Darcy Keep

darcy keepChair of the Mental Health Arts Festival Committee
Board Member 1998-2022
Cottage Health Administrative Director, Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine

Darcy Keep has gravitated towards people with mental illness for as long as she can remember. As a psychiatric nurse who directs the Department of Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine at Cottage Health, she has aligned her profession with her passion.

Darcy has worked in the field of mental health for 37 years, spending the last 25 years at Cottage Hospital. She has volunteered at the Mental Wellness Center for just as long. Darcy knew she had a calling even before starting nursing school.

“My first job was working at the county library and, as it turned out, there are a lot of people with mental illness who visit libraries and see them as safe places to spend time,” she recalled. When colleagues took a break, Darcy would find a library visitor who appeared to be struggling and just sit and talk with them. Her second job was working as a nursing assistant in a locked facility for people with severe and persistent mental illness, and this reinforced her interest. By the time she graduated from nursing school, Darcy knew that psychiatry would be her focus.

“I love and admire and feel a need to serve this patient population,” she explained. And for more than two decades she has served this community both at Cottage Hospital and at the Mental Wellness Center.

“I never planned to be on the board for 25 years,” admitted Darcy, who explained that there is a one-year hiatus between six-year terms. But the needs at the Mental Wellness Center align with Darcy’s professional expertise and she finds joy in the work.

“The mission of the center and the dedication of our board keeps me coming back year after year,” she said. “Many of our board members have loved ones living with mental illness and their enthusiasm to enact change is inspiring.”

What’s also inspiring and keeps Darcy engaged are the talents of Mental Wellness Center members, who showcase their art every year at the Mental Health Arts Festival, an event that Darcy has chaired and sponsored for the last 23 years.

The festival is held in De La Guerra Plaza and typically 60 or more artists, some of whom are members of the Mental Wellness Center’s Fellowship Club, display and sell their masterpieces.
The festival provides an outlet for those living with depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety and other mental illnesses to come together and celebrate their creativity.

“This event offers our artists an opportunity to showcase their talent, but more importantly, it allows them to be perceived in a different way,” said Darcy. “It’s a positive way to fight against the stigma often associated with mental illness and allow these artists to be seen as productive and valuable members of our community.”

Darcy received a Volunteer of the Year award for her work expanding and refining the arts festival. She was also recognized with a Santa Barbara Independent Local Heroes Award in 2013.

“I have this theory in life that if you give things to other people, it enriches your own life, whether it’s through time or love or positive energy, if you give that out it comes back to you,” she said.