The Big Anxiety Festival opened on Wednesday night at the University of New South Wales, where the whole thing is being led by Professor Jill Bennett and her wonderful team (to whom, my big thanks). It’s a festival that stretches over two months and places mental health and mental difference at the heart of the arts scene across Sydney. It’s a celebration of all things human including difficult conversations and real world provocations. Here are two that resonate.
Yesterday evening I went over to the western suburbs to Fairfield Gallery & Museum and the exhibition, We Are All Affected. Curated by Khaled Sabsabi and Nur Shkembi, it’s the result of some serious community engagement stemming from an Eid Festival public arts event and exploring anxiety in the lives of Australian Muslims. To say this is a complex and fraught area of work, would be an understatement and in the panel discussion that followed the opening, those speaking illuminated lived experience and the relevance of the arts in this conversation. The work on show is by members of Eleven, a collective or artists, curators and writers who have engaged in this process.
The work below is by Abdul Abdullah an artist from Perth, currently based in Sydney, and who describes himself as an ‘outsider among outsiders’, his practice is primarily concerned with the experience of the ‘other’ in society. He’ll be facilitating a workshop – Conspiracy to Commit with young marginalised men exploring the concepts of anxiety, distress or anger sometimes faced by young men dealing with relentless negative stereotypes and public imagery. More details about all this work can be found HERE.
The Wedding (Conspiracy to Commit) (2015) by Abdul Abdullah depicts a young couple in contemporary wedding costumes that bear the vivid colour and fine embellishment of Islamic culture. They sit within a fantasy-themed scene of flowing curtains and mounds of green and white flowers, yet their expressions of happiness are substituted with balaclavas and rigid postures.The brides and grooms in these photographs are shown in their wedding attire against typical studio backdrops, but their features are masked by close-fitting balaclavas, contrasting the joyous occasion of a wedding and the dehumanising masks associated with criminality. Though political in context, Abdullah's works do not attempt to address any specifics of Islam or comment on particular individuals who practice it, but instead addresses the complex feelings of displacement and alienation associated with histories of diaspora and migration.
Today I am going to see the world’s highest resolution 3D immersive environment and an exhibition called Parragirls, Past, Present which is an immersive experience, presenting former residents’ visions of the Parramatta Girls Home today. Up until the early 1980s, ‘children at risk’ were held at Parramatta Girls Home and subjected to unwarranted punishment and abuse, as has emerged in the current Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The work has been made in collaboration with Parragirls and media artists rewrites the public history of the former child welfare institution, unsettling myth and memory. Returning after 40 years, the Parragirls seek out traces to substantiate what really happened there. It sounds like a troubling, profound and potentially cathartic piece of work for all those involved.
For my part, I am reprising my time with Vic McEwan for a large scale exhibition of his immersive work The Harmonic Oscillator which we opened at Tate Liverpool earlier in the year. I’ve written a book about working with Vic and the extraordinary time we spent together with one young patient at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. I’ll share more online after it’s been published next week, but for anyone reading this in Australia we’ll be giving a shared public presentation of our work on 28 September, between 7:00 PM — 8:00 PM at the USNW Art and Design, EG02 Lecture Theatre, Paddington Campus. This is when the book will be launched too. Our work has been very generously described as: “Arguably one of the most adventurous and profound arts-health interventions to date, the story of their collaboration on a project at Alder Hey hospital is both intensely moving and inspirational.”
I’ll also be delving deeper into my own fractured psyche as part of something new I’ve written for the festival. It’s called dis/ordered and gives me the opportunity to explore what might be called childhood obsessive compulsive disorder - but equally - might not! So expect some personal reflection alongside some thoughts on the possibilities that what we describe as a ‘disorder’ might in fact, be a natural response to an unhealthy world. From the blinkered pseudo-science of statisticians, to the gibbering-delusions of a sun-kissed egotist president, it’ll be a passionate romp through the self and the selfish - so let’s see how that one goes. Again, if you’re an Aussie reader, this is all happening at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney on Saturday afternoon and next Thursday evening. More details are HERE.
