For Paul Tougas of Vinfen’s Cove Clubhouse, some achievements are worth the wait. Paul celebrated the opening of the art exhibition Gateway of Hopes and Dreams on March 15 with a reception and presentation before friends, family, Clubhouse members, and art-lovers at the Cape Cod Cultural Center in South Yarmouth. The exhibit, which Paul personally curated, brought together work from artists at 45 Clubhouses internationally to create a powerful mosaic that spoke to the diversity of all those who participated in the project, and the string of common experience uniting Clubhouse members worldwide.
According to Paul, Gateway of Hopes and Dreams was a concept almost 20 years in the making. A successful brainwave technologist, Paul was preparing for a trip to Nepal with a travel bureau that aimed to establish new libraries when he suffered his first breakdown. After two additional breakdowns, Paul was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and began his journey to recovery.
Still, the prospect of supporting a struggling nation stuck with Paul throughout the years. “I read that Vinfen was considered an international model of excellence in human services. And I had it in my mind that I wanted to establish a Clubhouse in one of the poorest nations in the world. At that time, one of those nations was Nepal,” Paul said. “Lo and behold, I found out that they had actually established one of the newest Clubhouses in Nepal that year.”
Far from discouraged, Paul’s aspirations then took a new turn. “I’ve been doing art all my life, from picking up a pencil at the age of three,” Paul said. “After I was diagnosed, I was in a very dark state of depression and found it really difficult to get motivated. I still went to see Sam, my art teacher on the Cape, but I was treading water. But then the Cove Clubhouse Director asked me if I would help establish an art room at the club. It was a transformative moment for me, and kicked me out of that dark state.”
With art playing such an instrumental role in his own recovery, Paul decided to raise money for Clubhouses internationally with an art show of his own. A few short months later, the idea came to fruition. With that success under his belt, Paul took inspiration for the Gateway of Hopes and Dreams concept from a local exhibit that featured a large, grid-work mosaic. “The idea was that each of the 320, at the time, Clubs was invited to participate in the project by creating their own artistic square for a mosaic. Each of the Clubhouses was instructed to have at least one circle in the work, which represents the self, eternity, transcendence, and unity.”
Paul reached out to every existing Clubhouse worldwide. Months later, he has now received submissions from China, Iceland, Sweden, Germany, Australia, and Canada, not to mention the dozens from across the United States. A whopping fifteen submissions came from Pennsylvania, the state with the second most Clubhouses after Massachusetts.
“My next goal is to visit at least a dozen of the Clubs in western Massachusetts to promote the project more personally, and garner more involvement,” said Paul.
He attests that at the core of his project is the aspiration to increase awareness about the need for mental health services worldwide. “We have the luxury in this country of having services available in a general sense,” Paul said. “But people who have the least amount of anything, the poor, don’t have the resources we have. I just feel that it is important to have more of a sense of equality.”
Gateway of Hopes and Dreams will remain on display at the Cape Cod Cultural Center until March 26. From there, the exhibit is expected to be transported to Vinfen’s Point After Club in Lawrence, MA as part of their Mental Health Awareness Month celebrations. For updates on this and all other aspects of the project, visit their Facebook page.