Public art installation inspires people to change their lives by changing their minds

(Courtesy of Patricia Armstrong)

For the last couple years, ABC7 News has featured Nancy Belmont’s evocative, experiential, public art installations. This summer, she created "The Sanctuary." She sat down with our Jay Korff mid-way through her installation’s run in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria to talk about her latest project after which we explored this powerful and thought provoking space.

“It’s hard to put yourself out there. But it you don’t put yourself out there you are not living big," said Nancy Belmont.

Belmont will candidly tell you that every day we face a critic inside ourselves, damaging us with destructive self-talk.

“I’m not good enough or pretty enough ever,” said Belmont as an example or two.

The danger resides in believing that darkness to be true. So she created "The Sanctuary" to open participant’s eyes to the power of discarding negative thoughts from our lives.

“So it’s really to bring attention to like you have a choice over what you think and what you think is what you become. When we can start sharing what it is to be human it gets easier to be human,” added Belmont.

Participants begin by writing down, then throwing away, a negative thought holding them back.

“So I’m gonna write that I’m scared to be myself. Sometimes I think that I overthink what people might think of me. I’m not confident enough to be who I am,” said one participant.

Then participants replace the negative thought with a positive mantra written on an old paint can lid. They then hang the lid in a garden filled with other mantras.

Participant Kiesha Yokers said, “I love this. It’s so powerful. It’s really beautiful and it’s cathartic and healing.”

There’s more to this refuge then the solitary act of accepting and hanging up a new truth.

For Stephanie Haley and so many others who enter this space there is something greater to gain by being here.

“I’m not alone,” said Haley.

"The Sanctuary" connects you to the hopes and dreams of others: a consciousness we know we can attain.

“You almost get emotional reading these because you always think at the end of the day it’s only you. But now, coming here and looking at these mantras people have the same mantra almost as you do,” said Haley.

Haley wrote for her mantra: “I am worth it.”

“Am I worth that next step or am I worth it to do bigger and better things,” said Haley.

Belmont said, “It’s always amazing to me when people share these deep pieces of themselves and have a moment.”

Like when we met Larry Altenburg and his son Avery wandering through the installation.

“So I wrote that I’m a great dad because my negative thought was that I’m not necessarily a great dad," said Altenburg. "I always wonder if I’m doing the right thing for them. I’m helping them be the best that they can be by being the best that I can be. It’s tough sometimes."

Maybe Avery’s mantra: “I will help people” will put his father’s worry to rest.

“I like to help people in the world because if the world is great than everybody can be happy,” said Avery.

Nancy Belmont built "The Sanctuary" to show participants that if they can change their mind they can change their lives.

“So many people feel trapped about their circumstances but when I can help them see that there is choice in everything. There’s choice in what you think about yourself, what you do, how you behave then you start to feel more empowered and I can author a life I could have never dreamed,” concluded Belmont.

The installation ended with participants burning the slips of paper that the negative thoughts were written on. In all, some 2,000 mantras were created thanks to "The Sanctuary."

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