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'Awakenings Project' CD spotlights local artists battling mental illness

Published: Tuesday, May 6, 2014 4:31 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 25, 2014 4:40 a.m. CDT
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(Photo provided)
Artist and Naperville resident Mark Hull is one of 16 artists who contributed to the new CD released by mental health nonprofit The Awakenings Project.

What does living with mental illness sound like?

A new album produced by local mental health nonprofit The Awakenings Project asks that question by letting a number of area artists answer it.

The CD, titled “Awakenings: Songs and Poems” is filled with original music and spoken word creations by 16 contributors with mental illnesses.

Though track titles such as “Focus on the Light,” “Finding Winter’s End,” “PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)” and “Crazy Cycle” seem to center on struggles with mental illness, many songs don’t directly address the common theme that brought the artists together.

That’s part of the point, said producer, musician and Awakenings board member Mandy Rakow.

“There is an ongoing theme for the subject matter for anything “Awakenings” does – recovery – and I think that definitely comes through in the pieces that people chose, but some people just picked stuff that was fun and their favorite,” said Rakow, who suffers from extreme depression.

“We just wanted to highlight the abilities that people with mental disabilities have.”

The Awakenings Project has offered similar opportunities for more than 15 years. The Wheaton-based group began when what was supposed to be a one-time show took shape as a nonprofit. Today, the project has an annual literary magazine, an Elgin art studio and regular exhibits, including one that opened April 25 at North Central College in Naperville.

Robert Lundin, a Glen Ellyn resident, Awakenings co-founder and mental health specialist at the DuPage County Health Department, said he became interested in the idea of art as an outlet for those with mental illnesses after reading a book on the subject.

“Hemingway, Van Gogh, there are dozens with mental illnesses that come to mind that achieved artistic brilliance,” he said. “I decided to put it out there and see how good of artists we could find.”

By celebrating the music, art and stories of those with mental illnesses, their talent is the focus, instead of their oft stigmatized conditions.

“We hoped with ‘Awakenings’ to give some people ... the identification of ‘artist’ or ‘writer’ or ‘musician,’ ” he said.

Rakow, Lundin and fellow cofounder Irene O’Neill sent out a notice to the group’s members seeking contributors for the CD, most of which was recorded this spring in O’Neill’s West Chicago home with borrowed equipment. Visual artists provided paintings for the disk and cover.

Rakow, who works at the College of DuPage’s McAninch Arts Center, mixed and produced the album, and performed an original song.

“For many people, I think it’s just cathartic to have that outlet,” she said. “I think Awakenings helps recognize quality work when, for some individuals, that may not be a reality.”

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Know more

For more information on The Awakenings Project, visit www.awakeningsproject.org. Copies of “Awakenings: Songs and Poems” are available online for $10, plus shipping.

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Track list

1. “Indigo Light” – Roberta Heien 2. “Yo Ho Ho” – Robert K. Lundin 3. “Mixed Media” – Ben Beyerlein 4. “Y’hi Yu L’ratzon” – Julie Brandon 5. “Martinsville, Indiana” – John Rakow 6. “Maxwell Street or ‘Jew Town,’ Chicago” – Anton Witeck, accompanied by David Bulget 7. “10.16” – Peter Austin 8. “West Chicago – The Storm of 2012” – Irene O’Neill 9. “Finding Winter’s End” – Roberta Heien 10. “Crazy Cycle” – Mandy Rakow 11. “PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)” – Roberta Heien 12. “Danny Boy” – Marcia Welzel (written by Fred E. Weatherly) 13. “Arise the Poet” – Robert K. Lundin 14. “Focus on the Light” – Kurt Taecker and Marcia Welzel 15. “Without Hope” – Sam Himes 16. “Across the Open Sea” – Julie Brandon 17. “Six Haiku” – John W. Dooley 18. “Have Awoken” – Mark Hull 19. “There’s No Other Way” – Leonetta Y. Perry 20. “Nov. 24, 2009” – Kurt Taecker and Mark Hull

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