Episode Two: What is Innovation in Mental Health Arts Projects?
In this episode, Halina Rifai speaks to guest Emma Jayne Park, dancer, theatre maker, collaborator and micro-activist, about the question of what is innovation in mental health arts projects with the help of testimonies from the Reclaiming Our Heritage archive.
Content Note: Features discussion of suicidal ideation.
Reclaiming Our Heritage is a Mental Health Foundation podcast inspired by its two-year oral history project supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The project’s aim is to record and preserve the spoken testimonies of the mental health community between the 1950s and early 2000s.
Each episode will explore themes that have come out of these spoken testimonies, and these will be further discussed by a professional guest. The full interviews by these contributors and others are available in the Reclaiming Our Heritage archive.
In this episode, Halina Rifai speaks to guest Emma Jayne Park, dancer, theatre maker, collaborator and micro-activist, about the question of what is innovation in mental health arts projects with the help of testimonies from the Reclaiming Our Heritage archive.
The Reclaiming our Heritage project is funded by a number of donors including an “Our Heritage” grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
John: If you just think of music, which was probably my main interest, I think you’ve got to look outside of that and think right across sort of us and see what else you can you can put on.
Fiona: These organisations were very much about using the arts, using creativity to enable people to take the veal from their own eyes, if you like and see that, in fact, they did very often have sufficient skills and resources within themselves.
Andrew: My main love is being an art programmer, I want to create good art, you know, I want to create…I want to tell stories in an interesting way that will move people, and inspire people, and make people think about the world maybe a different way, and hopefully make people think about mental health in a different kind of way.
Emma Jayne Park: I want to live in a world where our tastes and our interests can change. I think there’s a million pieces of interesting art to be made and what I’d love is to, at any stage of my life, and for everyone else to have the same access.
Halina Rifai: Welcome to Reclaiming Our Heritage, a Mental Health Foundation podcast inspired by its two-year oral history project supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The project’s aim is to record and preserve the spoken testimonies of the mental health community between the 1950s and early 2000s. The full interviews by these contributors and others are available in the Reclaiming Our Heritage archive on the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival website.
My name is Halina Rifai and in each episode I will explore themes that have come out of these spoken testimonials and these will be further discussed by a professional guest.
The Reclaiming our Heritage project is funded by a number of donors including an Our Heritage grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
On this podcast, we’ll be exploring: What is innovation in mental health arts projects? And hearing from different voices on this theme, from the Reclaiming our Heritage archive. We’ll also be exploring things of creativity and the arts because the thing that ties all these voices together is their involvement in mental health and the arts. Our expert on this episode is Emma Jayne Park.
HR: Hello, Emma, could you just please introduce yourself to everyone and tell us what you do?
EJP: I can. So my name is Emma Jayne Park. pronouns are she in they. I am a dancer and theatre maker, currently based in Gretna, but who works kind of across Scotland. And my work is wrapped up in things that start with the body. So a lot to do with like gut feeling and that sensation, but then presents itself as everything from like live performance shows, to conversation events, and just bringing people together to gather round subjects. And as well as doing a bit of policy work and a bunch of stuff that I don’t ever feel qualified to do. But looking at how all of those structures come together. And over and above that I’m just really generally in life like pleased to be here. So I watch a lot of work. And I’m really interested in work made by people who don’t feel entitled to make art as well. I could go on forever, because I just kind of do whatever feels right in the moment. That’s who I am, if I’m honest.
HR: And that’s a beautiful way to be I think is to live in the moment. I obviously want to talk briefly first about your involvement with Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival and the works that you’ve produced. Can you tell us a bit about them and why you chose to explore what you did?
