Mask-Making Puts New Face on Arts Fest

Wheeling Arts Fest participants are invited to join the Marian House Drop-In Center in creating a community mask display.

The theme for the display is “We Are All Individuals,” and the masks will be made through a process called face casting, which involves applying medical-grade plaster cloths to the faces of those who make the masks. These are the same plaster strips that doctors use to create casts for broken limbs. They take two to four minutes to dry.

The public will have the chance to make a mask at the Wheeling Arts Fest, and those who create one can either add it to the community display or take the mask with them. Those who want to be part of the display can still choose to pick up their mask at a later date and location, or they can donate it to the Marian House for permanent display.

The Marian House is a drop-in center on 18th Street for individuals diagnosed with a mental illness, run by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The purpose of the Marian House is to ease the isolation and stigma experienced by many individuals with a mental health diagnosis, and the mask-making project offered at the Wheeling Arts Fest is designed to help achieve this mission.

“The mental health consumers who attend our center came up with the theme for the whole mask display. Expressing themselves publicly allows the consumers who come to our center to have a voice in their own community, and this helps people to feel connected to others,” said Bianca Benson, associate director of the Marian House who also runs the art therapy program offered there. “Connection is absolutely necessary for good emotional health.”

Benson went on to describe how the process of deciding the theme required the whole group of consumers to collaborate and reach consensus.

“Negotiating these types of decisions helps the members of the Drop-In Center learn assertiveness, problem-solving skills and collaboration. It helps them to accept themselves and other people better, and is part of the therapeutic process,” Benson said.

Benson hopes the mask-making project at the Arts Fest will help break down the barriers surrounding mental illness.

“Sadly, there is often a stigma that these individuals only take from society, but this activity puts them in a role where they give back,” Benson said. Benson described how this is another therapeutic benefit of the community mask-making project.

Benson acknowledged the Wheeling Arts and Cultural Commission, which offers the festival. “The Wheeling Arts Fest is now in its fifth year, and the Marian House is happy to have this opportunity for our consumers to participate in a community art event.

“We hope you will add your face to our display at the Wheeling Arts Fest!” she said.