We have announced three new Community Commissions, a series of projects funded by the Baring Foundation, in which artists work with their local community to explore mental health issues. These projects will be showcased during SMHAF 2022 and explore the challenges of being a carer for your partner, new fathers’ experiences of depression, and mental health in the Highlands.

The three commissioned artists are:

  • Ross MacKay, an award-winning writer and theatre-maker who has worked as a director, puppeteer and magician. Ross is best known for his work as co-founder and artistic director of theatre company Tortoise in a Nutshell. His first novel, Will and the Whisp, will be published in 2022. Ross’s project, Caring Duets, will work with couples who are also registered carers, for each other or for their children, to create a series of collaborative mixed media pieces exploring and documenting their experiences.
  • Robyn Woolston, a visual artist who works across installation, photography, moving image and print, often working in non-gallery spaces, across community settings and within archives or sites of listed significance. Her practice generates frameworks for reflection and regeneration; focussing upon developing structures for ecological and emotional recovery via public realm interventions, socially engaged practice and site-specific responses. Robyn will introduce her Art Safari programme to the Highlands, working with people from rural communities in Laggan, Newtonmore, Kingussie and Aviemore. Find out more at artsafari.org.
  • Elaine Connell, a midwife at NHS Lanarkshire who works with Maternal Mental Health Scotland to raise awareness of perinatal mental health issues through projects such as the exhibition Invisible Truths. Elaine is also founder of Blank Canvas, a voluntary organisation providing peer to peer support for women through creative journaling. For this commission she will work with a group of men to explore the impact of becoming fathers on their mental health.

Andrew Eaton-Lewis, arts programme officer for the Mental Health Foundation, said: “Community engagement has always been a vital part of SMHAF, a festival that is programmed from the grassroots upwards, by people living over Scotland. With these new commissions we want to expand on that work, giving artists and participants the space and time to create something together over the course of a year. We received some very strong proposals and it was a challenge to select just three. We’re very excited to be working with Ross, Robyn and Elaine and looking forward to sharing the results of these commissions at SMHAF in May 2022. And we’re extremely grateful to the Baring Foundation for supporting the project.”

Ross MacKay said: “The last year has put pressure on most of us, but many carers have had an especially difficult time without respite or even the escape of another workplace. My own experience of this is seeing the enormous work my wife does caring for me at points of illness. This project is about celebrating those remarkable duets of carers and their partners. Through a variety of art forms, the duets will create intimate portraits that reflect how they see themselves and their partners. I am incredibly excited to start this project and I could not think of a better partner than the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, whose work I have admired and participated in for numerous years.”

Elaine Connell said: “I am delighted to have been chosen by SMHAF to carry out this piece of work, aiming to explore the experiences of dads as they become fathers and the challenges placed on their mental health during the perinatal period. Too often, the wellbeing of dads is neglected by statutory services, with limited access to suitable mental health support.”

Robyn Woolston said: “Art Safari Highland is an arts activity with a difference. It offers an opportunity to explore creativity in the very widest sense of the word. It’s about grabbing your coat, bringing your imagination and walking into the woods; it’s about taking a trip down the high street and noticing things you’ve never seen before. Mental health and arts for wellbeing lies at the very core of our journey as we work towards the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival in 2022. If you think you may just be interested in collage-and-company then there’s a free ticket with your name on. No experience necessary.”

The 16th Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, in which these projects will be showcased, will take place in May 2022 across Scotland. Sign up to our newsletter or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the latest updates.