The first Art of the Guitar exhibition launched during an emotional time. It was 2011, just a few months after one of the organizers of the event, Frank Campagna, had lost his son Frankie to suicide. Within weeks, Frankie's bandmate in Spector 45, Adam Carter, also killed himself. Mourners donated nearly $15,000 at a memorial at Club Dada and the Art of the Guitar exhibition.
Since then, Campagna and surviving Spector 45 member Anthony Delabano have formed Foundation 45, and this Saturday they're bringing back the Art of the Guitar at Campagna's Kettle Art Gallery in Deep Ellum. “We did it like five years ago and it worked out really well, so it’s time to do it again, now that Foundation 45 is really taking off and working,” Campagna says. “Frankie was a guitar player and it seemed like the right thing to do.”
Forty-five guitars have been donated by locals and then transformed by local artists. The guitars will be displayed and auctioned along with stories from donators and artists, sharing their own struggles or motivations for getting involved with Foundation 45, a nonprofit organization focused on providing mental health resources and breaking stigma regarding mental illness.
While Frankie and Carter's deaths are now more than a half decade in the past, the urgency of providing help to the local arts community hasn't diminished for the members of the foundation. “Unfortunately, since 2011, 12-plus people from our neighborhood and involved in Deep Ellum — musicians, artists — have committed suicide,” Delabano, the president of Foundation 45, says.
Some donors, like Pam Cosgrove, simply included notes encouraging Foundation 45’s efforts in suicide prevention: “Our community has lost too many, too soon,” it reads. Others, like artist Elizabeth Dryden, espoused the healing ability of art in general: “Art has saved me from believing I was alone in this world and has melted away my inner prison,” hers says.
And while the weekly group therapy sessions are mainly marketed toward creatives, the real focus of the foundation is to create a safe space within a community that’s not used to conformity. “People are real, people are real on Facebook, people are talking straight up with one another,” Delabano says. “Why can't counselors be that way? Why can’t a health organization be that way? That’s what we are, we’re real.
Looking for help to deal with the grief of losing his friends, Delabano said he struggled to find counseling resources. His parents helped him find free grievance counseling offered by a church in Rockwall, but after his first visit he knew he hadn’t found the help he needed.
“I told them what happened and they were just shocked, and it made me feel unusual, like I didn’t feel right being there. I just felt like that’s the wrong place for me,” Delabano says. “I didn’t go back because I made other people sad. I wasn’t there to make other people sad; I just wanted to get help.”
Hampered by loss and falling deeply into a self-medicated state, Delabano dropped out of the scene. He checked into rehab, worked with and became president of a chapter of the nonprofit organization Oxford House, which offers housing for recovering addicts, and began to turn his life around.
Then, on Jan. 19, 2015, the former manager of La Grange and one of Delabano’s closest friends while he was in rehab, Jeremy Gomez, took his own life. “He was the door guy, he was the manager that paid us out … but Jeremey Gomez took his own life. That was like the real breaking point, ‘Hey, something has to be done,’” Delabano says.
This was the start of Foundation 45. Delabano said Cella Arts owner Erica Felicella helped set up the first group counseling sessions last October using Fund 45, a precursor to the foundation made up of money raised in Frankie’s honor. The weekly sessions only managed to attract two to three people at first, but six months ago the group exploded.
“I was just fed up,” says Delabano, who took charge of the newly formed foundation in June.
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The foundation launched a website, started advertising its meetings with licensed counselors and working with venues to spread the word about the free service which now sees four times as many people coming to its counseling sessions. “The funny thing about mental health awareness and especially suicide prevention is you don’t really hear, ‘Oh yay, somebody didn’t kill themselves today.’ It’s not like you throw a big party because somebody lived,” Campagna says. “You only hear about the failures, you never hear about the successes.”