In the winter of 2019/20, The NAN Project was introduced to an artist from Gloucester, Mass whose messaging of overcoming mental health challenges struck a chord with our own mission of getting people talking about this topic. We were asked by the Greater North Shore NAMI chapter to have several of our Peer Mentors attend and present at the opening of her “I Am More” exhibit in Danvers. Since then, we’ve stayed in closer touch and recently attended another opening, this of an expanded exhibit in Peabody’s North Shore Mall.

Amy Kerr, a pastel portrait painter started this journey in early 2017 after her own struggle with depression, which motivated her to begin the “I am More” project. She initially reached out to 16 local people from the North Shore area of Massachusetts and asked them if they were comfortable sharing their stories of struggle and resiliency.  The art showing reminds us that we are more than our current life situation, health diagnosis or physical disability.  Each one of Amy’s artistic and realistic portraits has a good meaningful and story behind it.  Some of the topics that each individual has experienced are depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD and suicide. 

One of the portraits is about a United States combat veteran who suffered from PTSD, depression and alcoholism.  He describes coming back from war and the challenges he faced re-entering civilian life. The store talks about a retreat that he went on for combat veterans where he finally received the hope he needed and ends on the hopeful note of his entry to college and becoming a mentor for other veterans.  This example personal resiliency, finding his purpose and inspiring hope for others very much resembles the Comeback Stories our Peer Mentors share with students.   

The exhibit at the North Shore Mall includes 20 new photo-realistic portraits, each with a story of a Massachusetts resident and their own or their family’s words about their struggles with mental illness, disease or other situations that they have faced and overcome.

Amy has exhibited her show in Lawrence, Gloucester, Danvers, Salem and Worcester over the past year and hopes to bring it to Umass Amherst in Western Mass this spring, with a stop at the State House during mental health awareness month in May. To learn where she’ll be next, you can check out her blog at https://amykerrdraws.org/. We look forward to our next collaboration with Amy and the amazing work she is doing.

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