Mental Health Takes Centre Stage at Local Arts Festival

If you don’t know about Inspire Community Outreach, you should.

Founded in 2013 by the super-inspirational Angela Taylor, the local non-profit provides free art, music and mindfulness programs to youth living with mental illness and disabilities. On Feb. 7, the local arts community is coming together in support of the organization’s efforts.

Hosted by the one-and-only Ace Burpee, With Love will feature live bands, a DJ, hula-hoop performers, dancers, a custom-built stage with art projections, a virtual reality booth and live paintings.

In addition to headliners Yes We Mystic and live paintings by local artists like Synonym Art Consultation, the event will also feature interactive installations, tasty treats and a silent auction with sweet prizes from companies like Jenna Rae Cakes.

From every artist and every performer to each of the event’s sponsors, With Love is 100% local. And to top it off, all of the night’s proceeds will go directly to Inspire Community Outreach.

In advance of the big night, we chatted with Angela Taylor, founder/CEO of Inspire. Here’s what she had to say about mental health, the power of art and more.

 You founded Inspire Community Outreach back in 2013. What gaps were you trying to fill, and what were you hoping to accomplish?

Growing up was hard. There was a time that I felt like I was the only child having difficulties. As I grew up, I noticed more and more people around me saying that things had been – and still were – hard for them. They shared that services were hard to access, or that they didn’t fit with what they needed. I really want things to be different. We have dozens of amazing community organization partners, all working together to support youth and families. Providing compassion and education, and reducing barriers to accessing inclusive support are really our primary goals, and we are finding a lot of success as the community finds success.

Angela Taylor, founder/CEO of Inspire Community Outreach

 You mention your ties to other community organizations. What has the public response been over the past 4+ years? What are some accomplishments, achievements or specific stories that have reinforced your decision to start the program?

Over the past four years, the community has continued to share that although it seems like there are many supports for families like ours, the reality is that we’re struggling. Our children are struggling.

We’ve had the chance to meet and work alongside nearly 3,000 people in the past year alone. We offer youth supports including art programs, caregiver support, and education and professional development. I am proud that we are led by the community. They know what they need, and being in a place to do something with that knowledge is an incredible feeling.

Parents reaching out to me that they heard me speak, and felt hope for their child with differences, hearing that families advocated and received the support they deserve, and seeing the joy expressed on their faces as we spent time together help me be grateful for the opportunity to know these children and these families.

 Despite campaigns and events like With Love, there’s still a certain stigma associated with mental health. Why do you think that is, and what will it take to change it?

I know through my journey of awareness and acceptance, I have become very vocal about my own neurological and psychological needs and differences. The idea that we each are unique and sit somewhere on a continuum of anxiety, or attention, etc., is freeing. As I raise my children I see that this fear about difference and things we do not yet understand begins as soon as children gather in large groups. We as caregivers and educators are the key to bring this shift to where it needs to be. We each have purpose and strength, and together we can support our entire community to get in touch with theirs.

 Tell us a bit about Inspire’s inclusion of art programming. Why is it important, and what are the benefits?

Art is a powerful tool to deal with emotions. We can learn to express ourselves, connect with others, and learn positive ways of coping, in our own way. Inviting creativity is a fun way to build on strength, learn new mental health and artistic skills, while talking about some really hard things. Being a child or a teenager can be really hard, and asking them to guide us in terms of what art they want to do can be very empowering. We can be the only place that week where they had the freedom to choose and be really seen.

 What are some of the most common misconceptions or stereotypes about families living with mental health issues, and what have you learned since starting Inspire?

Due to childhood trauma, I grew up with neurological differences. I developed an anxiety and panic disorder and experienced years of severe PTSD.

I knew from a very young age that I was different. It was assumed because I learned differently, that I would not amount to “anything.” I remember being told by two different high school teachers that I would never go on to university. As I complete my thesis, in my Masters program at the University of Manitoba, and contemplate which path to my PhD I will take, I think of those teachers. With 1 billion people in the world with disabilities, families like mine are common. Raising children with differences, and living with your own, invites experiences of being vulnerable, underestimated and under-resourced. Since starting Inspire, I have come to understand how common this is, and I continue to learn from families how to give them an opportunity to have their needs met. And that they truly have the answers.

 What is the overall goal and expectations for the With Love event?

I hope that people become aware of how many families and youth live with unique challenges in our city. Winnipeg coming together to be able to celebrate awareness and strength in this way is truly a dream come true.

With Love goes down at the Metropolitan Entertainment Centre Feb. 7. For tickets and more information visit With Love online.

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