The Underground Press: A leaf in the wind…

The Underground Press | Volume 20, Issue 22 | November 3, 2016 | Marc Jackson

(R): Nigel Bart and his father, Ernie Bart, after his presentation in the Gordon R. Doak Gymnasium on October 25th ~ photo by Marc Jackson

(R): Nigel Bart and his father, Ernie Bart, after his presentation in the Gordon R. Doak Gymnasium on October 25th ~ photo by Marc Jackson

How many of us have experienced loneliness in our lives, or at times felt despondent or depressed about our circumstances? Undoubtedly many; but imagine feeling that way all the time, without a break.

To wake up to fear and apprehension. To approach the day ahead with an unbearable weariness, knowing it will only get worse as each hour ticks by.

Nigel Bart has Schizophrenia and during an hour and a half presentation that took place in the Gordon R. Doak Gymnasium October 26th, he talked freely about the illness and the affect it has had on his life. He bared his soul to those in attendance; talking about his past, his present and many of the demons that were along with him at the outset of his journey. Bart no longer hides from Schizophrenia or looks upon it as a constraint; he wears it like a badge of honour and rejoices in the steps he’s made in his recovery from mental illness.

No stranger to Snow Lake, Bart attended kindergarten at J.H. Kerr School. His father, Ernie Bart, who was along for his son’s northern seminars, was the local school’s first Industrial Arts teacher. He actually set up the IA program for the School District of Snow Lake when they moved into their new building in 1980. The younger Bart notes he has great affection for the north in general and Snow Lake in particular as a result of his early days in the community.

Nigel Bart’s story – by his own description – is a chronicle of healing and empowerment. It began, he says, in high school. He noticed an inability to concentrate and think clearly. He became impulsive in respect to his thoughts, acting out on them regardless of circumstance or consequence. “It was kind of like the inside of my mind was connected to the outside world,” Bart said. “I would often connect things internally and think that other people were reading my mind or somehow guiding me.” He felt that he was being guided by signs and signals based on what he was thinking; giving an example of getting on a bus based on the way someone he encountered had looked at him. He would get off the bus and go into a store for the same reason. He said that he sometimes felt like a leaf in the wind.

This thought pattern carried on for Bart, although he continued to function academically. However, it spiralled to a conclusion when after traveling on a bus all over Winnipeg; heeding the call of voices inside his head, he ended up in the University of Winnipeg Library. He was scared to leave and when he was finally asked to, he left, went out to the street and found the nearest payphone. Bart called his parents and they rushed to the city to meet him. He saw a doctor and a psychiatrist over the ensuing weeks and was eventually diagnosed with Schizophrenia.

Following Bart’s diagnosis, he relocated to his parent’s Rossburn area farm and found solace and enjoyment in his mother Lucille’s potter’s wheel. Noting that stress triggers Schizophrenic episodes, Bart says turning pottery was very therapeutic for him at that time, as there was no pressure on him or expectations of his work. He eventually got strong enough to return to university and attain his degree. While doing so, he volunteered within the Mental Health field and noticed that many of the people he encountered were very creative individuals. These encounters seemed fateful, as Bart held a dream of someday starting an ‘Art Centre’. His parents supported that ambition and inside a year, together, they opened ‘Artbeat Studio’

Artbeat Studio is a Winnipeg based, “peer directed program that provides social supports, working art studio and gallery space, and mentorship for individuals living with mental illness for the purpose of recovery and empowerment.” Non-profit in nature, it is a registered charity “committed to decreasing stigma and discrimination that coincides with mental illness and poverty through positive action, mental health education, and advocacy.”

The studio is a 3,500 square foot facility that provides workspace for up to nine artists living with mental illness. The studio accommodates the artists with working studio spaces and equipment over a program period of six months. Artists work on projects and develop technical skills through a mentorship program. They are also given the opportunity to participate in a number of workshops during and after their residency. Following their completion of the sixth-month residency, the alumni community has access to alternative studio space and art programming in a partnership with Winnipeg Housing. Artbeat Studio supports a variety of mediums including painting, pottery, textile art, graphic arts, stained glass, weaving, music and poetry.

Throughout his presentation on this evening, Bart shifted between talking about his illness and recovery and showing the workings and results of the Artbeat program, as well as much of his own work (via video). His father Ernie also rose and spoke at various intervals. One subject he raised during such an occasion was particularly noteworthy. The elder Bart stated that the vast majority of people with mental illnesses are not harmful… those few, that many hear and worry about, are the exception rather than the rule, and their cases have become sensationalized by the media. “These are by and large gentle people who tend to harm themselves rather than somebody else,” he said, noting that recovery is hastened by strong family and community ties.

On this night, Nigel Bart made clear that Schizophrenia is not a weakness of mind, nor does it handcuff or decree a death sentence on those who are afflicted by it. It is a chemical imbalance within the brain and with medication, support, and understanding; those who have it can lead normal, balanced, or like Bart… even exemplary lives. ~ MJ