The clients of the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County will have a chance to exhibit their creative talents at the 16th annual Mental Health Arts Festival this Saturday.

The event, which will showcase various pieces of art made by members of the Mental Health Association, runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at De la Guerra Plaza, off State Street. Visitors can expect poetry readings, art, music, sculptures, jewelry and drawings. The festival, which honors the National Mental Illness Awareness Week, is free to the public.

The Arts Festival has a greater purpose than just displaying the talents of the participants, executive director of the MHA Annmarie Cameron said, adding that it allows the community to forget about their disabilities and treat them like average citizens.

“This Arts Festival helps reduce the stigma of mental illness because it features the artistic talent of some amazing local citizens,” Cameron said. “Our clients do not want to be known primarily as ‘mental health patients’ but rather, students, employees, volunteers, and of course, artists.”

The MHA is a non-profit organization that provides support, housing and advocacy to adults who suffer severe mental illnesses and their families.

Daniella Elghanayan, public relations officer with the MHA, said the event benefits both the visitors and participants.

“It is an excellent opportunity to connect the community at large, with creative members in our area who are affected by mental illness,” Elghanayan said.

In addition to the art and music which will be on display, the MHA will be providing education on mental illnesses, including treatment options and methods of coping with mental illness.

For the participants, the event represents something to look forward to each year.

“When I exhibit my work, I find acceptance and praise, which does a lot for my ego and actually helps me cope,” Rodger Casier said, a 54-year-old artist who has participated in the event for 14 years. “It gives me a sense of well-being and approval and I love it. Everyone thinks schizophrenics are outcasts, but when they look at my artwork it makes me feel even with them.”