What It’s Like Project is a nonprofit organization in Houston, Texas dedicated to providing mental health awareness and support through visual and media arts. We focus on unique perspectives, encouraging creativity in individuals living with mental illness through various art disciplines.
origin of the project
In early 2016, Nikki Hune attempted suicide. After the attempt, she sought mental health treatment in Houston. With little relief from perpetual thoughts of suicide, she made the courageous choice to fully engage with these thoughts rather than avoid them. As an artist and musician, she also began seeking abstract freedom through artistic expression. After experiencing a novel form of relief from suicidal thoughts via her own art, she considered that encouraging artistic expression for those with mental illness could aid the community at large.
Nikki sought to create an avenue to engage society in the experience of “what it’s like” to have suicidal ideations, to have survived a suicide attempt, and to have lost a loved one to suicide. An immediate result of this light-bulb experience was to create a documentary about suicide in Houston to illustrate those points. She teamed up with Cailey Baker and Andrew Robinson who had similar experiences to begin the groundwork. In addition to Cailey and Andrew, she recruited Jeff Thompson, Misty Cooper, Jackie Hune, and Edward Odom to comprise the founding team of the What It’s Like Project. After the overwhelming success of the first two events, EXPOSIS and VOXIS, Katy Manning, Mike Schultz, Justin Anderson and Jose Cortes joined the team to expand the possibilities for What it’s Like Project.
Research has found that expressive art provides individuals the “opportunity to become active participants in their own treatment and empower them to use imagination in productive and corrective ways. Whether through art, play, music, movement, enactment, or creative writing, expressive therapies stimulate the senses, thereby ‘sensitizing’ individuals to untapped aspects of themselves (Gladding, 1992) and thus facilitating self-discovery change, and reparation” (Malchiodi, 2005). Given these results, developing What It’s Like Project fosters an essential role in the lives of many individuals encountering mental health difficulties. Furthermore, our organization holds the space for continuous artistic projects to develop and flourish, maintaining a supportive space of individuals.
Although a growing number of helping professionals understand the impact of artistic approaches, there are still limitations like any therapeutic approach. Specifically, visual and media arts do not appeal to every person with mental illness. In fact, some individuals may express heightened anxiety and stress related to publicly breaking their anonymity. This may also negatively influence self-esteem in relation to the value of their self-expression. Various creative arts (including media and visual arts) have proven to be beneficial and effective. However, more research is needed to better understand how these approaches work.
values and principles
Awareness, activism, empowerment, healing, unification and creativity. Humans find value through self-expression and expressive art story-telling. The unspoken is communicated through this self-expression. A linkage is created between the observer and the artist. Subsequently, our society can become more aware of mental health, which can potentially diminish or erase stigma. Our unification and understanding helps adjunct both individuals who live with mental illness and those who do not.
Gladding, S. (1992). Counseling as an art: The creative arts in counseling. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.
Malchiodi, C. A. (2005). Expressive therapies: History, theory, and practice. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.