The name “Rich Courage” conjures an image of an individual who is larger than life, and that is definitely how those of us at Fountain House would describe the man himself.
Rich first joined Fountain House in 2001 after fellow member and artist, Jonathan Glass, spoke to him about a gallery that exhibits artwork created by people with serious mental illness. “When I visited the Fountain House Gallery, I was hooked. It was a beautiful space with friendly staff, and the member artwork was thrilling. Before I knew it, I had submitted some of my collages for a show, then they were selected and one even sold!”
However, it was more than just the opportunity to sell his artwork that kept Rich coming back. After a long career as a performer — where he appeared in a Broadway production alongside James Woods and as a background actor in Law & Order — he gravitated towards the Education Unit’s multimedia room where he helped produce in-house shows and could exercise his talent both in-front of and behind the camera. “I began filming everything from our Thanksgiving feast to our bubbly colleagues from a Swedish clubhouse. I felt a part of a thriving community.”
Even though Rich was deeply involved with Fountain House, his road to recovery wasn’t easy. In 2006, he was hospitalized following a suicide attempt. Rich was found just in time due to the quick thinking of a fellow member and his worker who, concerned about his wellbeing, tracked him down and called an ambulance. “I ended up in Rockland State for 3 months. By that time, I knew I had a community at Fountain House to return to and it kept me going, but I needed support to get back to my former self.”
Shortly after returning to Fountain House, he began to find his stride again, taking on transitional employment opportunities until he landed a role managing a café at the Bronx Museum through a newly established Fountain House social enterprise. “That was a wonderful job. Under my management we received two ‘A’ grade ratings. It also gave me access to another community of artists and did a lot to rebuild my confidence.”
That confidence led Rich to re-engage with his love of performing and before he knew it he was the singer of the Fountain House band in-residence, The Fountaines. He also obtained his certification as a peer counselor to support other individuals with serious mental illness. This, coupled with his managerial experience awarded him a coveted role of peer counselor and studio manager at the Fountain House Studio in Long Island City — a role he cherishes deeply not only for the support it provides others, but for the opportunity to expand his artistic practice.
“When I had created some pieces in a new medium — a few of these 3-d watercolor hands, Miguel Colon, a brilliant painter and fellow member, noticed and told me he thought they were amazing. Karen Gormandy, the studio director, and a wonderful artist in her own right, commented that my hands were "trippy" and groovy. These words of encouragement brought tears of joy to my eyes because I still struggle with believing that my creations are any good. Having the support of my peers at Fountain House makes creating art really fulfilling and worthwhile.”
Rich is currently exploring his creative side more deeply. Whether he is singing in The Fountaines or the newest Fountain House band Our House, writing thought-provoking pieces for the Fountain House newspaper, flexing his muscle as a balloon artist — a skill he learned from a fellow fountain house member, or discovering new dimensions to his artistic practice thanks to the Fountain House studio in Long Island City, he is doing so with purpose, momentum, and above all, courage. “When I chose the last name ‘Courage’, I looked up what the word means. It doesn’t mean ‘to have guts’ it means ‘to have heart’, and when times are tough, it’s important to have heart, to have empathy, to have courage.”
You can find out more about Rich’s balloon art via Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Courage-Balloon-Artist), view his artwork on Artsy (https://www.artsy.net/artist/richard-courage) and contact the man himself at couragerichard (at) gmail.com
The Member Artist Spotlight series celebrates the 2-year anniversary of the Fountain House Studio in Long Island City. The establishment of Fountain House Studio was made possible thanks to our founding supporters: The David Rockefeller Fund; The Hearst Foundation, Inc.; Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund; Renate, Hans and Maria Hofmann Trust; and through the generous support of individual donors.