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Queens Chronicle

QCC and Venture House: the art of collaboration

Queensborough Community College showcases art and mental illness

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Posted: Thursday, May 8, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:41 am, Thu May 15, 2014.

Sometimes Paula Isaac is convinced her apartment is going to explode.

She’ll grab Stinky, the teddy bear her daughter gave to her, and go out into the city, often late at night. She can be gone for as little as a few hours or as long as several days, staying in bars to keep warm and sleeping on concrete.

“I never drink,” Isaac said of her time spent in bars. “I just have sodas.”

She speaks unashamedly of these nights when she fears staying in her own home. She chats about it using the same casualness one might use speaking of a bad knee that flares up every once in a while. It’s just something that happens.

While Isaac is shaky in other parts of her life, painting has always made sense.

“I started when I was real little in Trinidad,” she said. “I had to be 3 years old and I was drawing.”

When her family came to America, her skills flourished at the High School of Art and Design and eventually the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she studied fashion illustration.

“Then I got sick,” she said.

Many psychologists find art to be a highly beneficial and soothing activity people, like Isaac, who suffers from severe mental illness, can partake in.

It provides a constructive outlet for them to unleash their feelings and views of the world while creating something beautiful at the same time.

Venture House, a community center for adults with mental illness where Isaac spends most of her time, has partnered with Queensborough Community College to feature a number of its clients’ artwork in the school’s gallery.

“A Colorful Expression of Mind” grew out of a QCC Academic Service-Learning Project — a special program that partners students with community groups in their final year of college.

The goal is for the two separate parties to develop almost a symbiotic relationship and foster programs around the borough.

The exhibition was the result of pairing Venture House with senior nursing students.

“A Colorful Expression of Mind” is not a large collection; only a dozen or so pieces are mounted on a brick wall. But both the staff and the clients of Venture House were rightfully proud enough of the work that had been produced that size didn’t matter.

Some pieces are funny, some sad and others dreamlike.

Isaac’s work in particular is a clear standout, though artists including Kim Young-Yandoli and Lois Anderson also produced stellar work.

“I thought they’d put up more than one,” she said, frowning slightly. “I submitted two.”

The 57-year-old cites Norman Rockwell as her No. 1 inspiration.

“He’s just amazing, he’s the absolute best,” she said.

Though only one of her pieces — a view of the smoking deck at Venture House — was featured, Isaac carries a portfolio of all her paintings and readily shows them off to anyone willing to listen and look.

Despite her featured work, Isaac paints mostly portraits based on old family photos, memories and wishes.

“I don’t see my family much but I have love for them,” she said with a melancholy tone, tracing her fingers across a painting of her daughter.

The opening night of the exhibit was generally a happy affair.

“There are so many stigmas about mental health and we want to show people that they are human beings who deserve to be treated the way anyone else would,” Venture House Executive Director David Lehmann said. “What’s so great about this is their illnesses aren’t at the center of this.

“We get to see them in a different context and view their work and they get to engage in a positive experience that has nothing to do with doctors or therapy sessions.”

‘A Colorful Expressionof Mind’

When: Tuesday to Sunday, through June 29

Where: QCC Art Gallery, 222-05 56 Ave., Bayside

Website: qcc.cuny.edu/artgallery

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