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Charity launches first retrospective of Scottish arts and mental health

This news post is 10 months old

A special online exhibition celebrates the pioneers of arts and mental health

A retrospective celebrating the pioneers of arts and mental health in Scotland is now live with a new online exhibition by Mental Health Foundation Scotland. 

Thought to be the first exhibition of its kind in Scotland, Reclaiming Our Heritage is an oral history curated over two years by the foundation. The online collection is an archive of the personal stories of 40 innovators in arts and mental health, spanning six decades from the 1950s to the 2000s.

The foundation is already home to the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival (SMHAF) which launched in 2007.  Reclaiming Our Heritage explores the history of the arts and mental health landscape in Scotland in the half-century prior to the annual festival. Recording and preserving the spoken testimony of the arts and mental health community in Scotland, the project was made possible thanks to funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. 

Eilidh Hollow, project development officer for Reclaiming Our Heritage, said: “Scotland has a rich arts and mental health sector which has been instrumental in shifting negative attitudes and assumptions about mental health. Our Reclaiming Our Heritage exhibition has captured the stories of some of Scotland’s art and mental health pioneers who were motivated by their own experiences to create positive change. 

“The exhibition highlights how far we’ve come in the way we understand, talk about and support mental health in Scotland.  It’s a celebration of the people who were bold enough to challenge the system and show a better way of engaging with and empowering people living with and at risk of mental ill-health. “

Interviews were carried out by a team of volunteers and the discussions cover all types of art form including theatre, music, poetry, singing, crafts and painting which have been delivered in various community settings including hospitals, prisons and local venues.  The exhibition was originally planned as a live event but moved online due to pandemic restrictions. 

Larry Butler, 76, is a creative who has been involved in therapeutic and community arts for 40 years. Having lived and worked in Scotland since 1981, Larry has been instrumental in numerous organisations and groups that support mental health and wellbeing through art including Survivors Poetry, Playspace Publications and Lapidus Scotland. He is currently on a steering group funded by Scottish Government to develop an online training programme for library and third sector staff in delivering creative words for wellbeing to people with long-term conditions. A pilot Training the Trainers course is planned for August this year.

He said: “Access to expressive arts and creative writing is so valuable to support emotional wellbeing and mental health.  In my decades of working in this space, I have seen first-hand the enormous benefit it has. I think Anne Frank said it best when she wrote, ‘I can shake off everything if I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn’. 

“It is frustrating not to have ongoing support for community arts programmes that support people’s mental health and wellbeing.  I hope that we will soon see arts, writing and reading for wellbeing become a permanent part of mainstream support services and referrals.” 

Lee Knifton, director of Mental Health Foundation Scotland, added: “While we celebrate the inspirational people who led the way in arts and mental health, it is also disappointing to hear so many have suffered from funding cuts and lack of investment despite the clear benefits experienced by so many participants.  We must do more to promote and safeguard community initiatives, like those showcased in the exhibition, that help us to build a wellbeing society in Scotland. 

“As we approach the Holyrood 2021 elections, we are calling on all parties and candidates to commit to delivering good mental health for all by supporting policies and initiatives that empower people to live mentally healthy lives.  This includes a commitment to a Wellbeing Budget within the next two years which ensures that wellbeing and good mental health are a focus of budgetary decision making across all government departments including culture, community, and education.” 

Visit the Reclaiming Our Heritage online exhibition.



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