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‘Neuro Blooms’ shines a light on neurodiversity

Two people stand near each other in front of a storefront with several "Neuro Blooms" pieces on the windows.
Emily Woodbury
St. Louis Public Radio
Artists Con Christeson, left, and Bonita “Bo” Owen, right

Art exhibition Neuro Blooms paints a picture of how different brains work — specifically those of people living with specific mental health conditions. Created by artist Leslie Holt, each “bloom” applies vivid color to PET scans to represent the brain activity of people experiencing different mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

The exhibition, which opened in October at Red Chair Studios and on the windows of businesses along Cherokee Street in St. Louis, inspired Bonite “Bo” Owen, a graduate student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

“The darker the color — like the black, the blue and the greens — is more of a low activity in the brain. And when you get to the reds and yellows, yellow is your high activity,” said Owen. “And I was like, this is really interesting.”

Owen is studying to be an art therapist, and she said that learning more about how the brain works is part of being an art therapist.

Five people stand side by side in front of windows with Neuro Blooms art on them.
Con Christeson
Brandon and Stevie Ball (from left, respectively) helped SIUE graduate students Abby Gonzales and Bo Owen (middle, respectively), install the Neuro Blooms along Cherokee Street. Artist Leslie Holt (right) created the Neuro Blooms based on brain scans of people experiencing different mental health conditions.

“I'm going to be working in counseling with people of all different types of situations, and learning about how the brain acts helps me understand why I have a client that might have some difficulties in one area and not in another, and that they may have strengths in one area and not in another. The brain scans kind of show me that activity as to why that might happen.”

Owen was first exposed to Neuro Blooms when she was assigned to artist Con Christeson’s studio while it was hosting Holt’s exhibition.

“The public art component of the project — putting the neural blooms in the windows, a QR code that gives information and gets people to stop and think and talk to each other — it has been a revelation for me,” Christeson said. “The stories that we've heard have been revealing, and I hope that it's going to continue to connect us.”

Stevie Ball became involved with Neuro Blooms through a Peter and Paul Community Services art class. He helped install the PET scan decals in shop windows.

Ball said that he learned a lot about his own diagnoses through Neuro Blooms, and that he hopes the exhibition fosters a greater sense of understanding and empathy.

“Be aware of what you don't know because everyone is affected by this type of dilemma. It’s in all of our families, either immediate family or down the line,” he said. “We all are affected by this, and we need to learn how to support or be a support to whomever is going through this type of dilemma.”

Christeson and Owen joined Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air to discuss how Neuro Blooms helps break stigma and invites people to talk more openly about mental health.

Hear the entire conversation by listening to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

‘Neuro Blooms’ shines a light on neurodiversity
Listen: Con Christeson and Bonita “Bo” Owen join St. Louis on the Air

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.