Healing Power of Art

Downtown's quaint and eclectic Café 54 offers more than just a lunch menu.

Along with a wide array of healthful food options, the restaurant provides a "unique employment training program for adults recovering from mental illnesses" through job coaching and training for a variety of restaurant positions, as well as psych support and resources.

In addition, its website says, all tips generated by Café 54 and its catering services are used to fund an art program, "established to provide and assist individuals recovering from mental illness the opportunity to express themselves through the creative arts."

Through the Café 54 Art Foundation, those recovering from mental illnesses who are participating in a behavioral health program can receive a scholarship to purchase art supplies, which allows them to express their recovery, pain, trauma and progress through various artistic mediums.

"The art foundation was developed to provide artists recovering with mental illness ... a creative outlet," said Autumn Bree, catering manager and art foundation coordinator for Café 54. "We help them to purchase art supplies, and we talk with them gradually about their progress, their artwork, and the styles and mediums that they're working with."

When an artist is finished with a piece, Café 54 will display the work and offer it for sale, with the artist receiving 100 percent of the proceeds.

According to Bree, such artists are often referred to the program by their rehabilitation counselors and friends.

"I know some artists that just live and breathe art," Bree said. "That is their coping mechanism, that's their passion ... it's really helpful in the process of creative expression to sometimes get what's in your head out in a visual format."

Which has been exactly the case for one artist, Julia "Rodeo" Korinko.

Following a manic episode that landed her in a hospital, Korinko drew one of her first pieces—a gruesome memory of a rape—which detailed a nude female with a black figure reaching around and grabbing her.

Korinko said she had never known she had artistic talent.

"It's very frightening and depressing (in hospitals) ... and art was just so freeing," she said. "It's really a way to get all my anger and my pain out in a productive way."

After she was released from the hospital, she re-created the piece and showed it to the Café 54 Art Foundation, which encouraged her to continue her art through its program.

By being able to get rid of some of the darkness in her life through art, Korinko said, there is now room for the light.

"You see it (progress) in my artwork. It's brighter, it's healthier, the content is better," Korinko said.

Though she still draws nudes, she combines them with florals.

Korinko is one of several artists who have works on display in the Culturing Creativity group exhibition at Café 54 through Aug. 31.

This Saturday, a free artists' reception at Café 54 will showcase artists who have received the art fund scholarship.

Artwork will range from self-portraits to landscapes to collages to jewelry and sculpture, Bree said.

"It's going to be an evening to celebrate the artists' hard work, and just to kind of raise money for the art foundation as well, so they can continue to assist the artists," Bree said.

The event will also include live music, a raffle and a fashion show put together by an artist who not only paints, but also uses all-natural fibers to create knit clothing.

"I'm looking forward to seeing the artists and hearing them express how proud they feel," Bree said. "When they create artwork and they see it displayed, it's this amazing sense of pride that they feel and they express ... it's like this visual account of their success and their progress."

Part of the mission of the art foundation and the upcoming event is also to decrease the stigma of mental illness and "to show that everybody has something to offer," Bree said.