Momentum Studios: Using art to help with mental illness

A Central Iowa nonprofit organization that supports over 1,200 individuals with disabilities is expanding its art programming to better serve the area.

For 20 years, Community Support Advocates has helped individuals dealing with mental illness, intellectual disabilities, brain injury and substance use. Its art program “Momentum” has provided programming for 13 years and is moving into an art studio inside MainFrame Studios in downtown Des Moines.

Christine Smith is the CEO of Community Support Advocates and started Momentum 13 years ago to help support individuals who were talented artists, but weren’t engaged in their art because of their mental illness.

“So we started this very first competition and exhibition for artists with disabilities,” Smith said. “For the past 13 years we’ve had this annual exhibit for anyone in Central Iowa with a disability at Hoyt Sherman. The last few years we’ve had about 100 pieces entered.

“We started with 13.”

Smith said 100 percent of the funding for Momentum is fundraised and a recent grant allowed her to hire Shannon Kaster as a full-time program coordinator.

The focus is the kids

Smith said a lot of the individuals Community Support Advocates supports are children going through the foster system. They use the Momentum art program to build confidence, inspire, hope and develop resilience.

“We’re targeting two types of groups: The artists who want to move forward with their craft and get their work out there and the individuals who have never tried anything before,” she says.

Smith said in past art exhibits, there have been photographers, painters, wood carvers, mixed media and spray painters. She hopes they can offer drama programming within the next year as well.

Kaster says art programming provides youth who think they may not be good at anything, with an outlet that proves, they are.

“Pursing art is the perfect way to express yourself,” she says. “Through this program, I really hope to see people come through and they are just floored by what we have to offer.”

MainFrame Studios makes it possible

Smith says if it weren’t for MainFrame Studios, Momentum Studios wouldn’t exist.

“For us to have an actual studio of our own, we wouldn’t have gotten here anytime soon,” Smith said. “And we couldn’t have immersed ourselves quite like we have in the arts community. This has been such a tremendous opportunity for us. The arts community has been so welcoming.”

Smith said artists who also have studio space inside MainFrame Studios have volunteered to teach classes.

Kaster said most of the workshops are currently scheduled throughout the metro but now will be held inside Momentum Studios.

“It’s a stability thing,” she says. “It’s awesome to have a stable place, especially if there’s not a lot of that in somebodies life.

“You can show what you are able to do.”

And bringing in local artists believes it will help rid some of the stigma that comes with the term, “Mental illness” or disability.”

“These artists have different stories themselves,” Kaster says. “But they are just really passionate and volunteering to do these workshops. They really want to see whatever medium they are working with and share it with everybody.”

Momentum Studios is having a grand opening from 4-7 p.m. Nov. 9 at MainFrame Studios.