Normal is a setting on the dryer

By Laurie Jones

Published Nov. 7 2017

I invited myself onto Phylis Baker’s Canoe FM morning show last week to chat about Rails End Gallery’s latest exhibition. Having talked with Phylis at the Volunteer and Wellness Fair the week before I knew she would be open to a conversation about the expressive arts and mental health. I was eager to spread the word about a gem of an exhibition presented in conjunction with Haliburton Highlands Mental Health Services. I arrived early for our interview so we had a few moments before she hit the on-air button to catch up. We kibitzed about post-menopausal memory lapses and those pesky microphone jacks.
Then the music stopped and all of a sudden we were live on air!

“Hi everyone I’m Phylis Baker and you are listening to 100.9 Canoe FM volunteer radio in the Haliburton Highlands. It is 9:45 a.m. and I am here with Laurie from Rails End Gallery who’s here to talk about their latest show called….”
I gingerly drew the microphone to my lips and said “The exhibition is called “Doors: [pause] Out of Our Minds! [shouting “Out of Our Minds” for emphasis] to which I added “If you were not awake yet you are now.”

A lively start to an interview about the debut of a new group of artists in our community who are part of Art-Making for The Health of It inspired by Visible Voices Art Studio and backed by Haliburton Highlands Mental Health Services. Their studio is in the basement of the plaza next to Dollo’s Foodland. They meet weekly to work on independent and collaborative projects under the guidance of Fay Wilkinson an expressive arts practitioner and the driving force behind Visible Voices Arts Studio.
I believe there is a place for art-making in everyone’s life especially the lives of our brothers and sisters who struggle to fit into society’s standard definition of “normal” and experience debilitating feelings of  isolation anguish and anxiety as a result of being labelled weird mental nuts eccentric crazy or artistic types. I am accustomed to being told my ideas are out there half baked: that I am undisciplined scattered or unrealistic. I can deal with that most of the time. To anyone who tells me I am not normal I say “normal is a setting on the dryer” and I shut the door. Still I have closed many doors just to fit in. So naturally I identified and leapt at the opportunity to work with Fay and the Art-making for the Health of It on “Doors: Out of Our Minds!”

As it turns out the collection of works that make up Doors: Our of Our Minds! demonstrate a rare level of vulnerability on the part of the participating artists. They not only trusted me to present their work at Rails End Gallery for two weeks but trusted themselves enough to throw their doors open and welcome the community in. Their authentic and artful representations of fear faith misery hope happiness passion playfulness devotion demons loss hope and self reflection touched me deeply. Here was a group of individuals who managed to infuse Rails End Gallery’s exhibition space with the aforementioned emotions and whaddyaknow out popped LOVE. Any one of the 75 plus community members at the opening reception can tell you it was beautiful. I felt humbled to be in the presence of a group of unschooled unaffected artists who put themselves out there for all to see; as equals on life’s journey. And to Fay Wilkinson along with Visible Voices Arts Studio who opened that door to us all.

P.S. Friends who heard the interview with Phylis Baker were quick to let me know that my mike was off for the first part of the interview – so my emphatic announcement went un-heard. Doors: Out of Our Minds! will blow your mind. Get there before Nov. 19. Rails End Gallery is open Wednesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 12 to 3 p.m.
Laurie Jones is the curator and executive director Rails End Gallery and Arts Centre.