Nestled in eastern Queens in the neighborhood of Queens Village is the sprawling campus of Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, once a massive institution for the mentally ill. The 107-year-old complex has been made famous in urban lore by the number of abandoned buildings (including some overrun by bird dung), but the facility remains very much in operation – albeit much smaller with more of a focus on community wellness. One of the remaining buildings in use houses The Living Museum, an art therapy program and exhibition that encourages patients to express their thoughts and feelings through art.
The Living Museum was started in 1983 by Dr. János Marton and Bolek Greczynski in the former cafeteria building, as a means of providing a space for patients to have an outlet for their mental illness through art therapy. Over the years, the program has assisted scores of patients and is currently displaying works by nearly 60 artists. The program also touts an extremely low hospital re-admittance rate for patients that participated.
The exhibits feature works made of various materials, from wire and paint to repurposed straitjackets, that span a full range of genres. It is this eclectic mix of styles that adds to the character of the museum. The “living” part of the museum’s namesake is ever-present as the collection constantly grows with new pieces. Additionally, the friendly nature of the artists brings about a welcoming and familiar feel as they are often present during visiting hours, and generally excited to show off their works to visitors.
The success of The Living Museum is recognized throughout the world, with several of its kind operating in multiple institutions across the globe. In 1998, an HBO documentary was made about the museum, and is on a constant loop during visits. During the recent open house, Dr. Marton mentioned that at a psychiatry conference in Korea, art therapy programs like The Living Museum are helping to bring on the “fourth revolution in psychiatry”.When visiting The Living Museum, one can get easily overwhelmed by the vast array of pieces that cover nearly every inch of the building. The massive amount of art that is housed within that space is definitely not enough to see in one visit.
When visiting The Living Museum, one can get easily overwhelmed by the vast array of pieces that cover nearly every inch of the building. The massive amount of art that is housed within that space is definitely not enough to see in one visit.
The Living Museum’s impact on Creedmoor’s patients is crucial to the greater Queens community. It helps to de-stigmatize those living with mental illness while also providing a wonderful, warm place for the community and patients to interact and connect.
We will be offering a tour of The Living Museum on Thursday April 18th for Untapped Cities Insiders, offering you a rare glimpse into Creedmoor, its staff and patients. The tour will be led by Rachel Fawn Alban, a New York City photographer and arts educator with a background in art therapy, and Lois Stavsky of Street Art NYC and Art BreakOUT, who have been working together to document the art and getting to know the artists working within the museum. Learn more and register for that visit when tickets become available here.
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Here are additional photographs of The Living Museum:
Studio of artist John “Dirty” Tursi displaying his various multimedia works.
Pictures of Living Museum band, DSM5, which occasionally plays during tours in the Music Room.
The Living Museum documentary plays on a television during visiting hours next to a collection of VHS tapes.
Yarn wound around a tree with beaded ropes hanging from the branches right in front of the entrance.
Looking for more art? Check out 11 New NYC Art Installations Not to Miss This March 2019.