A few of us met recently to start thinking about what would appear in the “creativity and mental health” section of the MindWell site. MindWell is the new site that give people all the information they need about mental health in Leeds. And we’re helping them with the artsy bit. Here’s a flavour of the discussions we had….
What do we want the content to say (ie key messages)?
What do we want the web page to do?
What content do we want?
What do we want the page to look like?
Dynamic! Needs sound, colour, movement, performance, energy etc
What can I do now? – ideas of things you can do now to boost your mood and help you relax.
How can I take part? Groups, societies and projects in the city.
Content also needs to surface in different places in the site:
So, as you can see we talked about a lot. But there’s more to decide and we need your help! If you’re reading this you probably have something to say about creativity and mental health. Email us. Let us know what YOU want the MindWell creativity page to look like. We’ll have another meet-up soon, which we’ll publicise when it’s confirmed.
by Tom Bailey
We love the Love Arts Conversation. We’ve done it twice now, we gathered around 120 people together and had some great conversations about creativity and well-being. Artists, academics, mental health service users, arts organisations, carers, health workers, students – anyone with an interest. But why can’t we do them more frequently? Yesterday we devoted the Buzz Group to talking about this. And here’s what we came up with…
We could hold smaller conversations throughout the year, probably quarterly.
We could have them at a variety of places and at a variety of times, each one for around 2 hours.
These would be free to attend.
The conversations would feature something to inspire us: it could be showcases of interesting projects, or a short talk by a creative person about their art.
There would be plenty of time for discussion.
The events would be a mixture of formal and informal conversations. We’d let people keep talking after the event if they wanted to!
Each event would present the group with a provoking question that could get us thinking. Or there could be themes.
We want the conversations to be welcoming to everybody. A few of us will commit to making sure people feel supported and welcomed, and we’ll work out a way that no-one feels too awkward. We want a relaxed atmosphere.
The whole point is for people to feel that there are other people out there doing similar things, that they have the support of a creative community in Leeds. We want to give people the chance to make connections and help people build their skills and confidence.
We don’t want to replicate whats already happening!
There will be a schedule made available way in advance so everyone knows what’s happening.
The conversations will take place at accessible locations around Leeds, not just the city centre.
The events will be creative and fun. But also relevant and useful.
We’ll look at creative ways to include NHS workers and service users.
The conversations will be around arts and health – but this description is very broad. We’d try to surprise you!
I think we can probably work together to come up with 3 or 4 events over the next year, starting in the Summer. We’ll definitely do one in October as part of Love Arts 2017. I think it would be sensible to set up a Conversation Planning Group to help make it happen: choose what we talk about and who is invited to speak. And we’ll be sending email round to get your thoughts on exactly what you want. Watch this space for more details on this soon! Meanwhile thank you very much to all of you who came to the Buzz Group.
by Tom Bailey
Network is a dreadful word.
“I like to network.” “Come to our network meeting.” “Let’s set up a network.” I can’t be alone in thinking that the word comes loaded with negativity. It’s management speak. It’s jargon. Someone for whom I have great respect once told me I was “a good networker”. “Rubbish,” I said. “I hate networking.” “But you speak to anyone, you know lots of people.” “Oh, I speak to people. But I hate networking.” The word drips with insincerity. I don’t want to be a smug schmoozer.
I even tried to drop the word “network” from “Arts & Minds Network”. But we’d just had a new logo designed and couldn’t afford to commission another. I suppose I must face facts: Arts & Minds is a network. But all that means is that it’s a collection of people united around a common cause: creativity and mental well-being. Maybe we’re a “community”. That’s almost as bad as “network”.
I don’t mind what a network means. It’s brilliant. You can do loads more when you’re working together, when you know people who have similar interests. I’m no good at working alone; the more the merrier. I’ve really enjoyed running the Love Arts Conversation, a conference-type event that brought lots of people under the same roof to discuss issues, ideas and get inspiration. At the risk of offending you with another annoying word, there was a good energy.
However, it’s not enough to feel all warm and fuzzy for a day once every couple of years. Arts & Minds should be getting people together more often. Giving people the chance to meet each other and perhaps plot the next fantastic art project. Or find out what others are doing and become inspired in their own work. So let’s do something similar to the Love Arts Conversation. Smaller but more frequently. To bring together anyone with an interest in creativity and mental health. To encourage arts organisations and health people to work together. We could call it a “network meeting”.
Ok, so we’re not going to call it that. But what should it be? Who should be there? What should we do? What’s the point? Why bother when Trump’s going to blow us all up anyway? Sorry, ignore that last bit. What I’m trying to say is that we need a bit of help to make this happen. To make it not rubbish. To make it something people want to come to. To be honest, I don’t even know what ‘it’ is.