EJP: Yeah, so my involvement with the festival actually was incidental to start with. So the first work I ever made was called Balance and explored bipolar disorder. And that actually came from caring for someone with quite severe bipolar disorder and members of their family. And that was before I began to acknowledge my own relationship with my own mental health. And I literally got in touch with the festival and was like, got no dance in your programme. But I was a very naive artist, let’s get some dance in your programme. And I’ll encourage other dancers to make some work too. And then that relationship just kind of evolved over time. So since then, I’ve been involved in design and different projects for different reasons. So speaking at their events, like The Dust of Everyday Life, but also putting together events, one of my favourites was called Five Ways To Begin, which was a work in progress sharing by artists from loads of different forms. But one was actually done in Flourish House which is like a mental health support centre in Glasgow, so it was really taking work to spaces where people felt comfortable and then presenting art instead of in kind of these artificial art spaces that are quite barriered, and then my own work, I’ve toured things, lots of things with the festival from like an immersive responsive children’s theatre piece called Experts in Short Trousers to quite a personal autobiographical piece about having cancer. And then around that also a series of living room performances specifically designed for people with immunodeficiency or anxiety disorders. So essentially, people who won’t leave their home and did a lot of work around the process of what it means to enter someone’s what is essentially someone’s like sanctuary, but also possibly somewhere they can feel trapped, and how you hold all of those things together.
HR: Yeah, all the projects are fascinating. But what I love is that you really are kind of challenging the norm and the stereotype when we explore these and this is why it’s so perfect for you to be on this episode. It would be great now I guess, to explore some of the archived voices that we haven’t talked about the theme further. So for listeners’ benefit, you’ve had a less chance to listen to the clips we’ve had on the episode and I’ve given you a bit of background on each of our speakers. So we’re going to begin with John if that’s okay? People are about to hear from John who was born in 1948. He grew up in Yorkshire, went to London to study and then came back to Scotland in 1994. He then took a job in Thurso. And he studied to be a teacher and got involved with SMHAF in the 2000s when he was in Caithness, and he put on a number of festivals with SMHAF. And out of that came the project and collective Mad Jam, which included a comedy strand, let’s just listen to John…
[CLIP] JOHN [Ben Interviewing]
BF: Can you tell us, going back a little bit to the initial project you worked on with the comedians, a little bit about how that worked and then your observations of their mental health needs or mental health…the characteristics that they had that informed how you worked with SMAF later on in later projects?
JS: Yeah. I think what influenced me was they were having to put four different types of comedian, ones that were either very silly or were very offensive. They had different techniques, and that fascinated me in that particular area. And one of the things that I went on to do in Aberdeen was I discovered the details of a comedian that I wanted to come and perform there. I cannot for the life of me remember his name, but basically he was one of a number of events that we put on. I think if you just think of music, which was probably my main interest, I think you’ve got to look outside of that and think right across the arts and see what else you can put on. We got involved, for example, in Aberdeen with the local psychiatric hospital there, Cornhill, and we got some work from patients there. One particularly interested me. He took the medication that he was using and he put it under a microscope and the images that appeared were quite dramatic. It was just this ridiculous substance, whatever it was, under the microscope, but for him it had such a significance that he had a different relationship with his medication as a result of that.
BF: That’s interesting. So did that change his performance as well do you think?
JS: He was actually a patient in the hospital at the time, but his work was then displayed in the hospital. I think we had an event where we put on lots of people’s work, lots of their artwork, so that was the reason for doing that. The performers themselves got a great deal out of it because it’s that buzz that you get form having an audience, and in a number of cases they were relatively new to performing, whether it’s reading their poetry or whatever, the comedy act, that sort of thing. So talking to them afterwards you felt that they got a lot out of it. The audience also related, and I think what we tried to do was to avoid an us and them situation so that everybody that performed took it in turns effectively to be part of the audience as well as being up on the stage. We carried on with that idea with The Mad Jam. When we did The Mad Jam in Edinburgh it very much looked like an us and them because there was a big stage and everybody performing. So we wanted to try and make sure that everybody was both an audience member and a performer, and we didn’t agree with people that just wanted to come and do their five minute spot and disappear. You had to be part of the event. We found that really helped to build up the community and the feeling that everybody could go up there and perform regardless of what their abilities were. There wasn’t some kind of way of selecting whether someone should be performing or not. Generally it worked very well.
