City brings art and mental health program to local schools to support children during pandemic

The Sacramento City Council on Oct. 13 approved funding for “Sacramento HeART and Mind,” a new program that combines artists, community mentors and mental-health support to assist students most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures.

Spearheaded by Councilmember Jay Schenirer, the program was developed in partnership with the City’s Office of Arts & Culture as well as Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE) and Sacramento school districts.

“The pandemic brought about the closures of our local schools, abrupt adjustments to the ‘new normal’ of distance learning, and forced students to physically isolate – something that our kids have really struggled with mentally and emotionally,” Schenirer said. “The program will provide a creative outlet for these students and make sure our artists and community organizations have the mental health training to support our kids during this challenging year.”

Funded from the $89 million the City received in CARES Act funding, “Sacramento HeART and Mind” focuses on using the arts as a strategy to address mental health issues, trauma, absenteeism and other effects of the pandemic on already at-risk youth.

“There’s a growing body of evidence that supports the role participation in the arts plays in dealing with social isolation, trauma and mental health, said Megan Van Voorhis, Cultural and Creative Economy Manager. “Participation can reduce anxiety levels, improve self esteem and allow students to express emotions and experiences that are otherwise difficult to put into words. In developing this pilot program, the partners are taking an important step forward to grow the intersection of arts and health.”

A support team — including a mental health specialist, a community mentor and an artist — will work with each site. Artists will develop an online residency that will be used to help each student shape their personal narrative through art.

Approximately 26 school sites will participate in virtual training provided by SCOE and work with the support team to develop a suite of virtual services for students with surfacing social/emotional issues.

“This creative program will help address the needs of students with social and emotional concerns due to the pandemic,” said Melissa Cirone, arts program coordinator. “It provides Sacramento students with an outlet to express themselves throughs arts and receive vital mentoring and mental health support, allowing creativity to blossom while offsetting the isolating effects of COVID-19.”

The Office of Arts & Culture is working with the Sacramento City Unified School District and Twin Rivers Unified School District to finalize the schools that will participate in the program. For more information, contact Melissa Cirone at

Other COVID-19 resources including computer and Wi-Fi access, job training and placement and business assistance programs can be found on the City’s COVID relief website.