The year-long project, supported by the Baring Foundation, will combine research, activism and advocacy, and will include specially commissioned provocations by artists who have made pioneering work about mental health. The results will be unveiled in 2024.

Andrew Eaton-Lewis, arts programme officer for the Mental Health Foundation, said: “The past few years have seen a significant increase in the number of artists, from theatre-makers, film-makers and comedians to visual artists, choreographers etc, explicitly addressing mental health in their work, tackling subjects such as depression, anxiety, psychosis and childhood trauma and often drawing on their own life experiences.

“Alongside this is an increased keenness among established arts organisations, and events programmers, to engage with this work, and to work with artists from marginalised communities who have been historically underrepresented in the arts, and who often live with poor mental health as a result of a combination of prejudice, social and institutional barriers and stigma. This reduction in stigma about mental health is in many ways welcome, as is the increased interest and understanding among programmers and audiences. However, it has also highlighted issues to do with best practice, safeguarding, consent, imbalance of power, and protecting the welfare of artists and other project participants.

“It is apparent that, while there are many people with expertise in this area – in particular artists who have worked in this field for years – there is currently a lack of clear, coherent guidance as to how to negotiate this complex territory. It is sometimes the case that artists making work that explicitly addresses mental health have learned best practice methods based on trial and error.”

The mental health arts resource will be developed by SMHAF’s arts team in dialogue with artists and organisations who have created innovative work about mental health, drawing on and accumulating the learning of a community which has already spent years deeply invested in exploring mental health through art.

“There are a few people we have worked with over the years who we are already keen to talk to,” said Andrew Eaton-Lewis, “but we would be very grateful to anyone in this field who is willing to share their experiences. If you want to be involved in this project you can contact me at We’ll also be putting together an online questionnaire that we’ll be sharing soon as part of the research.”

As part of the project SMHAF plans to talk to leading arts organisations in order to get a clearer sense of what information, resources and guidelines are most needed by those in positions of power and responsibility, and what needs to be done better.

The end product will be a set of guidelines and recommendations plus additional material – interviews and provocations – that will bring together the combined knowledge of people on the mental health arts frontline, as a source of support and guidance for artists seeking to explore mental health through their work, and a set of recommendations for – and a challenge to – programmers and funders of this work. The ambition is to create a radical and progressive project, combining research, activism and advocacy.