HR: Emma, I think that throughout all the conversations that I’ve maybe heard, not only in this episode is the theme of community, which I want to come on to in a moment. But first of all, what I found was interesting is about breaking stereotypes and barriers. Have you seen quite a lot of that in your time in the arts community, particularly when it comes to mental health exploration? Or do you feel that it needs to be improved more?
EJP: I do think it needs to be improved more, I feel like I’ve seen lots of interesting things. And it’s funny to hear up the community context that John is discussing, because I actually think, and it’s perhaps me just being cynical, I think I see some of the more exciting things in those areas. And I think it’s really interesting listening back to that, because I found John’s voice is so engaging, and I was like, What is engaging about it? Is it just that he’s well spoken? And I don’t think it is, I think he sounds like he has nothing to prove he has full confidence in the process that happened, and is honest, that there are some people that wanted to engage with that process in a transactional way, and is really confident that go and that’s just not what we’re doing. There’s something about the freedom that it being community centred, and not having to meet outputs and outcomes affords you. Fundamentally I think people are drawn to people and people are drawn to vulnerability and not in an exploitative way. On a human level, people want to be in comfortably vulnerable spaces together to feel the world. And actually, that’s sometimes easier out with mechanisms that are trying to measure what you’re doing as you’re doing it.
HR: Yeah, if you obviously compare it to the nuance of mental health, the amount of things that people experience, no two experiences are the same, but also innovation as a word… If we want to be innovative, then surely we should have that space to explore and be able to go in any direction that we want to?
EJP: Yeah, and I think there’s something about pace in there as well. But I think that innovation suggests a certain pace and a certain competitive edge, which to me, is the antithesis of mental health, and destigmatising mental health and living well. I wonder how we can like reframe. So we have that, that sound in our voices that John has, where it’s just like, we embarked on doing a thing, and we’re learning things as we go. And there’s a lot of care around it. But we’re also dealing with some of the other big things that might come up in that, like, I love that he mentioned things being silly or offensive, because in my head and my conceptual arty brain, their cultural coping mechanisms, but where’s the space to go? “But we don’t need to sit and look at it whilst doing it”, because that actually splits us away from the thing.
HR: No, and that’s a really interesting point. And I think some of the points that have come up so far, obviously, time, the term innovation, and then obviously, what is going to actually change or benefit people, so we can kind of keep that conversation going. Another fascinating thing that John mentions, is the way that a patient changed his relationship with medication using a microscope and then used his artwork. Do you think that there needs to be more encouragement for creative practitioners to push the boundaries and thinking more?
EJP: I do. And I think for me, the boundary to be pushed is just giving people like multiple lenses, you can tell I’ve been around the arts a lot cos I feel like that’s an arts jargony term. But there’s a way of being like there are 100 ways of looking at this actually, I think what an artist can do is offer those 100 ways of looking at it because we’re told particularly with medication that are probably three or four norms in terms of the narrative around that. And for some people, that microscope and that actually being like this is a material thing will completely change that relationship. And I think what artists can do, instead of being like, this is the way they can be like, they’re at 100 ways have a walk around, see which one lands with you, ignore the other ones. And that choice is exciting, right?
HR: Yeah, totally coming back to community and doing these projects within community. How important would you say it is for people just to kind of just go for it? I mean, obviously responsibly, but just to have the courage just to get started.
EJP: I think it’s crucial, actually, I think get on and do it and maybe just have enough people around you to be like, does that feel okay. Did they look awkward? Should we ask them why they looked awkward, great. We understand that something’s happened there or just that thing of asking people is there anything that really would be a negative situation for you, and how do we have some stuff in place so it doesn’t happen? I think I find this tricky because I’m a movement person. So actually, I think if people sit back and we get out of the words in the bureaucracy, you can see in people’s bodies, if they’re consenting to the situation, or if they’re nodding whilst their shoulders are curling up, and you can see them getting more tense. And I think people who live with mental ill health generally are the experts in what they need and don’t need or they’re on a journey of like refining that. You can only do it with them, I find safeguarding bulky in a way where I often turn up and I’m being safeguarded whilst go and see the thing you’re doing to do in my head, and it’s not helping me.
