parts of the program is when people discover that art can be a life-long coping skill. “Lisa Santillanez was a patient in the BHU and she really enjoyed the program. Lisa loves art and wanted to give back to the community by becoming a volunteer at the Holter. Her journey has really come full circle, and today she shares her time and talents with us at the museum,” said Hines. “This program can be transformational for patients and a great example of how organizations can work together to improve people’s lives.”