The Santa Barbara Mental Health Association hosted its 17th annual Mental Arts Festival this weekend, showcasing the talents of local mentally disabled artists.

In keeping with their motto, “creating hope through understanding”, the festival featured artwork, dramatic readings, poetry, music and dances, all created or performed by local residents who are affected by mental disabilites. Held in De la Guerra Plaza on Sat. from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., the small, intimate gathering was one of few held throughout the year in the county to publicize the abilities of the mentally disabled.

Jan Luk, a volunteer for the festival since its inception, said the event provides the mentally disabled a chance to interact with fellow community members as peers and art enthusiasts.

“It is important for the clients [artists] to have a showcase in a festival atmosphere to show their work because it lets people see that they are not violent or anything, they are just people doing their thing — and I think that puts the community at ease,” Luk said. “It helps people to not be afraid or embarrassed to speak about their illnesses.”

Luk also said the event increases awareness about the need to increase funding for programs that assist those with mental disabilities.

For many of these artists, the festival is the only time of year they are able to share their work publically in a gallery-style setting. As a result, many of the contestants were excited to show off their pieces and explain their value.

Santa Barbara resident and festival artist Kimberly Quinn said the event provides an outlet to help her manage her disabilities.

“I do this artwork because it is fun, but it also helps change my focus away from my illness… it proves that people with illnesses are multifaceted and talented.”

Quinn also said her work compels people who attend the festival to realize the depth of those who are mentally displayed.

The festival also benefited people besides those with mental disabilities, providing beauty and amusement for all who attended.

Santa Barbara resident Jake Moore said he has attended the festival twice because of the unique entertainment this festival brings.

“I come to be entertained; every other art festival is boring,” Moore said. “This one is pretty rad and creative and different than you would expect.”