How it All Started


When Bella was 18 she lost her childhood friend to suicide. She was devastated, and even more hopeless when numerous of her friends took their lives shortly after. Yet, no one in her community talked about it. Mental illness remained something that was only talked about in hushed tones and behind closed doors.

That all began to change at an open mic event, where Bella discussed through poetry her mental health journey that she couldn’t yet express to friends or family. Sharing her story through art not only empowered her to grieve and seek treatment, but also helped community members engage in a difficult conversation through the universality of art.

Since then, with the help of dedicated volunteers, Bella has hosted events all over Rhode Island to give others that same opportunity to use art as a storytelling tool and to listen in return. To bridge the gap in understanding between those who experience mental illness and those who’ve never encountered it before.


After months of researching the unmet need for programs combating stigma through art, the ARMS team began hosting Rhode Island-based events - from interactive art galleries to film festivals - to further hone their mission and model. Based on feedback, ARMS took shape as an organization using art as a tool to facilitate understanding between those with lived mental illness and neurotypical community members.

ARMS was incorporated into the Rhode Island Business Bureau as a domestic nonprofit in May 2018, and established by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization in September 2018.

IRS Form


After over a year of product testing, Bella and Artistic Director Beth Pollard came together for the startup accelerator Breakthrough Lab (B-Lab) and refined the ARMS business model. With the guidance of their B-Lab mentors, they established a system that connects local artists with the resources to host their own mental health-related arts events and workshops.


About 1 in 4 adults suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.1 Yet, only about 40 percent of adults with a diagnosed mental illness actually receive treatment.2 This barrier to treatment is largely due to the overwhelming stigma people with mental illness face; stigma being defined as the “negative attitudes that motivate individuals to fear, reject, avoid, and discriminate against people with mental illness.”3

We have identified stigma, proven its role in our psycho-sociological society, made it a household concept seen in a new U.S. survey conducted online by The Harris Poll in which: “92 percent of respondents believe there is stigma in our society against those with mental illnesses. Nearly half of survey respondents who know someone with a mental illness say they do not know how to speak to them about seeking treatment, and a third do not feel comfortable discussing mental health issues with family and friends.”4

Our ideas for developing a non-profit build off of other researchers’ work, that state that “positive personal contact with a person with mental illness was significantly associated with lower levels of endorsing stigmatizing beliefs and actions. 5 We agree.