NB The picture accompanying this article is of two amazing people: Alison McIntyre and Leanne Buchan, at the Love Arts Conversation 2016. They’re having an interesting chat. But are they networking…? Photograph by Mat Dale.
January is almost over but here at Arts & Minds we’ve been trying to fight the Winter Blues…
We linked up with the redoubtable Helen Hunter Thompson of CGL to support her #30daysofpositivity idea. A brilliant way to brighten the dark days. Find out more here.
One of the many dark days in January was known as “Blue Monday”. So we got a musician to cheer up passengers on the bus. Here’s what we put on our leaflet:
“Today, 16 January 2017, is commonly known as Blue Monday and is often described as “the most depressing day of the year.” For many people, this is when “reality” kicks in after Christmas, the days feel shorter, darker and it can seem like a long time until the lighter summer days. To spread some cheer on this dark day, First Bus Leeds have teamed up with Leeds & York Partnerships Foundation NHS Trust to provide a musical accompaniment to your journey.
However, If you’re living with depression the date is irrelevant. Depression affects people every day, not just on “Blue Monday”. People with depression aren’t just “a bit down” because of the weather or because they’re skint after Christmas. It’s likely that you know someone with a mental health issue. Or you may be affected yourself. Use ‘Blue Monday’ as an excuse to start a conversation about mental health!”
Our musician (“the Captain”) was amazing. Have a look on the BBC Leeds Facebook page.
However, neither of these articles really encapsulate how joyful the experience was. I was accompanying the Captain and saw the reaction up close. We hopped on and off buses, entertained people at bus stops and wandered the streets in search of miserable commuters. The 56 from Headingley was packed with students trying to record the experience on their phones. Whilst waiting for the 49, the Captain sang ‘Lean On Me’, accompanied by members of the bus queue. Just outside the LGI he serenaded an unborn child whose Mother had just been for a scan. And the Captain was unfazed by any request, even attempting an improvised Elvis/ Grime improvised mash-up. With mixed results. But everywhere we went, there were smiles. Some grumpy faces initially, but the Captain usually won them over. One commuter confided, “you don’t see that sort of thing in Leeds do you? In London, maybe, but not in Leeds.”
So that was Blue Monday.
On Brown Thursday (which is even less of a thing than Blue Monday because I just made it up) we joined Helen and others at the Feel Good Fest. The Corn Exchange was packed with brilliant people, offering ways to help feel better. Loads of treatments (massages, hypnotherapy, reflexology), workshops (from us and Dean), music, yoga, drama, the Human Library…. And it was great. A good turnout of lovely people. Thank Helen for organising it and giving everybody a chance to try something to make them feel a little better on a dark night.
So, some light has been shone in the darkness. Let’s hope we do something similar next January.
We published an interview with The Grief Series‘ Ellie Harrison in our recent newsletter but had to edit it for space. Here’s the unexpurgated version!
Tom Bailey: Tell me a little bit about the Grief Series and where you are with it now.
Ellie Harrison: The Grief Series is a decade-long project. I’m six years in. It’s going well. Really it’s about creating spaces, using art as a tool to create spaces where people can have conversations about death and bereavement because it’s a difficult subject. I tend to use playful strategies to engage people. I think humour’s quite important in dealing with difficult subjects. It’s seven projects long and for each project I work with a different artist, working in a different art-form. Part 1 was a solo-show and I collaborated with a video artist. Part 2 is a performance installation for hotels. Part 3 is a photography project. Part 4 is a funfair about anger in a 20foot by 30 foot circus tent. The form varies and I’m not really interested in making work that doesn’t have an identity crisis.
TB: What does that mean?
EH: Well, I like to make work that doesn’t know whether it’s a performance or an installation, a board game or a choose-your-own-adventure book. I’m less concerned with what it is, I’m more concerned with how people use it to have the conversations they want to have.
TB: It sounds a bit like the Love Arts Festival; that’s about using a play or an exhibition or a workshop to get that conversation started about mental health. I suppose you’re doing the same about grief.
EH: Yes, absolutely. It’s about creating spaces that feel warm and welcoming and where people can engage with the subject on their own terms. And I guess part of the reason for working across disciplines is that I know different audiences will access different parts of the Grief Series and they’ll follow from one to the other. So someone might say, “I go to exhibitions, I came to the What is Left exhibition (Part 2) and I quite like it so now I might go and see the solo show.” Or, “I go to the theatre a lot but I’ve never been to an installation that’s a funfair in the middle of a field but I might try it!” So it’s about introducing people to new art forms as well.
