Beyond the Physical

By on April 12, 2018

A new campaign is creating public art with a mental health mission

Cal Brackin is illustrating the many faces of folks affected by mental health issues.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – During the month of May, expect to see faces painted in business windows, on coasters, bookmarks and walls. The faces belong to members of the community who, in one way or another, are affected by mental health issues. Cal Brackin, a local artist and creative lead for Leadership Jackson Hole’s current project, suspects he’d have his work cut out for him if more folks impacted by mental health were willing to share their story.

“Everyone should be able to have a voice, and also listen to somebody else without judgment and shame,” Brackin said. But that is not the case. Mental health is still hard to talk about, he said. Leadership Jackson Hole is hoping to change that.

Their campaign #HereForYouJH hopes to dismantle the stigma associated with mental illness by literally illustrating the faces affected by it, and sharing stories. The leadership team wants stories about mental health to exist shamelessly in the open, in public spaces, so they can work their way into community dialogue. “It’s about showing the human aspect of what we all go through with mental health experiences,” Brackin said.

It just so happens that Brackin is an illustrator and visual storytelling is his craft.

“This project just fits my skill set really well,” he said. “It was serendipitous.”

At this point, Brackin is deeply familiar with “using art to overcome boundaries and barriers.” He’s built a life around it, and now a career as project manager at Jackson Hole Public Art. Brackin’s illustrations have allowed him to communicate with people around the world, from Italy to Mongolia to India, transcending language barriers and cultural differences.

“Everyone can understand and emotionally connect with a drawing or a piece of art. [Art] is an entryway into communicating with people.”

And art is growing as a tool to combat stigma. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) frequently shares art that illustrates mental illness in some form. But the power in Brackin’s art is in its familiarity. He wants to flood the town with familiar faces to illustrate the many spheres of mental illness and its reach. The more voices and faces people can relate to, the less scary and isolating mental illness will feel. That’s the idea, at least.


“People with mental illness are much more likely to be the victims of violence than perpetrators of it.”


“Everyone is able to be an example to someone, and to see an example in someone,” Brackin said.

Mental health may be “having a moment,” as the saying goes, but not always for the right reasons. Episodes of gun violence quickly turn into a debate about mental illness versus weaponry, with some pointing to mental illness as a cause of mass murder. The numbers do not support this notion. “Serious mental illness” is a factor in just 1 percent of gun homicides each year, according to Gun Violence and Mental Illness, a 2016 book published by the American Psychiatric Association. Only 4 percent of any kind of violence in the U.S. is related to mental illness, the book notes. And people with mental illness are much more likely to be the victims of violence than perpetrators of it.

Nationally, mental health is working its way into public dialogue, Brackin said. But in Jackson, physical health is everything. “People are celebrated for being young, athletic,” he said. Mental health, on the other hand, often takes a backseat. There are eight orthopedic surgeons in the valley, ready to fix a torn ACL and get people back “on the slopes.” There are just two psychiatrists, and one is approaching retirement.

Jacksonites also live what Brackin calls “Facebook” lives—picturesque, but curated. There’s no room for negativity in news feeds, or in real life. There are benefits to such a lifestyle, Brackin said. The outdoors can provide a natural remedy to anxiety, and is often where people go to decompress. But it also makes it hard to have meaningful conversations about difficult things, like mental health.

The #HereForYouJH campaign is multi-faceted. It will be the most visible throughout the month of May, Mental Health Awareness Month. On April 28, a group of volunteers will distribute art throughout the town—some will paint windows, others will plaster oil paintings to walls with wheatpaste (an adhesive concoction of water and flour that doesn’t react to water). Others will distribute coasters, stickers and bookmarks to participating local businesses. A giant wheatpaste mural will live on a semi-truck trailer. Leadership Jackson Hole is also working closely with local organizations that promote and support mental health. They’re raising money through St. John’s Hospital Foundation, and encouraging people to call the St. John’s Mental Health Line for connections and referrals.

The campaign won’t come to a halt in May, because mental health doesn’t stop with the seasons (though it can change with them). Leadership JH will continue to install art and raise awareness throughout the year. Brackin hopes the community stays engaged, and participates. “This isn’t just something to like on Facebook,” he said. “It’s something you can actually participate in.”

Local businesses can donate window and wall space, and individuals can participate by sharing their story or their face (for Brackin to illustrate).

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