HR: Yeah, I’ve been there. What I loved about what John has said, and it’s what you’ve touched on previously, as well, is that he said that they’ve help build a community and the feeling for the everybody should participate, regardless of ability. And that’s so important, isn’t it just to kind of start communication but to bring out these things in people?
EJP: Yeah, I just think with some of that in doing and I’ve written about this a lot lately, and I don’t know where I sit on this, so I might disagree with this in a month’s time. But I have been questioned my choice to work as an artist, if I’m honest, because there was something so free in my naivety and just turning up and doing stuff that I think I’m trying to recapture. That was the freeing bit is I have the ability to express I think that is an issue if that community is predicated on feeling better, because someone else is worse than you. And I think if the underlying ethos is that we are valuable, because we’re all members, so we’re all turning up and like doing our best, then you can still have things that landed really well and things that didn’t land so well. But it’s not like a judgement on you as a person. Whereas I think if you’re turning up to just be better than the people that are there, everything is lost already. There’s no evolution in that, in theory, you could just be part of it, you could be a comedian who’s worked 20 years and turn up to that same event. And just feel good because you’re competing with someone who’s doing it for the first time, it’s a societal statement, I just don’t get it, I don’t get the need to want to be not bottom of a rung, I don’t get the need for the ladder, burn the ladder. That’s what I’m saying.
HR: And that might be another thing to pose against the idea of innovation instead of expectation, it’s just turn up and go, which I think certainly would take the pressure off, in turn aids, your mental health, and you can just express yourself in a way that would be I guess, in 20 years, they might look back and go oh, that was an innovative arts project that they just expected them to turn up and then never turn up again.
Let’s move on to Fiona, who is our next voice and Fiona was born in 1961 grew up in Fife, born in Dunfermline, and the community she grew up in was Kelty, which is a mining community. She studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama doing a speech and drama qualification and from there she moved into theatre management press and media within the arts. Then she took a sharp turn and volunteered to go to Bangladesh with a VSO which is incredible. And later, she led the Art In The Gart programme, which was a programme which she created with Samantha Flower, which was one of the lead occupational therapists and I’ll go into that further later on. So let’s listen to what Fiona has to say…
[CLIP] FIONA [Eilidh Interviewing]
EH: And tell me a bit about your professional or work background.
FS: My work background is pretty varied. I studied at The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, doing a speech and drama qualification and from there moved into theatre management and press and media within the arts. Then I took a sharp turn and volunteered to go to Bangladesh with the VSO. When I came back from there, what that had done for me is made me realise what I didn’t know, so I decided to go back to university.
Went back, did another qualification and a masters and then from there decided to draw together the arts and communication skills and the other additional agricultural skills and spent another good few years overseas working in community development in South America.
Came back from there, continued in community development, always dipping back to the skills that I’d learned at drama school and over the course of time and the things that life, generally, throws at us as we become older I’ve found myself since 2013 working in the NHS in the voluntary services manager role with the main responsibility for curating and overseeing the Art in the Gart programme which I created with Samantha Flower, one of the lead occupational therapists.
EH: What was your first role within mental health and the arts?
FS: First role would have been, I guess, when I worked with Barrhead Women’s Centre. When I came back from overseas, I was in there as an employment development worker, and I used the arts and creativity to work with vulnerable women who had been experiencing domestic abuse and who were interested in adapting and changing their lives and finding employment.
The way I did that was I used drama and role play, music, poetry, to try and work with people so they could identify the particular path they wanted to follow.
