Gary’s Story

If you get the chance to meet Gary, he’ll probably share a joke with you. He’s known for wearing brightly-colored shirts and hats which match his bright personality. Gary is well-known and well-liked in Avivo’s ArtWorks program, a program supporting artists living with mental illness.

Gary might wear bold, colorful clothing, but he hides pain from his mental illness. It’s impossible to see the effects of a misdiagnosis, which led to him using the wrong medication and living over-medicated for 20 years.

“I always think about those lost years,” he says. “Art gets my mind off of them.”

Gary spends two to three days per week participating in programming at ArtWorks, which includes anything from open studio time to classes taught by professional artists.

 “I always think about those lost years …  Art gets my mind off of them.”

Gary appreciates the freedom he has to be himself while at Avivo. He spent most of his working years as a janitor for Minneapolis Public Schools, and even though he was working, he often experienced feelings of isolation.

“Being a janitor, especially when I was on medication, was just about getting through the day,” says Gary. “I had trouble with the stigma. It was evident I was different.”

“Gary has learned a positive way to express the high emotions he experiences,” says Jes Reyes, ArtWorks program coordinator. “He gets a lot of one-to-one time with volunteers and interns.”

“I had trouble with the stigma. It was evident I was different.”

Gary has honed his craft during his seven years with Avivo ArtWorks. He uses bright colors to create vivid impressions of scenes from his travels around the world, including Australia, Fiji, and Hawaii.

Gary is a strong advocate for mental health, even receiving NAMI Minnesota’s Stigma-Buster award in 1994. “He has a history of making sure people hear the stories of individuals living with mental illness,” says Jes. “He struggles watching others in pain.”

Now that he’s retired from janitorial work, Gary has much more he’d like to accomplish. He’s working on grant applications, which could help fund his artwork and allow him to learn more about art. He would also like to document his lost years, either by writing a book or through poetry.

With a number of projects on his horizon, Gary’s future looks as bright as his shirts and shimmering hats.