The fourth annual “Journey of Hope Exhibit,” a collaborative project that pairs writers with local artists to share stories of hope and recovery, will be held at the Elk Grove Fine Arts Center, starting on Oct. 6 from 3-7 p.m.

“The art show is a little bit different than most art shows,” said event founder and photographer, Laura Bemis. “We’re taking people with lived experience with mental health challenges, and they write a story with hope and recovery as theme and we jury artists all over Sacramento County.”

Those juried artists receive those stories and illustrate them through their chosen art form. At the opening ceremony, they finally get a chance to meet the writer.

Organizers hope to give others insight, inspiration, understanding, strength, connection and to raise awareness of mental illness and dismantle the stigma that goes along with it.

“One in five people walking in the U.S. live with a mental health disorder. It’s more prevalent than heart disease,” Bemis said. “We got to get word out there.”

Since everyone is juried in, it’s always quality art, she said.

“A lot from the Elk Grove community have stepped in,” Bemis said. “The Elk Grove Fine Arts Center has taken on a story. The art varies as much as the story varies. It’s a wide variety of mediums and types of art.”

Though a professional photographer and artist herself, Bemis didn’t enter any art; she entered a story that recalled traumatic childhood experiences that followed her into her thirties, making it difficult to trust anyone.

“But now, through therapy and learning great coping skills, I can trust a handful of people including a therapist and medical doctor. The few people I do trust have proved that they’re trustworthy over time,” she writes.

Bemis is also a former photo editor for the Citizen where she worked for nearly 35 years.

As Journey of Hope continues to grow from year to year, these types of messages continue to spread. Boasting 42 artists and 42 writers this year, the event next year will expand and include a Sacramento showing of the exhibit. The exhibit will also be held at the Crocker Art Museum in 2020, Bemis said.

Early each year, a four-member event organizing committee puts a call out for writers and artists. The story could be in a narrative format or a poem at a maximum of two pages in length. The committee does not make changes without consent.

Stop Stigma Sacramento, a program funded by the Sacramento County Division of Behavioral Health Services through the voter approved Proposition 63, Mental Health Services Act, provides financial and logistical support for Journey of Hope.

Working as a liaison between Stop Stigma Sacramento and the event’s organizing committee, Sacramento County Health Educator Chantal Allen-Jarrell said Stop Stigma Sacramento helps provide fiscal support for Journey of Hope and makes sure the committee has the supplies and resources needed for a successful event.

In her first year in this position, Allen-Jarrell said she can only share experiences thus far in planning and that she looks forward to the reception when the artists and writers meet for the first time.

“I am looking forward to that positive energy and experience,” she said. “I heard from others that it’s really magnificent and beautiful when that happens … Tears of happiness, tears of joy.”

About a month ago, Allen-Jarrell wrapped the art for transport, and thus had the opportunity to see the pieces. “Some pieces you would look and know there’s a story behind it. You would see the emotion behind it.”

While exhibit visitors may wish to buy art, pieces will not be for sale during the show. However, artists may sell their artwork afterward.

The show continues through Oct. 20, Wednesday - Saturday 11 a.m.-4 p.m.  The Arts Center/Gift Gallery is located in Old Town Elk Grove, 9080 Elk Grove Blvd. At the Oct. 6 opening reception, there will be live music provided by Gregg Matson, refreshments and free parking lot south side of Elk Grove Boulevard at School Street.  

For more information, call (916) 685-5992, email egfinearts@frontiernet.net or visit www.ElkGroveFineArtsCenter.org.