In the lobby of a downtown office building on High Street resides a gallery that's as much about showcasing artwork as it is about supporting artists - a certain kind of artist. Fresh A.I.R. (Artists in Recovery) Gallery is a project of Southeast Healthcare Services, Inc., and exhibits the works of individuals affected by mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders with the goal of assistance and progress.

In the lobby of a downtown office building on High Street resides a gallery that’s as much about showcasing artwork as it is about supporting artists — a certain kind of artist. Fresh A.I.R. (Artists in Recovery) Gallery is a project of Southeast Healthcare Services, Inc., and exhibits the works of individuals affected by mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders with the goal of assistance and progress.

“Our mission makes it distinctive because … of the fact that we help educate people and break down the stigma [of mental illness and substance abuse],” said Myken Pullins, public affairs coordinator for Southeast, Inc.

Gallery manager Kimberly Webb agreed that the gallery — and Southeast Inc.’s programs — help break down these stereotypes, but she also cited the immense benefits found in the art itself.

“We give [artists] the opportunity to display their work and share their story. I just believe in … showcasing artists [to] let them shine as an artist first, rather than someone who has a mental health disorder,” Webb said. “Sometimes their self-esteem is really low … and just giving them their moment to shine, giving them a moment of hope in recovery, is really important.”

While the opportunity to exhibit is a dynamic boost of confidence — “I’ve heard from more than a handful of artists that they’d felt like giving up, until they had the opportunity to show here,” Webb said — the support doesn’t end when the exhibit closes. Fresh A.I.R. provides important resources (grants for materials or to assist with preparing and promoting exhibitions, whether it’s at Fresh A.I.R. or somewhere else) and a network to help artists further their recovery as well as their careers.

“We develop relationships with artists so after they show here, often we’re able to connect them with galleries or other exhibition opportunities,” Webb said.

“I don’t know if Fresh A.I.R. is a stepping stone [because the gallery exhibits emerging and established artists], but we’ve seen artists show here and move on to bigger opportunities; a couple have been picked up by Short North gallery owners,” Pullins said. “A community is formed too. There’s a community of gallery artists out there who’re friends and support each other, inspire one another and do group things together.”

Since beginning in 2004 (in honor of Southeast Inc.’s 25th anniversary), Fresh A.I.R. has increased its exhibitions and currently presents five to eight exhibits a year.

Fresh A.I.R. has continued to grow its programs and resources, in part, through the annual Art of Recovery fundraiser. The upcoming fundraiser on Nov. 7 at Hilton Columbus Downtown will feature more than 100 participating artists who’ve donated work to be auctioned with proceeds going to further the mission of Fresh A.I.R.

Now in its 10th year, Fresh A.I.R. has established itself in Columbus’ art community as a place exhibiting a unique group of artists. And while the artists of Fresh A.I.R. are just as talented and thought-provoking as any other — check out Chase Bowman’s current exhibit “Speaking in Tongues” for confirmation — they may need a little more support, and Webb and Pullins relish providing it.

“I believe that [Fresh A.I.R.] should exist, and I want to do a really good job in making it the best it can possibly be. It’s really important to support artists with mental illness and substance abuse issues. It’s always important to support all artists, but especially those who are more fragile, or need more assistance,” Webb said.

Photos by Meghan Ralston