That would have been the first time, and that would have been the late nineties, I reckon, and then from there I found myself working as the project manager in Common Wheel, a mental health support charity who has been present on the Gartnavel site for many many years, and what they do is…or what they did when I was brought in as project manager was they offered live music sessions both from a performance, a one to one, and a community music sharing perspective. They offered that, actually, on the wards, on the psychiatric wards, here at Gartnavel Royal Hospital.
Very much through the inspiration of a consultant psychiatrist, since retired, Doctor Alistair Wilson, and another musician, Julie De Simone, who with Alistair helped set Common Wheel up and helped bring music into Gartnavel Royal. I was there for three years or so and then came into the actual NHS itself to take up this role, and I’ve been here since 2013.
EH: In those first, kind of, two projects that you mentioned, what were they trying to achieve?
FS: They were trying to work with people who, ordinarily, didn’t have a voice. Who we would, generally, classify as excluded, vulnerable, whose self-confidence and belief in themselves was at a real low, and who felt they didn’t have the skills to change their life, and so these organisations were very much about using the arts, using creativity, to enable people to take the veil from their own eyes, if you like, and see that in fact they did very often have sufficient skills and resources within themselves to make the changes, positive changes, that they wanted to make in their lives and using the arts to do that, whatever form or art. Using art in its widest sense to enable people to reconnect with themselves, reconnect outwards, and have the confidence to make decisions for themselves, was very much at the core of what both of those organisations were trying to do.
HR: That was being interviewed by Eilidh. And just to give a bit more context on the Art In The Gart programme, it provided patient-led art and gardening activities at Gartnavel Royal Hospital and was established in 2012. Now, Fiona talks there about using creativity and arts to work with vulnerable women who’d experienced domestic abuse and using this to effectively change their lives. Have you seen this type of approach in terms of arts innovation happen in different areas at all?
EJP: Yeah, I have. And, and for better, and for worse, I think the notion of art changing lives is something that has possibly been latched on to. But there’s an organisation that I’ve worked with previously in East Lothian that I cannot remember the name of because it was about 10 years ago, who really worked in a way that a bit like is discussed that enabled people to make their own decisions, and actually was about agency. So I worked with the group to develop a walking project, I essentially hijacked their monthly walking group. And we had another walking group through the week where I would invite people to walk backwards, climb over things, and then we’d get in the studio, and that would eventually lead to dance. But it was all built and predicated on the notion that you could say no, and I think there’s something that Fiona really talks about that is really important to me, where community development, I think, is a phrase. And what Fiona talks of is not developing the community in the image she has chosen. Fiona talks about agency. And I think that’s complicated in mental health because there’s often this notion of like, should we trust people with mental health to make decisions and I think it’s sometimes this work that we do is actually not as readily accepted because it develops agency. And I think people who are traditionally vulnerable and infantilised with agency are a complete threat to the status quo, whether that’s deciding you want to dance or don’t want to dance, or whether that’s deciding that you ultimately want a different form of inpatient service or you want to live independently or any of those things.
HR: And can I just ask for the terms of transparency and for people that may be listening to this and think I am trying to decipher between the two, what is agency effectively?
EJP: For me agency is about space, space to change your mind base to ask for more information, and then space to move forward with a course of action that is possibly not agreeable or palatable to everyone. So in terms of my own mental health, I live with suicidal ideation, that is directly related to feelings of failure. And there’s often a conversation with the people who care for me about just not working. I work in an industry based on rejection, so it’s not useful. And they see that as a damaging act. And historically, if I was in this situation, there probably was a time in the world where I would have lived in a psychiatric inpatient service. And there’s another point in history where those individuals would have been able to say, you’re not allowed to work in this industry, I believe I am entitled to make that informed decision and choose to do this because as much as it can lead to some of those really dangerous feelings, it simultaneously makes me feel alive and better and part of the world. And I think for me, agency is the ability to make the decision that is correct for you in that moment, knowing you can change your mind and knowing that you will then have to balance the tensions that arise with that.
