Westside Arts Festival Shines Light on Mental Illness and Addiction

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This week, world-renowned Cleveland-based artist Derek Hess partners with the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County (ADAMHS) for Acting Out, a three-day festival to help remove stigmas surrounding mental illness, dual diagnosis and addiction. The festival features art, live music, comedy, a film screening and panel discussion at venues in the Gordon Square Arts District.

A brainchild of Hess and his longtime friend and manager Marty Geramita, the subject is particularly important to the artist whose battles with bipolar disorder and substance abuse are not only well known, but subjects in his emotionally charged artwork.

The festival begins at 8 p.m. this Wednesday, Oct. 19, at the Happy Dog. In partnership with Accidental Comedy, Wednesday's comedy event features an evening of comedians diagnosed with mental health and/or addiction issues who use standup to break down stigmas surrounding mental health. Participating comedians include locals Jeremy Sheer, Mandi Leigh, Mark Collella and more, as well as Chicago comedian Marty DeRosa (of the Wrestling with Depression podcast). Standup begins at 9 p.m., and admission is $5. Tickets are available in advance through Eventbrite or at the door.

Acting Out continues on Thursday with a panel discussion at the Happy Dog at 8 p.m. A group of mental health and addiction professionals and creative professionals will discuss mental health, the creative process and how the arts provide a healthy outlet for those battling with mental health issues and addiction. Panelists include Lori D'Angelo (executive director, Magnolia Clubhouse), Joseph Calabrese (director, Mood Disorders Program, University Hospitals Case Medical Center), Dan Holt (blues singer-songwriter, living with bipolar disorder) and Daryl Musick (artist and arts therapist, living with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder). The panel discussion is free.

Following the panel discussion, the nearby Capitol Theatre hosts a film screening of Forced Perspective, Cleveland native Nick Cavalier's award-winning documentary on Hess. The film chronicles Hess' art career from early Euclid Tavern concert posters to his fine art gallery exhibitions, his struggle with alcoholism and bipolar disorder, and how these battles have influenced his work. A Q & A session with Hess, Cavalier and Geramita will follow, as well as a meet-and-greet and book signing. Admission ­­is $10. ­­Advance tickets are available through Eventbrite and Cleveland Cinemas.

Friday starts with an art exhibition at Derek Hess Gallery as part of Third Fridays at 78th Street Studios from 5 to 9 p.m. Featuring nearly two dozen artists, the exhibition collectively explores the creative response to mental illness and addiction through works created by artists who either have been diagnosed with or personally affected by mental illness and/or addiction. Third Fridays at 78th Street Studio are always free and open to the public.

The festival concludes back at Happy Dog with a closing party featuring live music from local bands performing original music, as well as a special tribute set dedicated to musicians who battled mental health or addiction. Guests can bid on original artwork by Hess in a silent auction, with proceeds donated to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Greater Cleveland. Tickets are available through Eventbrite or at the door.

Participating musicians include Murderedman (doing a tribute to Joy Division), Mourning A BLKstar (Gil Scott­Heron) and New Lou Reeds (Roky Erickson).

This special event series is sponsored in part by ADAMHS, with a portion of the proceeds to benefit NAMI Greater Cleveland. For more information, visit actingoutcle.com or facebook.com/actingoutfest.

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