After a lifetime as an elementary school teacher, 71-year-old Diane Major would never have imaged seeing herself in an art exhibit, but she says she's discovered a whole new side of herself ever since a burnout led her to art therapy.
For a third year in a row, her artwork is being featured in the exhibit Parle moi d'amour, where creations by participants in art therapy workshops run by the organization Les Impatients are being presented alongside that of some of Quebec's top artists.
"It's been such a rewarding experience for me, because we can come together and share what's going on inside," said Major, whose work in the exhibit is available to purchase.
About one-third of the exhibit comes out of the workshops, offered for free across the province to Quebecers with mental illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Major says it was a diagnosis of major depression and generalized anxiety that led the retiree to a workshop — and ultimately changed her life.
"I had so much trouble living," Major said. "I told the psychiatrist, I have no more will power to do anything. Nothing interests me anymore."
"In our society it's always about how well and how fast you can perform. The final product is the most important. But with Les Impatients, it's the steps you take that matter, and that's what makes all the difference," she said. "Each step counts and each one you take has its value, regardless of the end result, whether it's positive or negative."
The workshops draw more than 800 each week, with children represented by youth protection also in attendance, said Frédéric Palardy, the general director of the organization. It provides all the material needed to create the art.
"It goes from 'It saved my life,' to 'That's the only place where I feel good,'" Palardy said about the artists who attend their workshops.
WATCH | Frédéric Palardy explains Les Impatients' art project:
"It's a very safe space. Everyone respects each other, everyone knows around you people are suffering," he said. "But when you look at their work, there's not much suffering."
All works are given an equal place in the exhibit, whether they're by one of Quebec's famous abstract artists like Jean-Paul Riopelle, or someone who's just started painting.
The organization calls itself Les Impatients since participants are "not thought of as patients" but rather "as creators impatient to heal," according to its website.
"They've experienced difficult things in their life, and they need to express that," said artist Marilyne Bissonnette who leads workshops in Montreal, Joliette and Repentigny, also featured in the exhibit.
"When they come to visit the show and see all the people that have come, they receive a lot of love, they are so proud."
Professional artists and private collections have donated the rest of the pieces in the exhibit.
Art-lovers who want to take their favourites home can bid on all the artworks featured, with all proceeds going to the organization. Bids started as low as $50 on most, and can be placed online or during the live auction set for Wednesday night.
The free exhibit is on display at 200 Sherbrooke Street West at the Université du Québec à Montréal until Thursday.