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Calgary mask making group tackling mental health stigma

Written message inside contrast with images outside

Jonah Turning Robe, 18, with two of the masks from the View from the Inside project.

Jennifer Friesen for Metro

Jonah Turning Robe, 18, with two of the masks from the View from the Inside project.

A mask making project has put Wendy Passmore-Godfrey a little bit out of her comfort zone, though it’s been a worthwhile and educational experience.

Passmore-Godfrey, the artistic director for WP Puppet Theatre, is leading a project — titled  View from the Inside — that is touring various organizations in the city, getting participants to create puppet masks that replicate who they are, inside and out.

The project explores the experiences of Calgarians who struggle in different ways with mental wellness, and participants are asked to paint the outside of the mask in a way that represents how they think the world views them.

But inside the masks, participants will write their personal thoughts. Messages that they consider too private, will be sealed in miniature envelopes and glued inside.

Although many in the program face homelessness, learning delays and isolation, Passmore-Godfey said everyone — essentially — experiences the emotional highs and lows that are a part of being human.

“(The project) gives voices to people who don’t normally have a venue to speak literally or in other forms,” she said.

Glenn Taylor, who’s a drama consultant for the project — along with four others — said he’s seen participants become liberated when they paint.

“For me, the highlight has been seeing this sense of empowerment that seems to come through in this art making process,” Taylor said. “I’m a strong believer that working in a symbolic form is up-lifting.”

Passmore-Godfrey said she’s seen many colourful masks, though she can’t say for certain what the artists were expressing.

“Sometimes it’s hard to put people’s creative impulses into words,” she said. “We have to be careful of judging what they do.”

And as it turns out, she said she hopes those viewing the masks develop a sense of empathy, when they understand the issues around mental health.

Colin Menzies, program manager at Studio C — which will host the next mask painting sessions — said he thinks View from the Inside will break down many barriers.

“(The project) is so cool,” he said. “It’s empowering for youth who struggle with mental health to share their stories.”

The project just finished mask making sessions at Circle of Supports, and will venture to Studio C, Pathways to Housing and United Active Living at Garrison Green. The project results will be featured in 2016 at the This is my City Festival.  

The project is also looking to raise funds through Invest YYC, as masks are delivered to each organizations free of charge.

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