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An art show within an art show highlights the struggles people go through and how art can help them break free. 

“Ten Days in May” celebrates the work of current and former clients of Black Mountain Counseling Center, which offers art as therapy. “Ten Days in May,” held during mental health awareness month and up at Red House Gallery May 15-25, is part of the exhibit at Red House called “For Me, This Is Different.”

The latter show, of work by members of the Swannanoa Valley Fine Arts League, challenged artists to work outside their usual styles. Prompting them to reach deep within, the exhibit is meant to inspire new and different work – much the same way art therapy helps the counseling center’s clients come up with new solutions to challenges they encounter.

Art “allows me to go somewhere to escape and be refortified, emotional and mentally,” said a former client of Black Mountain Counseling Center who asked for anonymity to speak about how art has helped her cope with the stress of losing her husband. Her series of crayon pieces in “Ten Days in May,” titled “Will You Walk with Me?”, asks viewers to both stay with the two dozen images in the series and to stay with her as she works through the stress she feels.

 “Most artists, whether they’re visual artists or musicians or dancers, probably have that same sense of going ‘somewhere,’” she said. “For me, art has been helping me all these years stay centered with something I wasn’t expecting out of life.”

Art is one of the things that Black Mountain Counseling Center uses to help clients relieve stress or work through problems. Several studies indicate that the focusing powers of art can be an antidote to a restless mind that gets twisted upon itself. The repetitive motions of drawing, crocheting or other art expressions can been soothing to someone whose thoughts dart every which way.

“Art engages a different part of the brain,” said Ellen Begley, the center’s director. “It helps people to become more creative in their thoughts to come up with new ideas to solve issues that they hadn’t thought of before.”

That’s why “Ten Days in May” is a good fit for the league’s show. “For Me This is Different” challenged artists to approach their art in a new, fresh way. That’s what art does for people struggling with emotional or brain function issues, Begley said.

“When you’re having to do something outside your norm, it opens a part of the brain that maybe hasn’t been used as much,” she said. “Doing something different gets people in a different space in their brain. They look at things from a different perspective. That can be very freeing. It encourages creativity, which keeps people healthy.”

Many of the artists in “Ten Days in May” will exhibit their work anonymously, “which is understandable,” Begley said, since we’re a small town.” Many will submit artist statements that express about the connection they see between their art and their challenges.

Like the artists from the counseling center, the artists in “For Me, This Is Different” have been prompted to use art – or, rather, a different way of executing it – to open up possibilities and perhaps arrive at solutions to creative nuts they’ve been trying to crack.

“It just seems natural” to have the two shows together, said Judy Williams, president of the Swannanoa Valley Fine Arts League. An elementary school guidance counselor before she retired 15 years ago, she has seen the value of art in helping people (mainly children, in her case) express what they may otherwise be reluctant to express.

“Once a child drew a picture of the school with him climbing up a ladder and dumping whatever he was feeling down the chimney,” she said. “He thought he could tell the people at the school what he couldn’t tell others.”

“For Me, This Is Different,” which runs May 11-July 8, encourages the arts league artists to take risks by working outside their signature styles and methods. “Risk taking and rule breaking can remove barriers to creativity,” the league states in a press release that could easily have been written for “Ten Days in May.”

“This show challenges the artists to dare to express that part of themselves which is seldom seen,” the art league’s press release states. “Exploring this concept can sometimes yield astonishing results.”

Opening reception for “For Me, This Is Different” is 5-7 p.m. Friday, May 11. Opening reception for “Ten Days in May” is 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, May 15. The Red House Gallery and Studios (svfalarts.org) is next to the Monte Vista Hotel, 310 W. State St., Black Mountain.

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