Client: Department of State Hospitals-Napa
Location: Napa, CA, United States
Completion date: 2022
Life On Earth Art
Chief of Rehabilitation Therapy Services
Department of State Hospitals-Napa
UNBOUND offers a visceral collective expression of hope
Unbound is an 80-ft sculpture which transforms a large hall at one of California’s largest psychiatric hospitals into an evocative space of hope and healing. With each layer of its design, both therapeutic and artistic, UNBOUND models the paradigm we need to see in the world.
Normally, creative art therapies and museum quality public art do not mix. Our intention was to create a replicable healing platform where awe-inspiring large-scale art could be created in a therapeutic framework by those most in need of hope and uplift.
At the center of a cyclone of steel ribbons stands an antique wooden cage dripping blackness from which paper maché hearts fly free. UNBOUND features nearly 800 paper maché hearts which expand in size as they fly, from 9 inches to 9 feet wide. UNBOUND was created by over 1500 people in an innovative year-long partnership between the Department of State Hospitals-Napa and arts non-profit Life On Earth Art.
The hearts were made by 500 psychiatric patients, 200 hospital staff and over 800 community volunteers.
Unbound was designed to bring hope and purpose to those who have been isolated by severe mental illness. The goal was transformation and healing. Our team of artists and engineers crafted a core central sculpture as a launching pad from which psychiatric patients and diverse community partners could participate in the creation of something wondrous. We partnered with Camille Gentry, Chief of Rehabilitation Therapy at DHS-Napa, and her 70 therapists to direct their myriad healing modalities toward this creation.
Tracy Ferron developed this vision out of both her desire to help people like her brother, Bob, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and was a patient in California’s state hospital system, and to share her own path of healing childhood trauma through art.
Life On Earth Art operates with a model of radical inclusion and radical compassion and engaged hundreds of volunteers, prioritizing underserved populations in need of hope and uplift, such as shelterless communities, dually diagnosed individuals, youth recovering from commercial sexual exploitation, teen centers for at-risk youth, mentoring groups, churches, Girl Scouts and schools. The goal was to bring people together to find meaning in creating something extraordinary.
LOEA and the DHS-Napa rehabilitation department faced significant bureaucratic and logistical hurdles installing a large-scale artwork in a locked facility. Every item down to individual screws had to be accounted for. Unbound required 8 installations over 13 days.
Life on Earth Art needed dozens of paper mâché moldforms for the different heart sizes. By combining modern technology with the traditional art of cartonería, LOEA created 3-D computer models of the hearts, printed them in gypsum, and formed light-weight, stackable trays.
Building innovative bridges between the patients and outside community was a major goal. Because hospital patients can’t be photographed, the team forged connection through innovative techniques: 1) heartmaking documentation–photographing individual hands holding hearts inside and outside the hospital, eliminating visual location, to allow seamless editing of these images and erasing the division of outside vs inside; 2) music-in music therapy treatment groups, patients collectively wrote a song and invited the outside community to record the chorus; 3) dance-LOEA provided a large dance scrim for patients to film their shadows.
Unbound was awarded First Place for Arts for Innovation by the National Organization for Arts in Health in Nov 2022.
Unbound is deceptively simple—people pressing paper and flour and water paste into the form of winged hearts—yet the ripples of healing and integration are profound. Creating this large-scale artwork of wonder and hope, DSH-Napa and Life on Earth Art forged an innovative partnership and a replicable healing art platform, which they hope expands globally. Life on Earth Art and DSH-Napa exemplify through their practices the sanctity of each human and their right to care and the invitation to heal. Unbound is a collective, tangible expression of compassion. Gentry credits Unbound with forging a sense of belonging for patients and staff and “providing our patients with a unique kind of purpose.” With each layer of its design, both therapeutic and artistic, the process of co-creating Unbound with diverse populations models the paradigm we need to see in the world. A paradigm of interdependence, of a care-based culture focused on wellness not profit, of the arts seen as essential to wellbeing as air, of radical inclusion where there is a place at the table for all abilities and backgrounds, where no human nor the earth is treated as dispensable.