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Awakenings Project

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Alliances & Advocacy, Arts & Culture, Health, Mental Health, Visual Arts

Mission: The group's mission is to assist persons with mental health issues in developing their craft and finding an outlet for their creative abilities through art in all forms. The Awakenings Project also works in another direction: to seek to raise public acceptance and awareness of the creative talents of people living with psychiatric disorders who work in the fields of fine art, music, literature and drama. As writers and artists in recovery, for over a decade, we at Awakenings have basked in this activity, and feel sure the public will continue to better surmise the creative capacity and endowment of persons living with mental health issues. The Awakenings Project has succeeded. Awakenings has been a grass-roots initiative. It shows that mental health consumers can become producers of extraordinary art exhibits, can publish an internationally acclaimed literary arts journal, can support music and theatrical events. Our work has not gone unnoticed. In 2006 we were winners of the "Outstanding Contribution to Recovery by a Non-Profit Organization" award by the Irwin Foundation at Celebration Recovery.

Results: We've been in existence since 1996, but only became a 501(c)3 in January 2004. All of us live with some diagnosis of a mental illness and we love to create art. We've produced literary arts journals for over 10 years, produced many, many gallery shows, where we have musicians at our opening receptions, we do art fairs, fundraisers, etc., etc.

Target demographics: people who like to create art, whether visual, music, literary or drama, who also live with some form of mental illness.

Direct beneficiaries per year: Our studio serves approximately 35 - 50 artists per year, and we print work from approximately 35 authors in our literary journal annually.

Geographic areas served: Chicago, Chicagoland, DuPage County, Kane County, Cook County, Will County, and sometimes all of Illinois

Programs: art groups, classes, exhibits, producing The Awakenings Review, poetry readings/slams, music and dramatic productions.

Community Stories

8 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters


Client Served

Rating: 5

In 2007, while I was reeling under a diagnosis of Bi-polar disorder and while painting Oil on Canvas to express my inner landscape; I was introduced to the Awakenings Project by my Psychotherapist soon after hospitalization.

The intention was to meet creative individuals whose lives were similarly disrupted by mental illness or due to their inability to cope with stress. Initially I was afraid to identify myself with a group that could further label me, and distance me from my goal of getting back to "normal" ordinary life.

My apprehension ended when I first met Irene O'Neil and the group. Irene's calm spirit immediately put me at rest and I lay my defenses down. I had carried some of my paintings into the meeting room hoping I could resonate with someone.

By the end of that evening, I felt reassured that I was not isolated on my island of confusion and grief. Others had navigated the waters that I now tread and were managing whatever their conditions in a way that I found commendable.

Awakening Project helped exhibit my work at the local library which then encouraged me to come out of my isolating shell and show my work at different galleries outside. This helped me to relate my problems with family members and friends over time.

Since then, I have moved onward in my journey to recovery. I no longer have a goal to reach the promised land called "normal." I have learned to work with my unique set of sensibilities and strengths.

Awakenings Project with its wonderful members, hold my highest regard and esteem.
I remain grateful. Beena


Client Served

Rating: 5

Rediscovering Awakenings after some years has allowed me to participate in ways I wouldn't have been able to otherwise. It is truly a great organization that allows participants to be themselves. I feel encouraged to try new things and feel that I am among friends. I only wish I'd been around since the beginning. It is amazing!

Peter A.

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

The Awakrnngs Project has meant so very much to me. Coming out of partial brain removal in 2003 , I was quite reserved to say say the least.y mental illness had taken over my being. I came over to the Awakenimgs Project aroun 2006. It has meant all tje very being of my inside expression. Havimg beem an art major in college, I did bave a bit of formal knowledge though bundled up inside and me being dased and confused(sorry for the saying). The Awakenings Project helped me to blossum back to my artistic roots amd also helped in my socialising, too. Still a part of the project, it makes me want to be a light to others suffering from menal illness as I do. Without the Awkenings Project I would have never been better off!

Previous Stories

Client Served

Rating: 5

Awakenings has brought me from a sheltered state to one that I can communicate freely with other like minded individuals. The shows we have are great to show off the fine arts side of the Project.


Client Served

Rating: 3

When the Awakenings Project moved to Elgin, Il I became aware and involved in the work they were doing to help precious people deal with their illness and flourish. They help artists who deal with psychiatric illness in the visual arts, drama, music and writing. For me they gave me a group of people I could spend time with, network with and process my life. I am not actively involved now but the project gave me a base to help build my life on.

Client Served

Rating: 5

When I became disabled with my bipolar disorder, I knew I wanted to pursue my interest in the arts - particularly photography. On the very first show I was able to participate in I sold two of four of my exhibited pictures. I have participated in many since and have made many new friends. I am very grateful for this outlet.

Client Served

Rating: 5

Since I started attending Awakenings, Saturday is my most favorite day of the weekend. I have found a space to go to to express my art in the company of other fellow artists. I make greeting cards, including hand painted Christmas cards to my heart's content, I have lunch there and I write in my journal after everyone leaves. I have brought several of my friends to Awakenings and I am so grateful for the space to thrive in as a creative individual.

Linda Terp

Client Served

Rating: 5

Irene and Sandy come weekly, after their regular fulltime jobs, to enthrall 4 tables of residents at our facility with their magical art group. The clients at first were hesitant as they did not believe they were "creative."
Now, they are working on projects in between sessions with Sandy and Irene. It is the most popular group at West Chicago Terrace Intermediate Care Facility. Everyday a resident will stop me and say "when is the art group?" Thanks Irene and Sandy.

Client Served

Rating: 5

Why is art important to mental health? It was a dreary January morning when I was barely able to drive myself to the hospital, my thinking was so screwed-up. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but I was extremely paranoid. So much so, that I nearly ran out of the therapist’s office in fear. But then I saw some pencil drawings of a rock and roll band on the inside of her office door. That really put me at ease; I knew the therapist could be trusted, so I stayed and got treatment. That wasn't the work of an Awakenings artist on her door, but now I continue to appreciate the artwork of others through my association with the Awakenings Project.