LANSING– NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) Lansing is a program striving to improve the lives of people with neurological mental illnesses. The group uses art as a gateway for people to express themselves and financially support the organization.
Center City Art is a new event to the NAMI Lansing organization and allows local artists in Michigan to show and sell their artwork, in hopes that it will become a NAMI Lansing fundraiser to support the organization. NAMI Lansing gets a percentage of the earnings that an artist makes on all exhibition sales.
The main focus of NAMI Lansing is to “educate, support, and advocate for mental illness,” said Kevin Keeler, who is going into his third year as president of NAMI Lansing, which is affiliated with the national NAMI organization.
“Predominantly what we do is provide educational programs,” said Keeler.
Keeler explained that there are two sides of NAMI. This first is programs that support groups for individuals who are living with a diagnosis, and on the second is for families and friends that support people living with a diagnosis. Some people are in both groups.
Center City Art has a committee of three people who have organized and began this program: Kevin Keeler, Paul VerBurg and Alexa Magsoudi, who is a human biology major in the Lyman Briggs College at Michigan State and also an artist.
Paul VerBurg attended the Art Institute of Chicago and Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, and has specialized in drawing and painting.
VerBurg has been helping Center City Art by providing pieces of his artwork to the gallery.
VerBurg has been an active participant in the Lansing art community.
VerBurg was born in Canada and raised primarily in the southwest (California, Arizona, and New Mexico), he has been living in Okemos, MI a little under two years.
“Back in Arizona I was involved with a group called Art Awakening and I worked with adults that were mentally challenged or had some disability of some sort,” said VerBurg. “I was the artist in residence teaching drawings, paintings, sculptures, printmaking, etc.”
Art Awakening works with adults and children who struggle with behavioral health challenges. “Empowerment and recovery through the power of creative expression,” is what they encourage according to PSA Art Awakening.
“Anything I can do financially to help the fundraiser I do,” said VerBurg. “The pieces are just sitting here in my closet so if I have something that can fill in the spaces I offer to the gallery.”
Keeler said, “Paul VerBurg is a real artist and he knows how to manage art.” Keeler describes Paul’s artwork as “prolific”.
Center City Art has had 3 shows. The first show was entirely done by VerBurg.
“We haven’t sold a lot of art, but we hope that the more people who understand the more people will be willing to buy the quality art,” said Keeler. “This was not initially intended to be a fundraiser, but we hope that it evolves into that.”
Keeler emphasized that they want professional artists, but they also want new artists as well.
“You do not have to have a mental health diagnosis to submit a piece of artwork,” said Keeler.
“What we are trying to do is get people more aware of NAMI and Center City Art presents a great opportunity for artists to express themselves and get noticed, while supporting and spreading the awareness of NAMI,” said Keeler.
“We do want people who express their mental illness through art, but it is not exclusively based on that.” Keeler added, “we welcome people with diagnosis, but we welcome all artists.”
All pieces of art can be viewed online on NAMI-Lansing’s online gallery or you can see the display case at 200 Albert Ave.