Creating art is therapy for Melanie Langlois because it helps ease her symptoms of bipolar disorder, a condition in which people go back and forth between periods of good or irritable moods and depression.
“When I’m having a bad day, I paint something and start feeling better,” she said.
Langlois is a member of the Robert Street Art Program, one of three residential programs the Kent Center manages in Kent County. The residential settings, including the Buttonwoods and Cedar Avenue Group Homes, are for Kent Center clients who need assistance managing their psychological symptoms and to help them live in the community without being hospitalized.
Before becoming part of the program more than four years ago, Langlois said coping with her condition was difficult. But after joining the group and meeting coordinator and case manager Kate Paquin, she said she crafted many beautiful things, including a new outlook. “Because of Kate and the Robert Street Artists, I have learned to have hopes and dreams again,” Langlois said. “I was so stuck in my symptoms that I didn’t see past next week. Now, I see myself having a future.”
In fact, Langlois recently signed up for two classes at the Community College of Rhode Island, including an introduction to visual arts, as well as a writing composition course.
“I’m really happy about it,” said Langlois, who began to read when she was 2 and started writing stories at 4. “I have come a long way through this and it’s because Kate allows me to be creative. It makes me feel worthwhile.”
Paquin said Langlois’ words brought tears to her eyes. She is impressed with the art Langlois makes, whether it’s short essays, poetry, jewelry designs, polymer clay creations, or paintings of landscapes, abstracts, oceans and mountains. “She writes beautiful poetry and displays it on top of her paintings,” said Paquin. “The program gives the group the opportunity to get away from their symptoms and see what life has to offer. It gives them something to look forward to.”
At the moment, they have less than 10 members but are hoping to expand. Space is limited because they don’t have a permanent studio and are operating out of the community room of a supervised apartment program at 18 Roberts Street in West Warwick, hence the name of the group. They are hoping to gain grants in order to become more independent, as they view it as a valuable asset to the community.
“We are looking for people who are interested to give us a call and help us in any way,” Langlois said. “We want to find a place that we can call home and I’m hoping to push Robert Street Artists the distance it can go. It’s such a great concept.”
Paquin said the program started on a whim. Always having an interest in expressive arts, she recently took an introduction to graduate studies class at Salve Regina University in Newport and has been sharing what she learned with the group. She paints, as well, using mostly acrylics, and encourages the members of the group to explore their inner feelings, which is the main goal of expressive art.
“It’s great to be able to see them submerged in the moment and having fun,” said Paquin. “It’s been wonderful to see them grow.”
They also work with recycled colored glass, whether it’s from broken bottles or ornaments. They tumble it in special machines to dull the edges and create mosaic vases, candleholders and garden art. Some of their work was featured at the Affordable Art Show and Sale at the Warwick Museum of Art at 3259 Post Road where 68 other artists and craftspeople sold handmade items. Roberts Art Program work will also be on display in the community window at Gallery Z at 259 Atwells Avenue in Providence next May, which is designated Mental Health Month.
Beverly La Chapelle, who manages the Kent Center sites, could not be reached for comment about the program but Paquin said she thinks highly of La Chapelle’s efforts.
“I believe she is by far one of the most caring and hardest- working women in Rhode Island,” said Paquin. “She puts in many long hours and is always available for both the clients and staff. She’s an inspiration and a true blessing.”