What does protest mean for you? I joined The Alma Project for one of their three SMHAF workshops this week, and this was the question that the session opened with. What followed was a discussion about some of the associations that we all made with the idea of protest and some rich conversation about issues and decisions that we felt were worthy of protest.

The Alma Project is a mental health project based in Edinburgh that uses the arts as a therapeutic tool. They run three in-person groups (one with a shifting focus, an art group, and a drama group), an art and writing group via Zoom on a Wednesday afternoon, and a peer chat on Zoom on a Friday. The workshop I attended was the regular Wednesday afternoon workshop, opened up to members of the public as part of SMHAF.

At the heart of the workshop was some time spent on discussing examples of protest art. This began with Langston Hughes’ poem ‘I look at the world‘. This prompted a range of thoughts and feelings, with a lot of us relating to his image of the world as:

This fenced-off narrow space
Assigned to me.

One of the group leaders then shared some artwork with us, including three gorgeous paintings by Palestinian artist Nabil Anani.

In the second half of the workshop, we spent time on our own art or writing. One of the group facilitators put music on and we remained together while doing our own creative work. I can see the importance of community in this process, and it’s something that I really enjoyed about the afternoon.

The name ‘Alma’ comes from the Latin word for ‘soul’ and The Alma Project offers a welcoming and safe space for people who would like support with their mental health to explore the creative process. You can sense this welcome and sense of safety in the way that the group operate. Everything in the workshop was framed as an invitation and we were all made very welcome to sit things out or to do our own versions. In this way, the workshop was genuinely accessible.

You might, like me, have a vague sense that the arts are good for mental wellbeing but participating in a workshop like the one that I attended really crystalises the fact that the arts can improve mental health and wellbeing. Creative practice allows you to express yourself, connect with others, learn new skills, and sometimes even work through issues.

If you would like to see how art and writing can help with your mental wellbeing, The Alma Project have a list of creative activities to try on their website here. There are also plenty of sources of inspiration online and or in print, for example a great article from The New York Times earlier this year.

If you’d like to find out more about The Alma Project, or support their work, then visit their website.

Rachel Alexander is a Talking Heads volunteer who lives in Edinburgh. Interested in writing, feminism and mental health, she’s an English teacher to trade, and passionate about learning as well as teaching. She loves stories of all kinds, and believes they are a uniquely powerful way of changing the world. Tweets at @rachalexwrites and Instagrams at @rachjanealex.

Image: c. The Alma Project