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Painted Brain | Art Groups
We're bridging communities and changing the conversation about mental illness using arts and media.
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Art Groups


What is the Painted Brain Art Group Service?

Painted Brain’s primary mission in regards to the mental health system is to introduce community back into the community mental health system. We do this via art groups. Our groups use art activities to get people talking, interacting and having fun with each other. We bring art groups to agencies and communities in need of communal activity and shared purpose. We are tackling one of the most pervasive challenging people living with mental illness in our society, isolation. Art is a conduit to interaction, and art groups help us relearn that we want to be social, we want to interact, we can enjoy being with other people. Humans are fundamentally social creatures, and art facilitates safe socializing.

Music Jam at the PB Community Arts and Tech Center on FridaysWe create pockets of community through site-specific art interventions to promote communication, trust and mutual support in any setting. Painted Brain has more than ten years experience running art group activities of all kinds with many different populations, from kids to therapists. Our primary focus over the years has always been using the arts to help people learn to interact socially and effectively while experiencing the impacts of trauma, psychosis, depression, autism, anxiety and other unwanted mental experiences. Art activities create dialogue and connection between participants.

Painted Brain Art Groups encompass the whole array of artistic experiences from drawing and painting to acting, writing, drumming and other music, rap, poetry, dance, and yoga.

Who runs Painted Brain’s Art Groups?

At Painted Brain, we believe that everyone has something to offer to other people and that sharing artistic skills, talents or interests are a great place to start. Our groups are led by a variety of mental health professionals including social workers, occupational therapists, and interns from both fields, working artists and musicians, and peer leaders. Our dynamic group leaders are all versed in using interactive art activities to promote conversation, sharing, and mutual respect.

The Brain On Art

Why do we provide Painted Brain art groups outside our headquarters?

In addition to the social development and opportunity for respectful positive interaction between participants, something that is sorely missing from the vast majority of mental health providers, our groups also serve an outreach purpose. We are always trying to build and grow our community and we meet hundreds of people a year through our art group services, all potential members, and contributors to our community. Jesus Matias, one of our stellar Member Service Coordinators at Painted Brain, was a participant in a Painted Brain art group at his agency more than five years ago.

Where do Painted Brain art groups happen?

In the first half of 2016, Painted Brain ran close to 500 groups in agencies all around the LA mental health system. Just by sector, we have offered our groups in:

    • High Schools

    • Colleges Campuses

    • Stepdown Programs

    • Inpatient Psychiatric Residential Facilities

    • Substance Abuse Treatment Centers

    • Homeless Teen Drop-in Centers

    • Transition Aged Youth housing facilities

How does a Painted Brain Art Group work?

Our group leaders pride themselves on being both flexible and adaptable, and we strive to never feel constrained by limited material options. We can make art out of anything. We offer a loose format that includes a check-in, an opening interactive activity, a discussion about the activity, a second longer activity that is more individualized, another discussion, and then a checkout. We enhance social skills development and trust and connection between participants by using variations of a couple of simple questions: How are you doing? How are you doing with other people in this group? How are you doing with other people in your life? These questions cover all the bases of social communication.

How do we know Painted Brain Art Groups have an impact?

In 2014, in conjunction with the SSG’s Research and Evaluation team, we developed our own assessment tool which we called the PBTQ (which stands for nothing but sounded cool at the time) and paired this with an established anxiety assessment, the STAI. We offered a pre- and post-test to all participants in our groups over a six-week period in the spring of 2014 and found that a single instance of participation in our art activities increased a sense of connection, feeling of trust, and self-confidence while also reducing anxiety.

History of Painted Brain Art Groups

In 2005, before Painted Brain had a name, Painted Brain was a single art group running at a community mental health center. The whole project started as a simple solution to a complex problem – How do you build a community around a challenge like mental illness? Well, it worked and it still does.

Painted Brain does not do Art Therapy

Painted Brain does not practice Art Therapy. We do not rule out Art Therapy in the future nor do we have ill-will towards Art Therapy. Painted Brain’s use and support of the arts is fundamentally about bringing people together and creating safe social space and shared purpose. Art Therapy is about working through internal processes in expressive ways with specific professional guidance and interpretation. This is a beautiful and dynamic process and we support it fully, but it is not our practice.

Allow Painted Brain to bring art to your community, classroom, staff retreat or party.

Contact our Clinical Director, Dave Leon, LCSW, at

How Can Art Be Used In And Outside Therapy?