HR: And that is such an important thing, too. It’s like a lightbulb moment, isn’t it. Because your journey, not to even mention a mental health journey, but your journey through life, our opinions grow, they change, you can go from one week to the next and learn and discover and so on to then place the added layers on top of that of having mental illness and then working through whatever recovery you have to go through and the peaks and troughs. It’s staggering that we are not given the space to develop within our own minds. And then if you’re to then take it onto a creative realm, the urgency that is placed on actually putting these things out is absolutely ridiculous, isn’t it?
EJP: Yeah, I find it. And that’s what I love about hearing Fiona and talking about community development in the sense of like, how do we create pathways for people to make choices, because it sounds like there was enough time there, to build trust, to experience things to make other choices, and to maybe opt out and opt in, as well as like I think skill building or something they weren’t the words was referred to. And also that they can define positive change for themselves, whoever these people are, that are part of the community that is being developed. And I think it’s very odd actually, sometimes for me that mental health lands in an arts context, because the current art system we have is short projects, new project, innovation, reapply, and so you actually have people that turn up who probably empathetically feel that what they’re starting is the wrong course of action, but have little agency to shift that course of action without actually meeting loads of resistance and impacting their own mental health, in the delivery. And I think we also it’s also based on like a really hypocritical world for me, where we talk about agency, and that are just some people that are allowed to make as many damaging decisions as they want. Because they’re fun, because they’re wealthy, because but they’re in control. And for me, that leads background to it. I think the arts are useful, because it makes anyone getting involved in these programmes, like begin to think about the idea of performativity and that the mental health festival has been huge in my journey of unravelling my own mental health and acknowledging that because I am someone who performs mental wellness excellently, I can I can be literally on the edge of a physical edge or a metaphorical edge. And I can turn up and do my job and look super chirpy. And it’s only through some of this work in those programmes that I’ve started to realise when I am and I’m not performing. And that’s what’s given me agency is the agency to go, I don’t have to perform wellness. But the tension there is that when I stopped performing wellness, sometimes people try and take the agency away from me because I’m no longer trustworthy. It doesn’t make any sense.
HR: So again, we’re placing the question around innovation once more. And with Fiona, there is innovation there because they’ve been given the space to develop something as you’ve quite rightly said,
I want to move on to our final voice, which is Andrew, born in 1973. He grew up in Hayton near Carlisle, actually as the arts lead for a Mental Health Foundation and his full name is Andrew Eaton Lewis. He’s also a journalist. He’s worked with the foundation since October 2014. And he’s spoken quite publicly about his mental health as well. So let’s listen to what Andrew has to say…
[CLIP] ANDREW EATON-LEWIS [Ros Interviewing]
RS: Can you tell me about some of the memories, your favourite memories from working in mental health and the arts?
AEL: Oh gosh, well, I mean, yes, yes, lots, I mean a couple that jump to mind, one is, one was an event that we ran at The Dust of Everyday Life, the Arts and Mental Health Conference, where we talked about theatre and therapy, and we had a therapist on the panel who spoke about therapy sessions as kind of a form of theatre in that you set up a space in a very particular way and you…there is a way of engaging with somebody, there is kind of…it’s kind of hard to explain. But it was one of these moments where you found this, there was this really interesting connection between the worlds of arts and creativity and the worlds of health, and the health sector.
You do get lots of overlaps between those different worlds, but quite often they seem quite different and they have very different ways of talking, a very different language that they use, but it was, yes, that was one of those moments when it was really interesting to see, yes, people finding common ground where you wouldn’t necessarily expect them to.
Another very fond memory is of the Syd Barrett play that we did at the festival’s tenth anniversary, which was a long and complicated process, because we really wanted to use Pink Floyd’s music in it, or Syd Barrett’s songs for Pink Floyd, and so we had to get permission from Pink Floyd’s management to do that, which we managed to get, which I’m told almost never happens. But because it was to do with mental health, it was a mental health related project, and because it was very respectful, I hope, towards Syd Barrett and his memory, they said, yes, which was great. We also managed to get Syd Barrett’s nephew, Roger Barrett, to come to Glasgow for the opening of the show and to do an event where he talked about his memories of his uncle.
