Young Utah artists turn to their craft to find relief from the mental health crisis
When I first pitched stories, both my ideas had the same answer to Question 5, Why is this worth covering? “Local art is always worth covering.” It was my first gut response, and as I worked on this piece, I stuck with it.
I may be a bit biased – I’m a sometime local artist myself. For years I’ve taught and performed improv comedy around Utah. It’s a somewhat embarrassing thing to admit and talking about it never got me a second date. But the long and short is that I know just how healthy engaging with creativity can be for your mind. For me, acting was a reason to exist in a single moment, a single purpose. All around me I see people getting through their day with the stories of superheroes and podcasts about Gothic murders. Maybe it’s all been on my mind because I, like so many others, have had a really hard year. What better use of publishing space, I thought, than the things that are keeping us keeping it all together.
So, I started looking carefully. I searched profiles on Facebook Marketplace filtered by Salt Lake City locations. I was recommended an Etsy page by a friend who was obsessed with the tiny little things people can knit. I remembered the work of people I’ve bumped into that left their marks on me.
Then, I was talking to the artists, and as much came out during the little prep chats as did during the interviews. I was surprised by the uniformity of response. We talked about therapy, we talked about despair in the face of inequality, we talked about little homes carved into the wall and filled with people and soft things to love. They all shared my feelings about grounding oneself through creativity.
In other words, I found a direction by accident. Not only were we making art, we were doing it to keep ourselves sane. When I shifted my research to data, I found a larger version of the same picture. Utah has never had encouraging statistics about mental health issues, but the problem was exacerbated immensely by COVID-19. Rates of everything from depression to suicide skyrocketed from their spots in 2019.
So, as I wrote, I found myself turning to face that correlation head on. My little showcase of local artists became emblematic to me of a widespread medical crisis that trailed the pandemic close as a shadow.
Writing the profile aspects were easier for me than the rest of it, maybe because of my background in creative writing. Perhaps the most difficult was finding a balance between the expansiveness provided by medical data and the personalization provided by narrative. The word count was a hateful blessing in that regard. It forced me to evaluate how much of the piece could be devoted to each intended effect. I strove to emphasize relevancy in the lead, so that the reader would contextualize the artists’ work and finish the article.
That length restriction also dictated the kind of story I was able to write. My original vision, once my direction was settled on at least, was to write a slice of life-style narrative for each artist. My reluctance to give that up drove me into the arms of William Faulkner, who famously said, “In writing you must kill all your darlings.” What surprised me was how liberating it was to be forced away from my comfortable styles and forms. I often like to think of my writing in terms of intentions. What is my intention in writing a piece? What is my intended impact on the reader when using literary conventions? How does my formatting help or hurt the communication of my intended message? With this piece, I was forced to answer these questions in excruciating brevity. It was, as my mom always says, good for me.
My intention with this piece was that it will reach an audience who, like me, didn’t know that what they were feeling was everywhere. Local art is always worth covering, and so are resources that point people with potentially life-threatening mental health issues toward acceptance and treatment. It’s an especially important message here. Utah has some of the worst rates of depression and suicide in the country. I think the artists will think it a fitting tribute to share their work to this end, since their hopes were to accomplish the same thing – acceptance, tolerance, and looking outwards.
Christian is a student and educator. He earned his associate degree at Utah Valley University, where he graduated with honors, and is finishing his B.S. in Communication at the University of Utah. Following graduation, he plans to seek a master’s degree in Writing and Rhetoric Studies.
His teaching credentials include working with first- and second-generation children of immigrants in Salt Lake City, serving underprivileged adults in Washington, D.C., and teaching classes in improv theater.
Christian has a passion for community building and has worked closely with the American Cancer Society to lobby for patients’ rights. When he’s not engaged in pursuing his professional goals, he explores his passions by writing speculative fiction, studying ancient and modern folklore, reviewing aging horror movies, and counting down the days to Halloween.