Alongside the unfolding festival, its director Jill Bennett has guest edited Artlink, the quarterly themed magazine covering contemporary art and ideas from Australia and the Asia-Pacific.This edition explore themes of anxiety, fear, stress and mental health from a range of cultural and neuro-diverse perspectives. Commissioned essays, artist and project profiles forefront current practices and trends in the visual arts and related disciplines as a therapeutic, creative and intellectual response to living in a state of anxiety. An interview between Jill and myself has been written up under the title, Diversity and disruption in arts and health, and you can read the whole thing for free HERE. If you want a taste, here’s the opening gambit.
What’s wrong with arts and health?
Well, the movement, if that’s what we want to call it, seems to be thriving. Yet without diversity, it risks becoming inward‑looking and self‑congratulatory. At the moment, there’s a dominance in the field of a turgid middle ground that seeks to answer the call of health leaders, to tailor something that sounds like art into the health agenda. But in truth, it’s all about trying to be a bland cost‑effective solution to health targets in a climate of austerity. This is a case of finding blanket solutions, which hand‑in‑hand with a corporate aesthetic seem remote from anything you might call art.
Meanwhile, closer to home...
The Art of the Possible
This quick guide to commissioning arts and culture is for commissioners of health and wellbeing services on partnering with the sector to deliver better outcomes. Targeted at local authorities, CCGs, hospital trusts and other health bodies, it draws on the Cultural Commissioning Programme’s learning, including work with Kent County Council and Gloucestershire CCG, where innovative partnerships and whole person approaches are being used to reduce the need for costly interventions further down the line. It includes practical guidance and case studies, covering aspects of physical health, mental health and wellbeing. It has been produced by NCVO in collaboration with the Association of Directors of Public Health. Click HERE.
Health & Wellbeing Fund
The Department of Health and Public Health England have launched a new application round through the Health and Wellbeing Fund. The fund is part of the Health and Wellbeing programme. Each round focuses on a specific theme. The theme for this round is social prescribing. Social prescribing is generally understood to be an intervention through which people are supported to access non-medical services in the community. Examples include befriending, art classes and exercise classes, but a wide variety of activities can be included. Typically, a community navigator/link worker will work with the individual to co-produce solutions that best suit their needs. Applications of up to £300,000 (in year 1) are being accepted from voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations. The Government will be holding a series of webinars in September and October. The webinars will cover the application process and provide an opportunity for potential applicants to ask questions. The closing date for applications is the 21st November 2017. Read more HERE.
BBC Children in Need Small Grants Programme
Not for profit organisations such as schools; registered charities; voluntary organisations; churches; and community interest groups; etc. can apply for grants of up to £10,000 per year for up to 3 years for projects that help children and young people overcome the effects of:
Illness, distress, abuse or neglect; disability
Behavioural or psychological difficulties
Poverty and deprivation.
The closing date for applications is the 1st December 2017. Read more HERE.
Leverhulme Trust International Academic Fellowships
The Leverhulme Trust is one of the largest providers of research funding in the UK and has announced that applications are now being accepted for the International Academic Fellowships programme. This programme enables established researchers based at UK higher education institutions to spend a period of time in overseas research centres, to develop new knowledge, skills and ideas. The maximum value of a Fellowship is £45,000. Eligible costs include:
Reasonable replacement cover whilst the Fellow is overseas
Travel to and within the overseas country or countries
A maintenance grant to meet the increased expense of living overseas
Essential research costs.
Fellowships are available for between three and 12 months, and the current round of awards must commence between 1 June 2018 and 1 May 2019. The closing date for applications is the 9th November 2017. Read more HERE.
The Peter Cruddas Foundation
Registered charities in England and Wales can apply for funding for projects that benefit disadvantaged and disengaged young people in England and Wales. Priority is given to programmes designed to help disadvantaged and disengaged young people in the age range of 14 to 30, to pursue pathways to Education, Training and Employment with the ultimate aim of helping them to become financially independent. There is no minimum or maximum amount and projects can be funded for more than one year. However, the Peter Cruddas Foundation will be looking to the applicant to demonstrate that they can manage the amount they have applied for and how they intend to continue (if appropriate) after the funding has been spent. Please note that the Foundation is not accepting applications for Capital Projects. The next closing date for application is the 1st March 2017. Read more HERE.