Yes, it was just a really lovely event, and it brought together people who are interested in kind of mental health aspects of it, and also people who were just Pink Floyd fans and really loved the music. It was a really nice, really accessible way of talking about mental health and the stigma around mental health and using the arts to do that, it was really, yes, it was kind of a good example of what we are able to do well at this festival. Yes, that’s a couple of memories that I have enjoyed.
RS: What’s the main thing you think you’re trying to achieve with the work that you’ve done with mental health and the arts?
AEL: That’s a very good… [laughs]. The honest answer for me is because my main love is being an arts programmer, I want to create good art, you know, I want to create…I want to tell stories in an interesting way that will move people, and inspire people, and make people think about the world maybe a different way, and hopefully make people think about mental health in a different kind of way. So, that’s kind of my, yes, that’s kind of my main motivation. But I think in doing that, yes, I always kind of feel that if you put the art first, then everything else kind of follows from that, because art in whatever form, storytelling through visual art, through music, through film or whatever, that’s how, it is a big part of how we understand the world, and how we communicate with each other, and how we understand each other.
I feel that if you do that well, if you create stories that feel authentic and that move people, then the awareness of mental health, the kind of, the things that a mental health charity would like to achieve in terms of stigma, in terms of raising awareness, in terms of challenging perceptions, they all kind of naturally follow from that. I sometimes think that if you do it the other way round then the art can occasionally suffer. The art needs to be good, so that’s kind of my main motivation to make, to make something good, [laughs], you know.
HR: So that was our final voice. Andrew, who has programmed some really phenomenal works. And one of the things that stood out for me, I just wanted to raise with you, first of all, is one of the points he made about good art. And I guess it’s really difficult to kind of put a definition on that especially when it comes to the subject of mental health and someone’s story, which I’ll come on to the importance of storytelling afterwards. But how do you feel about that as a premise?
EJP: I think, probably, we need a better language around what we mean by qualities. And I say qualities, not quality, because I don’t think good art exists. I think if you’re talking about the tastes of one person, you can talk about good art. Because because it’s a limited thing, but I think we can talk about the qualities things have. And I think that that is a helpful way in so there’s things like, I am not a musical theatre fan, I don’t get it. It doesn’t land in my body. So for me, I don’t think musicals are good. Are most of the musicals I see high quality, or do they serve a series of qualities? Absolutely. And I wonder how we get to that place. And I think for me, the reason I struggle with it is because I think this good art thing gets in the way of good art being made. It’s a big conversation, what I do agree with is that I think the art needs to be meaningful to the people that have made it and made in a way where they believe in it. Presenting it and proposing it on a stage needs the level of conviction, I think, and a level of honesty. I could talk about this forever Halina, because I find it really everything I see I think is wrong, but also right.
HR: And I think it’s really important, because it’s almost like you are asking these questions to the wider public. Scotland has such a rich arts history. And we are known for really producing phenomenal pieces of art in the creative industries. But it is still an exceptionally white male, middle class country in a lot of ways. And if we want to hear the real stories from people, which is not innovative, it’s just real life, but you’ll find people going, Oh, my goodness, that’s so innovative. It’s because they’ve never heard it before. So what is the separation between innovative and just something that you’ve not experienced?
