On Friday, Fountain House unveiled its ‘Celebration of Life’ art installation at its clubhouse in Manhattan, a project honoring its members who had passed away during the pandemic.
The 18-month undertaking invited Fountain House members, all of whom live with serious mental illness, to submit a 6x6 inch design capturing this unique moment, whether that was grief over those lost, their source of strength and inspiration during the pandemic, or their hope for better times to come.
Members sent in over 300 submissions which were then transferred onto tiles and individually affixed to the clubhouse’s patio walls in a tree design representing the connection, growth, and renewal that is central to Fountain House’s community and drives its social practice model of recovery and care.
“It’s been a very long journey,” said Fountain House member Miguel Almedia Deca, one of the core organizers for the project. “Together, this ensemble of paint and ceramic and metal represents obviously much more than any conventional memorial could. It symbolizes the spirit of the community coming to terms with the global crisis and the unfortunate impact this had on the fate of members of this community. This mural, now and in the future, honors these years of struggle during the pandemic period and the sadness of lives lost.”
Fountain House works exclusively with people living with serious mental illness, a subset of the population that is not only more prone to contract Covid-19 but also more likely to die from it. In March 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Fountain House had to close its clubhouses for the first time since it was founded in 1948, moving its programming completely online.
“It was such a rupture when we had to close this important place to all of us,” said Elliott Madison, Executive Director of Fountain House. “But we did stay together and I think we are now, today, back and better.”
For Karen Gormandy, Director of Fountain House Studio, the ‘Celebration of Life’ project was unlike any other art installation she’s ever worked on and perfectly captured the collaborative spirit of Fountain House.
“We wanted to fold in and honor the people we lost during the pandemic but we also wanted to transcend that and celebrate all that we had to come back to and what people value as being part of the Fountain House community,” she said.
“It’s something that’s going to live, we hope, for a really long time.”
Fountain House is a national mental health nonprofit fighting to improve health, increase opportunity, and end social and economic isolation for people living with serious mental illness. Founded in 1948 in New York City, Fountain House originated the clubhouse model of community mental health that has been replicated more than 300 times in nearly 40 U.S. states and in 30 countries around the world.