TB: Why do you think it’s important to talk about death? Do you think it’s a problem that people don’t? Isn’t it better not to talk about our feelings?!
EH: (laughs) I think obviously, well, we’re all going to die. You know, it’s happening. And talking about it isn’t going to make it happen any quicker. So I think it’s a good thing to talk about it. Someone described me as ‘an experiential expert on death’ which was a really fancy way of saying that I’ve lost quite a lot of people. I never really intended to make the Grief Series. But people were coming up to me after making The Etiquette of Grief (Part 1), which was quite a sarcastic, funny show, and they were saying, “That really reminded me of when I lost my partner, or my child or my sibling”. They felt quite silenced because there’s a sort of aura of embarrassment that was stopping people from talking about death. Actually we spend so much time planning births and weddings all of those other big life-defining moments. So maybe we need to chat more about death.
TB: A funeral is often organised very quickly and you’re making decisions about things at a time of high stress. I suppose it would be nice that when someone died you could open a little folder and it’s all there…
EH: Yes, that’s actually what Part 5 is all about, it’s an illustrated plan-your-own funeral activity book. A choose-your-own funeral. I was quite lucky because when my Mum died we had a bit of notice, we knew she was going to die, she had a chance to say, “Ellie, don’t spend loads of money on a coffin because it’s not worth it. I’d much rather everyone has something to eat.” And that permission was really valuable. I think opening up these conversations, particularly when people are well and healthy is a good thing.
TB: It seems to be quite a thing at the moment, talking about death. There’s a podcast called Griefcast. It’s a comedian talking to another comedian about someone significant that’s died.
EH: Yes, four people have sent that to me! You were the first though.
TB: Well, I like think that I have my finger on the pulse of Death… It’s a good show, it’s a conversation about death, the idea being that it might get other people talking about it. And because they’re comedians they’re not being morbid or mawkish.
EH: I think a lot of bereaved people feel socially isolated. That’s having an impact on their life. So it’s actually more about living than it is about dying. It’s more about how do we help people live well, whilst knowing that death exists.
TB: There’s other death-related things too. We had Luca Rutherford’s show “Learning How To Die” in the Love Arts Festival in October. One of the things she did was to give you a different ‘time of death” Everyone gets one. It could be 37 years time, or in 3 months time. Mine was “tonight”. I thought, “I really don’t want to die tonight. I’ve got to do the Love Arts Conversation tomorrow!” Actually, coming on to that, you were part of that event too. You did a session. What was that about?
EH: It was about artist resilience. Being an artist is really difficult. Well, I find being an artist difficult. It was a space for us to think about how we can become more resilient. When I was preparing a provocation for the session I put something on Facebook saying, “What helps you to be resilient as an artist and what are the challenges?” I expected a couple of comments but within an hour I had like fifty comments and ten private messages about it. So there’s clearly a need to talk about these things and to address these challenges. I felt like at the Love Arts Conversation we’d opened up a very small space but we could have spoken about it all day.
TB: There was only 90 minutes; we were just scratching the surface.
EH: Like we were dipping our toe into a much bigger conversation that needs to be had.
TB: About how to stay well. There were so many issues that were brought up. Being an artist can be a very solitary activity. Visual artists, writers, often work alone.
EH: Yes, it’s about finding spaces where people can co-work, places like Aire Place Studios, which is just brilliant. You can just drop in and work, with other people around. Sometimes just being in the same room as someone else is really helpful. There was Souping at Live Arts Bistro, shared office space for artists. Sometimes you need that peer-support. There’s a group of artists in Bristol who displayed all their rejections letters in an exhibition. It’s a beautiful idea, showing that collective group acknowledgement that everyone gets rejected, it’s not just you, it’s part of the job. And you’re not alone.
TB: What else came up at the Conversation?
EH: Time management. Being over-worked and under-paid. The reality of being an artist.
TB: How do we make it less about moaning and more about making things that will help?
EH: It’s about signposting information and banding together. Groups of artists putting pressure on organisations to raise awareness about how they work with artists and how to help everyone stay mentally well. And practical help, like using Leeds Creative Timebank. If, like me, you’re crap with technology, you can use hours making stews for artists and get those hours back helping you do your website. Being part of a community is key. Asking for help, unapologetically. Using the moneyless economy, sharing skills, sign posting. And meeting other artists who can help each other.
You can experience Part 5 of the Grief Series in February at Live Arts Bistro.
For all details go to The Grief Series site
Thank you Ellie!