June 21, 2021

HHSC, in partnership with Texas System of Care and the Texas Institute for Excellence in Mental Health at the University of Texas at Austin, recently invited Texans of all ages to showcase their artistic talents and express their experiences with mental health.

Each year, the Texas Mental Health Creative Arts Contest welcomes original artwork, photography and writing entries and is judged by age group (elementary school, middle school, high school and adult). This year’s theme was “Why Does Mental Health Matter to You?” Over 600 entries were submitted to the 2021 contest, and organizers and artists took part in the virtual reception on May 26.

“We know that bringing attention to this issue is important during Mental Health Awareness Month in May — but also year-round — to help decrease stigma, and it’s an important part of our mission,” said Michelle Alletto, HHSC chief program and services officer of the Medical and Social Services Division. “As we all know, having mental health needs is common. For those of us who live with emotional and mental health challenges, the last year has been particularly difficult. I truly believe, now more than ever, in the healing power of creating art and being surrounded by it. We’re so honored and grateful for the artists who shared their work with us.”

The works of art were evaluated based on originality, creativity and how well they expressed the contest theme. The virtual reception featured remarks from HHSC leadership, a digital slideshow of the winners’ artwork and a panel of artists discussing their entries.

“This year’s theme underscores the importance of speaking and living your truth and being unafraid to talk about mental health,” said Sonja Gaines, deputy executive commissioner of HHSC Intellectual and Developmental Disability and Behavioral Health Services. “It brings awareness to the public that, with mental health services and supports, health and recovery is possible. The artists drew from their lived experiences, creating beautiful and exquisite work.”

Noemi V.’s painting, “You Survive the Challenge,” earned third place in the middle school original artwork category as well as the People’s Choice Award, which was announced during the reception.
“Don’t give up because you can survive it,” Noemi said. “You can make a whole new world when you have survived. Get a better perspective on how you see things. Don’t let others make you feel dumb, because, on the inside and outside, you are you. And in the end, you are perfect the way you are.”

Lauri Cherian’s poem, “Courage,” earned an honorable mention in the adult writing category. Cherian said she started writing poetry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a really great way to get all that angst out,” Cherian said. “Then you can look back on the journey and look at all that stuff that had to come out and see that you’ve sort of set yourself free as you’ve gotten those words down on the page. That’s why I create and write. I feel like I’ve come out of a dark season into the light through creativity.”

Check out this HHS slideshow of the visual arts winners.

To view the winning entries, visit the Texas Mental Health Creative Arts Contest 2021 webpage. For questions about the contest, email Texas System of Care.