Photo: Jake Scott

Ryerson politics student started a project that creatively educates the public on social issues

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By Justin Bellmore

Ryerson student and musician Mike Zbikowski founded the social enterprise Cerebral Arts, which is a creative platform aimed at educating the public about social issues and mental health.

Zbikowski is a fifth-year politics student at Ryerson, and manager of communications for the Cerebral Arts. He said the idea for it was born out of a desire to connect with other musicians who share the same views on feminism, political issues and mental health.

Cerebral Arts holds events that collect research on mental illness and social issues and they present it through music and visual arts by recruiting local bands who advocate for education in mental health.

The two remaining founders, Alexandra DiFlorio and Matthew Nguyen, both shared his vision and the simple notion grew into a movement in January 2015,  that created the partnership of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and VIBE Arts – a local program dedicated to helping children explore their creativity through art.

The first formal event Cerebral Arts threw on mental illness was called “For the Love of Madness” last May, which feature a band from Ryerson, Mayraki.

“We wanted to highlight the importance of communication and lead by example by showing that there are coping mechanisms such as using music and visual arts,” said Zbikowski. “For me, after a day of anxiety, awkward interactions or feeling depressed, I know that the minute I play music, all I’m thinking about is what I’m playing in the moment.”

Zbikowski plays guitar, bass, piano and drums and personally struggles with mental illness. He has been coping with anxiety for the past few years and also depression, which he said stemmed from both cultural and hereditary influences.

“I was headed too deep into the party culture, so that is what brought it out,” he said. “My family also has a history of depression, so mental illness is not something that is foreign to us.”

Zbikowski’s main mission with Cerebral Arts is to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness by creating safe spaces for people to openly talk about it.

“In general, humans are wary in the face of a new change, but the questions are raised: ‘Why are people not happy going to work?’” said Zbikowski. “‘Why is it so hard for some students to do well in school?’ It’s because of this stigma, and this gap in ideologies.”

Cerebral Arts also holds events to educate youth on political and social issues. During the provincial elections, they recruited other politically poised musicians to gather election information and present it in a way that is more appealing for the younger generation.

They will be holding another mental illness awareness event called “For The Love of Madness 2” on May 20 at the Smiling Buddha on College Street.

“I don’t want a 9-5 job, I want to be able to help and sustain myself and other people through this. I want to keep reaching out,” said Zbikowski.

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