Building Community Awareness: "Artwork as a Vehicle for Recovery"

Altered Esthetics interviewsEmily Monson, Outreach and Program Manager for The Emily Program Foundation.


Altered Esthetics is proud to be working with The Emily Program Foundation to exhibit Art and Eating Disorders 2017, your annual exhibition working towards raising awareness on eating disorders and its impacts on individuals. When did this exhibition first start taking place?

We are excited and honored to partner with Altered Esthetics for this year’s Art and Eating Disorders exhibition as well. The Emily Program Foundation had our first art show in February of 2011 which took place at Tarnish & Gold Gallery in Northeast Minneapolis. With the success of that event we have held at least one art exhibition per year, we have some repeat artists and we always reach new artists and help them display their work at these shows.


What is it about art that helps you discuss and bring light to this topic?

Art and Eating Disorders is about expressing those parts of the experience of living with an eating disorder that are difficult to put into words.  Art therapy is the therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship. Creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes helps people increase awareness of self, cope with symptoms, stress and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities; and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art.  Art Therapy is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.  Art Therapy is particularly helpful because clients experience being present in their bodies while feeling relaxed and soothed by the artistic process.  Art Therapy provides an outlet for clients to discover experiences and feelings that are stored in the body, and in the sensory/visual areas of the brain. It brings new perspectives and insights into core matters surrounding one’s eating disorder.

Please see these videos to hear various artists reflect on how artwork helps them in their recovery journey.

Artist: Emily Lasinsky


What do you have planned for the opening reception on February 3rd?

For our opening reception on February 3rd we hope to bring together many new artists who have used artwork as a vehicle for recovery and display their work for the community to help increase the public’s understanding of eating disorders. We hope to have many participating artists at the reception to talk about how their artwork plays a role in their recovery. We also plan to have a few artists who use poetry, music, or another type of performance art as a part of their recovery perform a few pieces at the event.


Tell me more about The Emily Program Foundation. What is your mission and how do you meet it?

The Emily Program Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in Saint Paul, MN which works towards the elimination of eating disorders through community education, advocacy efforts and working with community partners to support healthy relationships with food and body image for all people.


Our mission is to save lives, change minds and work to eliminate eating disorders. The Foundation seeks to change the conversation about eating disorders and body image issues by increasing understanding through ourcommunity education programs,advocating for access to care, providing resources and support forfriends and families who are personally impacted by eating disorders, and awardingfinancial assistance to those seeking intensive treatment for an eating disorder.


Can you walk us through a typical day for you as The Foundation’s Outreach and Program Manager? Outside of organizing an exhibition like this, what else do you do?


A typical day for me usually involves some sort of community education event or special event out at a school or working with another community group in the metro area. At these events I might be working with students (middle school through college aged), dancers, gymnasts, teachers, social service professionals or members of a faith group to help them increase their understanding around eating disorders. Sometimes we do a multi-part workshop and sometimes it is an hour and a half session; each of these conversations are important as we discuss the different types of eating disorders, how they are developed, treatment aspects and dispelling myths or common misunderstandings around eating disorders. We also talk with groups about signs and symptoms of eating disorders, effective interventions for eating disorders and communication techniques for supporting someone with an eating disorder. We like to talk with groups about prevention approaches such as using media literacy, positive coping mechanisms for stress and eliminating the use of Fat Talk or weight-related bullying from our vocabulary and intervening in situations when weight-related bullying is happening. Anyone can contact us  about scheduling an education session and find more information about our community education program by visiting our site  here.


I might also be spending a portion of my day working with on an upcoming special event being put on by a community group or volunteers to raise education and awareness of eating disorders in their own way. We had a few of these events in 2016 such as a body image yoga training, a U of M acapella group, a cabaret about eating disorders, and a 5K fundraising event. You can find more information about hosting your own special event with us here.


Other parts of my job include scanning and reporting on advocacy efforts in the mental health communities around us, such as the recent passing of the 21st Century Cures Act which has incredible influence on the eating disorder community due to the inclusion of language from the Anna Westin Act, you can read more about that here.


I will also spend a portion of my time every week on our Friends and Family Groups to ensure they are running smoothly, that people using these unique support opportunities are receiving what they need and referring loved ones to other resources within The Emily Program or other community resources as needed.


We are excited about your gala in March and want to spread the word. The theme is UnmaskED.  Can the public attend? What are you hopes with the gala?


Our annual UnmaskED Gala is an extremely important event for us, the theme highlights unmasking or removing the stigma and shame that often comes with having an eating disorder. The public is more than welcome to attend this event, we love to share it with everyone that we can. The hope that we bring with the Gala includes a celebration of everything we have accomplished as an organization as a result of the hard work of our staff, our Board of Directors, and our community partners and donors. We also hope to keep the momentum going by raising funds for this work as there is still so much to be done to help us with our vision for a world free of stigma and misconceptions about eating disorders and disordered eating.


More information about the Gala and ticket sales can be found on our Gala Event Page.


Any last things we should know about the show and artists you will be exhibiting?


These art exhibitions are unique opportunities for the artists to show intimate parts of themselves while simultaneously educating the community. Much of the artwork is submitted by individuals who have worked with an art therapist to create the artwork, and some have been created independently. These exhibitions can be just as much of a learning experience for the artists as well as those who attend the reception; especially for those who are displaying their artwork for the first time. They are a great way for those who have little to no knowledge of the depths of eating disorders to come and really see how these illnesses can impact a person in a variety of ways. The artwork truly speaks to the complexity of eating disorders and I believe that is one of the most moving and beautiful things about these exhibitions. I invite any and all people to view the exhibition, there is always something new to learn and see.


Emily Monson

Attend the opening reception! More info. Facebook event page.