Mental Wellness Center (MWC), which has been at the forefront of advancing mental wellness in Santa Barbara for 75 years, will hold its 27th annual hallmark arts festival in May, to coincide with National Mental Health Awareness Month.

A yellow and blue sunflower quilt square is among a variety of artworks created for the Artful Minds fair on May 20.
A sunflower quilt square is among a variety of artworks created for the Artful Minds fair on May 20. Credit: Courtesy photo

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently declared mental health as “the defining public health crisis of our time.”

Reimagined going forward as Artful Minds, the fair will be 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, May 20, on the beachfront opposite Chase Palm Park in Santa Barbara.

The event showcases the talents of some 60 local artists living with mental illness, across a variety of visual and craft mediums which include painting, drawing, jewelry and sculpture.

A number of the artists discover their talents for the first time as participants in Mental Wellness Center’s Fellowship Club, where peer educators and an art specialist help them explore their emotions through self-expression.

“This is a poignant way to put a human face to mental illness,” said Darcy Keep, former MWC Board member and administrative director of psychiatry and addiction medicine at Cottage Health.

Keep has spearheaded the art event for more than two decades, and participating artists often come through her referral sources.

“The fair provides an outlet for those living with mental health challenges to celebrate their creativity in a safe, supportive space,” said Keep. “It’s an opportunity that allows them to be recognized for their talents.

“Like no other time in the 75-year history of the Mental Wellness Center, has mental health commanded the national conversation or been acknowledged as among the most important issues facing our community and our world, as it is today,” she said.

Mental health challenges are particularly devastating among youth. Nationwide, suicide rates for young Americans ages 10-19 jumped by 40 percent from 2001-19, while emergency room visits for self-harm rose by 88 percent.

These national statistics are mirrored in Santa Barbara County, where suicide is now the third leading cause of death among local youth ages 10-24, according to Cottage Center for Population Health.

The same study reports that 90 percent of teens who complete a suicide have an untreated, underlying mental illness. The Santa Barbara Unified School District recently reported that there were 56 “suicide incidences” in the first semester of the 2022 school year alone.

Mental Wellness Center has made tremendous strides in raising awareness among youth through its Mental Health Matters curriculum, impacting some 4,500 elementary and middle school students, and its Wellness Connection Council, a high school leadership program that educates and empowers students to become mental health advocates.

The goal of these programs is to educate and invite conversation, as well as identify mental health challenges early, getting help before it’s too late.

MWC reduces barriers to receiving support by providing all services free of charge and offering them in Spanish and English. The center offers remote, as well as in-person options.

“With a commitment to diverse programming through re-envisioned, bilingual programs and services at our state-of-the-art, downtown location, we have launched full-force into shaping an imminent future where all community members can easily seek out and participate in the mental health support they need,” said CEO Annmarie Cameron.

The Artful Minds event will include food trucks offering lunch options, coffees and smoothies. For more, visit

MWC provides mental health education to local students; a residential services program, offering a home to more than 100 community members across seven residential sites; and serves individuals and families impacted by mental illness through support groups and social connection programs like the Fellowship Club, an onsite Recovery Learning Center.