Fresh A.I.R. (Artist in Recovery) Gallery celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2014, and is currently holding two exhibitions - one in its downtown gallery at the corner of Long and High and another at the OSU Urban Arts Space a few blocks south - to honor the many artists who've exhibited there over the years. But celebrating an anniversary isn't the best way to describe all the gallery has accomplished over the last 10 years. This is a milestone.

Fresh A.I.R. (Artist in Recovery) Gallery celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2014, and is currently holding two exhibitions - one in its downtown gallery at the corner of Long and High and another at the OSU Urban Arts Space a few blocks south - to honor the many artists who've exhibited there over the years. But celebrating an anniversary isn't the best way to describe all the gallery has accomplished over the last 10 years. This is a milestone.

Since opening in September 2004, Fresh A.I.R. has shown 60 exhibitions and sold more than $60,000 of artwork from its 200-plus exhibiting artists - without ever taking a commission. These are impressive numbers, but Fresh A.I.R.'s most impactful accomplishments are educating the community and working to break down the stigma of mental illness - "mental difference" is the designation Fresh A.I.R. exhibiting artist Chanika Svetvilas prefers, and, like "milestone," it's a more appropriate designation - and/or substance use disorders. All of this is done by supporting and showcasing artists.

"Fresh A.I.R. has grown so much over the years, and our goal is to get the word out, educate the community about mental health and show that recovery is possible," said Myken Pullins, Fresh A.I.R. Gallery's public relations coordinator. "Comparing [the artists'] inaugural experience at Fresh A.I.R. to the present, there's been huge [progress in] how far they've come along. For many of them, Fresh A.I.R. was their first experience exhibiting, and they've gone on to bigger and better things."

For the two exhibitions, "Celebrating 10 Years and Launching the Next Decade" at Fresh A.I.R. Gallery and "Beyond Our Walls" at OSU Urban Arts Space's City Center Gallery, 32 artists who've previously exhibited participated, showing one to three pieces. Both spaces are filled with vivid, striking and powerful works of all mediums, sizes, styles and practices.

While each of the 32 artists has their own personal story and art, any can speak to the importance of Fresh A.I.R.

"The Fresh A.I.R. Gallery is a gallery like no other I've ever seen. The cause is a unique one. They've taken some very gifted, but little known artists, and helped them rise above the stigma of mental illness to shine … with confidence and realize their potential. It's ultimately about the triumph of the human spirit," said Randy Jones, who calls his involvement in the gallery's first exhibition 10 years ago "a catalyst."

Jones has shown his digital 3-D paintings a handful of other times with Fresh A.I.R. since that inaugural exhibition, while also showing work in Paris and Los Angeles, among other locales. He's also earned gallery representation at Sharon Weiss Gallery in the Short North.

"Before I exhibited at Fresh A.I.R., I was an artist who lacked confidence. They saw past the stigma of my mental illness, which helped me to see past it myself. Then I realized what a cause this is, that I don't have to be ashamed of my disability, how much my art is therapy for me, a place to fly freely," he said.

Svetvilas has multiple installations that address her bipolar diagnosis and recovery through medication, therapy, a support system and, of course, art. She explained, during a phone interview from her Long Island home, why she uses "mental difference" - a term she came to fully understand during her experiences with Fresh A.I.R. when she resided in Columbus from 2010 to 2014.

"I don't identify as someone who is mentally ill. I use mental difference, and yes there is a spectrum. There is the other end of the spectrum where I was in recovery, but I no longer consider myself in a state of recovery or mentally ill. One of the ways to break stigma is to be aware that many times we're in that space in between, and everyone has their own version of normalcy," Svetvilas said.

Fresh A.I.R. is a program of Southeast, Inc., "a comprehensive provider of mental health, chemical dependency, healthcare, and homeless services assisting diverse populations regardless of their economic status … ages, cultures, races, religious preferences, genders, and sexual orientations in order to enhance wellness and recovery."

The goal since Fresh A.I.R.'s inception has been to offer a welcoming space, because too often individuals dealing with these adverse conditions are subjected to stereotypes - or worse, outright discrimination. By introducing the community to hundreds of artists - from Columbus and across the country - who've either recovered, or are in recovery, Fresh A.I.R. is fostering change and helping dreams come true.

"When I entered that space I felt accepted, compassion and understanding, and a sense of community. Having a mental difference like bipolar disorder doesn't mean you're not capable of pursuing your goals and dreams," Svetvilas said.