by Jane Litchfield
At this giving time of year, we especially thankful for our donors. When you support Guelph Arts Council, you support people like Jay S. Lefler Rosenberg.
Jay S. Lefler Rosenberg is a warrior -- a mental health warrior, that is. He is also a painter and graphic designer, and one of those people who makes connections wherever he goes. He is a trained peer support worker. And, he is open about his personal journey with mental illness. His latest initiative, “Coming Full Circle,” brings all that together.
Coming Full Circle offers creative mentoring to people of all abilities, including those with mental health concerns, addictions, or developmental challenges. As a peer mentor, Jay works with groups as well as one-on-one. Jay says he has seen his latest client’s artistic confidence improve in a only few sessions. “At first they made slow, meticulous movements, questioning every detail. Yesterday they were flying through painting.”
Jay believes his lived experience with mental illness makes his clients more comfortable. They know they will get empathy, understanding and respect. “They won’t feel a power imbalance,” Jay says.
A life-long talent
Jay always had a talent for creative expression. He attended a high school for the arts in Toronto, and when he was accepted into University of Toronto’s art program, his portfolio was so strong they started him in the third-year studio drawing course. But a mental health crisis halted his artistic life for a while.
His mother, Judith Rosenberg, says when Jay returned to Guelph in 1997 after a stay in Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, he began to paint again, and his body of work clearly showed his road to recovery. “He uses his gifts and talents to share his story in its raw, unedited version.”
When Jay went to apply for a job at the Dunara Homes for Recovery where he previously lived, his former counsellor said “You’re coming full circle.” That phrase became the title of his 2016 college valedictorian address about his journey through mental illness and addiction to true fulfillment. And now it’s the name of his mentoring program.
Breaking down barriers
An important aspect of Coming Full Circle is that it’s not in a clinical setting. “There’s no waiting room where you sit and get called in,” Judith says. Jay will visit homes or agencies, and he received support from The Elevator Project that allowed him to offer group sessions in 10C Shared Space for the past year. (He now he has a GoFundMe campaign.) “The community setting breaks down barriers,” says Jay. “You are part of the community just like everyone else.”
Jay says one of his favourite things about his home city is that “it’s okay to be different in Guelph.” He also likes how connected and open it is. Guelph Arts Council is one place Jay turns to for help with grant applications and meeting people to collaborate with. He was also thrilled to win a special mention Jane Graham Memorial Award from GAC in 2009: “That was a big deal” he says with a smile. Jay says by supporting initiatives like his, GAC is taking the idea of healing through arts “to a new level.”
Judith and Jay are also co-founders of Spark of Brilliance, which also allows people living with mental health issues to experience the arts. Judith says “the connection with Guelph Arts Council was there from Day 1. The first person we went to for inroads with artist mentors was [former GAC executive director] Sally Wismer.”
‘The hub of the arts’
Judith cites GAC’s willingness to work with marginalized people: “GAC is a leader in fostering healing through arts. There is still a lack of understanding out there that art is for everyone. GAC brings appreciation of art to all sectors, regardless of station in life…. GAC is the leader, the core, the hub of the arts in this community.”
It’s easy to see why people want to help Jay, who infuses his story with optimism: “The same brain that gave me illness gave me my creativity.” It’s a trait he wants to share: “As I became more confident, I moved into helping others…. Because of my successes, people can have hope, even in the darkest moments. They can see their dreams come true.”
You can help Guelph Arts Council support people like Jay, with a tax-deductible donation.