CAMH is Taking The Mask Off Mental Illness
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CAMH is Taking The Mask Off Mental Illness

Delicious cuisine, surrounded by beautiful art, and discussions about mental health at UnMasked on May 10.

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Claudia Fieder, co-chair of UnMasked. Pictured in front of Paul Vexler’s “New Twist” and David Leventi’s “ Margravial Opera House, Bayreuth, Germany” at Bau-Xi Photo. Both Bau-Xi Photo and Bau-Xi Gallery are hosting galleries for UnMasked.

Two years ago, Sandi Treliving was having dinner at an art gallery when one of the guests had an unexpected emotional breakdown prompted by a conversation about mental health.

“He was very upfront with the others around the table,” says Treliving. “This is the power of bringing people together to talk about mental health. People feel that they can share. That they’re not alone–because they most certainly are not.”

Biannually, contemporary galleries from across the city come together to host intimate dinner parties in support of mental health and CAMH. The upcoming fundraising event is dubbed UnMasked, and invites guests to gather around table, surrounded by beautiful art work, while one of the city’s best chefs prepare dinner. (Since galleries tend not to have kitchens, the cooking usually takes place in parking lots and side alleys.)

The structure of the event provides a safe and welcome environment for sensitive conversations to take place, says Claudia Fieder, who serves as this year’s event’s co-chair along with Treliving. “It takes a mask off the illness.” Hosting them in art galleries helps when discussing emotions and feelings in a unique way. The vibe is more of a small dinner party, as opposed to a large gala.

The Loch Gallery in Yorkville is participating for the first time. Alan Loch, the gallery’s owner, helped select the painting that will be auctioned at UnMasked at the dinners—a large and vivid panoramic image of a sea and cloudy sky. The painting was a product of Ron Bolt’s time on the coast of Northern Island, where he took pictures of “a constantly changing drama” for 10 days. He calls this one “Surf Solar.”

We are all seeking balance and equilibrium in our lives. Art helps us do that,” says Bolt. “If it is to communicate with an audience, any work of art has to be a balance between the head, the heart, and the hand. Art can help us to achieve that personal understanding of the world that we all seek and wish for.”

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Sandi Treliving, co-chair of UnMasked, in front of “Surf Solar” by Ron Bolt at the Loch Gallery, one of the many art galleries hosting dinners for UnMasked, where it will be raffled off. Photo by Melissa Langley courtesy of CAMH

The participation of art enthusiasts like Bolt and Loch are important for an event mindful of keeping people comfortable in an open, inclusive environment. To date, thee dinners have raised more than $4 million. These year’s event, set to take place on May 10, has sold out very early and includes partnerships with 22 galleries and 22 chefs and restaurants.

Many of the attendees are employers, says Fieder, who are brought to the dinner table after witnessing closely the issues with mental health in the workplace. “It starts a conversation on a different level that has an impact personally, professionally, and in the community,” she says.

That’s why any money raised by the UnMasked events goes to the CAMH projects, whether it is the redevelopment of the entire hospital to make it a more nurturing place to seek treatment or the research doctors are conducting to find more targeted and personalised treatment options.

Treliving and Fieder are sure this year’s event will bring to light more facets of the mental health advocacy. And while their dream dinner guest would be Bruce Springsteen, both ladies hope these dinner parties will give way to the future philanthropists and young leaders of the mental health cause. 

UnMasked for CAMH is on May 10. To date, the event has raised more than $4 million in support of mental health. Find out more, here.