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In 1855, the Saint Joan De Déu Mental Hospital in Sant Boi, Spain, opened its doors. One would think the town’s short distance to Barcelona, its scenic views of the Parque Forestal del Montbaig nature reserve, and its mountains make the location a hot spot. Its rich culture of art could drag in people across the world, but natives many of Spain don’t see Sant Boi in this warm light. They don’t see the lush nature and history. They only see the hospital.
The City and Mental Health
Over the past several years, people across the globe have made monumental strides in understanding and accepting the many mental health issues millions of people face every day. This new line of thinking, however, often does not extend to those who have stayed in mental health clinic or hospitals. They are still faced with entirely incorrect and offensive stigmas on a regular basis.
“When you’re outside Sant Boi…people ask, ‘where are you from?’ and you say ‘from Sant Boi,’ and they say, ‘Oh, the town with the loonies,” Dani Sánchez, a local artist in Sant Boi tells CNN.
Residents of Sant Boi, however, don’t buy into these taboos. They don’t bat an eye when it comes to the patients of the local hospital—these people are also residents of the town who add a little color to the lives of others. Many of these people are acquaintances—and in some cases, family members.
A History of Art
The Sant Boi community has always had a definite artistic influence. To keep patients occupied, the hospital used to hold bricklaying workshops. The patients kept the wall maintained once the project was complete. Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudí, utilized his work to bring the city together with a brilliant display of art. His modern art in the Sant Joan De Déu Healthcare Park once encompassed the mental health hospital.
But as things do over time, the elements wore on the wall. As the wall turned from a show of art into a decrepit piece of brick and graffiti, residents knew something needed to be done.
Nein Boots, artist and resident of Sant Boi, enlisted the help of 40 artists across the great expanse of Europe to create a new mural. Artists from Norway, the United Kingdom, and Sweden joined forces with young locals from Sant Boi and the hospital to “change local attitudes around mental health.”
Bringing a Community Together
The mural was designed to serve as an open discussion about mental health and the many taboos surrounding it. A theme of carpets was decided—part of the rug leans on one side, and the second half rests on the other side, inviting residents and visitors to walk into the hospital and see the work.
Another local artist, Juan Gurira, says that even though residents of Sant Boi had more or less accepted the existence of the mental health hospital, the collaboration between artists and residents helped establish a better relationship between residents of the hospital, and residents of the city.
“It’s going to influence their lives,” Sanchez says.
The broken-down wall was a reminder of negatives. The new vision of art has become a bright spot in the lives of residents across the city– be they patients or not. These patients not “loonies.” They are people who need a friendly hand extended to them, and that is the gap the mural was made to bridge.