In the summer of 1997, Tony Myers, then Executive Director of the Dartmouth Branch, contacted Kevin Moynihan, Director of Development at the Atlantic School of Theology (AST), concerning holding an art exhibit. This exhibition would serve as both an opportunity to raise public awareness of mental health issues and as a fund-raiser for CMHA. The function would be held to coincide with Mental Illness Awareness Week.
NSCAD summer student, Gerard McNeil, assisted in the job of curating the exhibition called “Making Mental Health Matter”. Although this was a juried exhibition, the call for submissions was open to professional, amateur and student artists, and mental health consumers were encouraged to participate. The exhibition took place in the AST Library opening in October. In total, 37 pieces were shown, of which 15 sold. Although this first exhibition was successful, several problems were encountered: The size of the paintings made transportation difficult; the Atlantic School of Theology was somewhat out-of-the-way, especially for the Dartmouth residents who wished to see the exhibition; and because of the size and value of many of the paintings, it was difficult for people on lower incomes to purchase the art work.
In the spring of 1998 it was decided that, if the art was completed on smaller “canvases” and a call for submissions made to a larger audience, the price could be reduced. This would open the art-making, and the exhibition and sale, to a broader range of people while also addressing the transportation issue. The concept of displaying the art work in a mosaic format as an annual event was chosen. To assist in funding these new ideas, the Craig Foundation was successfully approached for sponsorship. In addition, Alderney Landing donated exhibition space at their new Visual Art Centre (now known as the Craig Gallery), which allowed for a more accessible location.
CMHA Dartmouth began purchasing six by six inch masonite panels from LakeCity Woodworkers. The branch made these panels available, free of charge, to people wishing to contribute art work on the general theme of mental health. Approximately 75 people donated over 170 panels. That year, the Dartmouth Branch received a Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) Innovative Award from the Canadian Psychiatric Association. This award recognizes creativity and innovation in planning MIAW events aimed at de-stigmatizing mental illness.The success of the first Mosaic for Mental Health encouraged CMHA to continue with this effort. After the Halifax and Dartmouth branches joined to form the Halifax-Dartmouth Branch, a volunteer committee was struck to carry on the tradition.
16 years later, the Mosaic for Mental Health has seen hundreds of artist submit thousands of images.