Art as Refuge
By Daphne Hsu
November 4, 2001
One of Kiyomi’s woodblock prints, to be sold in Art is Healing Event
Kiyomi Price listened to phantom voices.
In December 1994, Price did not have many friends and she found comfort in the voices. They told her to quit her part-time jobs and drive. She obeyed. For a month, she drove through Oakland, Piedmont. Richmond and other cities. Her funds dwindled and she became homeless. She went to a welfare office at the end of January.
At a program for the homeless, she was finally diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Three years later. Price was helping others with mental illnesses at a an art program where she had been enrolled.
She is still an art instructor with Asian Community Mental Health Services, a nonprofit organization based in Oakland. The art program, which began in 1997, helps mentally ill and developmentally disabled people. It helps people, who have been admitted to the hospital multiple times, become well enough to find employment.
Although the result is healing, the program can be viewed as a collective art group rather a therapy session.
The program was a refuge for Elliot Nuval, a 34-year-old who had schizophrenia for years before he sought help.
“I just wanted to find out who I was – to look for a place, a sense o fbelonging, like a clubhouse,” Nuval said. “I wanted to put some structure in my daily life. Coming here helped me to socialize, and just have fun and share my talents.”
Nuval has participated in the art program since its inception and continues to create there. He also works once a week at the Neighborhood Learning Center on International Boulevard where the art program is held.
Noriko Inagaki, art program and clinician at ACMHS, is retiring in June
Noriko Inagaki, who supervises the program, credited its success to its enjoyment factor. She treats everyone like a professional and describes the program as a joint business venture- the point is to not stigmatize people, she said.
About 15 people come regularly, although about 50 people are registered for the program, Inagaki said.
Artists meet twice a week to make wood-block designs that are printed and often sold. Proceeds from art sales are split between the artist and the supply costs. Their work varies from abstract images to scenes with a definite foreground and background. Some compositions have been of a single sun flower, and a snapshot of a man and a bull running in front of distant mountains.
Unlike Nuval, Price hesitated to enroll in the art program. The Japanese-born Oakland resident that to work through her prejudice against Asian people, formed during a 1994 visit to Japan where she said she had been treated badly. She participated in the art program with encouragement from Inagaki.
“Noriko was really nice, really honest, and warm hearted,” she said of Inagaki, who was her therapist from 1996-1998. “Finally, I started coming to class with Asian people.”
With help from Inagaki and others, she started attending peer counseling and psychology classes and was hired at the health services organization.
The art program suits Price well because of her graphic design background. After she came to the United States from Japan in 1980, she studied at the Academcy of Art in San Francisco.
Price works at the center 12-14 hours a week because the three drugs she takes for depression, anxiety and psychosis leave her easily fatigued.
“Before I start working, my panic attacks and side effects from medication was really, really bad,” she said.
From December 1994 to June 1995, she was admitted to Highland Hospital in Oakland 11 times because she felt like she was going to die, she said. Later, she found out she sufferred from panic attacks.
“Helping others really helps my recovery,” Price said. “I really appreciate all my students- they support me, too. We support each other.”