EJP: And the line of fetish? like at what point does that become a fetish and actually, when that buy into this trendy thing of a better get better get on that wheel whilst it’s going, Whoo, I’m ramp up that part of me. And I think for me, it also comes back to like muscle memory. But I think part of being well as a society is physically practising those healthier habits. And so I can understand the fear. It’s a complicated thing, I think for me, so I have my great granddad fought in the war. And he used to always say, we fought the war, so you didn’t have to, and it was like his way of being in life. We’ve been through this. And I don’t want you to struggle. Because I struggled, that means you shouldn’t have to, I wonder where the muscle memory comes in where some people can unlearn habits. I’m wondering how we learn the habit of being visible for a short period, and then not being so visible. So that actually this visibility can move in and out. And we’re not left feeling irrelevant, or cast on a heap, or feeling entitled to constant promotion or sideways promotion? Like we’ve all seen it where leadership positions just swap jobs. How do we get to a place where we go actually, healthy leadership is either multiple, or it’s transient? And again, it brings me back to some of the other interviews, for moments in all of those processes the comedians are the people that Fiona was working with they led what they were doing, they didn’t go now I’m the leader, give me a contract, pay me a salary, HUH I’m tasked with leading forever. But at the moment where the context was appropriate, and needed them to lead the lead. And then they rested while, someone else stepped in.
HR: I kind of want to end on a positive, because one of the things that I loved that Andrew said, and I think that we’re all kind of built from the same mould in terms of this is that he said that I want to tell stories in an interesting way that move people, inspire people and make people think about the world in a different way, and hopefully make people think about mental health in a different kind of way. And I think that that is what is the basis for all the creativity and innovation when it comes to arts projects. Without stories, there would be nothing, but from what Andrew said, and that statement that he gave there. How do you want that to progress going further forward? And how do you think that that can be made sustainable?
EJP: I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I think for me, there’s a thing about the scene about space. I want to live in a world where our tastes and our interests can change. I think there are a million pieces of different art to be made. And what I’d love is to at any stage of my life, and for everyone else to have the same access is to be able to go: I’m actually really into musical theatre now! So I’ll go down that rabbit hole, and then come back and be really into something else. So I think there’s a thing about breadth that is really important. I also think that there’s a thing about giving people slower process. So possibly, and it is dangerous to say, in some respects, because it sounds like less people being supported. I think less art that has had more time to like feel invested in and for the artists to feel that ownership of it, as well as those projects that Fiona and John, were talking about more investment in the consistency of those projects, because actually, that’s my favourite art to watch. And I think I said at the beginning that people are drawn to people, and I’m just invested in people being honest, I think the stories because they’re honest, automatically become interesting. And then you can find interesting ways of doing things. I don’t think the flip is very useful where you go. It’s interesting to have virtual reality and dance in a field. What story can we tell? Like? I’m confused why we’re telling a story, and not just an abstract thing that goes this is cool, right? So I think, yes, something about structures that give people space to see everyone’s whole humanity, and that are built on trust so that maybe there is less art, but what is out there is confident and can have a long and lasting lifespan. And I think the other one is just maybe really open acknowledgement about what resource exists. what is possible with that resource and getting away from money is the only source of resource recognizing people need money to live. But actually, there are lots of bells and whistles that maybe are paid for that could be used so that people can just live and and have time to see their own story. I think there’s something about simplicity, investing in people’s trust and possibly BIG NOTE, redistribution.
HR: The dictionary definition of innovation is “something new or different introduced” and thanks to the testimonies from John, Fiona and Andrew this opened up the question and theme for this podcast, What is innovation in mental health arts projects?
Innovation can sometimes be stereotypically thought of as something groundbreaking but having explored these testimonies more with Emma and her own experiences, it can be things as simple as introducing new ways of exploring art to communities, giving people more time to invest and evolve within their projects or giving more communities a stage to tell their stories.
Emma makes a great point about being able to let our tastes change. This is vital when it comes to growth as humans but also fuels our own discoveries and shapes our thinking and learning.
John, Fiona and Andrew as well as Emma all share the same thing. Their passion for improving and raising awareness about mental health through the arts. This is innovative in itself. It’s their professional work, interests, talents and lived experiences that understand how this can be done and they have been and some still are dedicated to exploring this. Surely, that’s innovation?
This podcast has been presented, produced and edited by me Halina Rifai for the Mental Health Foundation with music by Lucy Parnell, the reclaiming our heritage project is funded by a number of donors including an “Our Heritage” grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.