We are delighted to announce the programme for the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 2021.

SMHAF, led by the Mental Health Foundation, will return for its 15th year from 3-23 May, exploring the theme of ‘Normality?’ with a wide-ranging programme of hundreds of online and outdoor events by people all over Scotland – from the Borders to the Highlands.

What is ‘normality’? A whole year of lockdown has turned the world upside down, forcing us to re-evaluate what we think of as ‘normal’ life and ‘normal’ behaviour. Should things go ‘back to normal’ afterwards? Was the way we lived before ‘normal’ or was it damaging to our mental health? And if life does go ‘back to normal’, who is likely to be excluded from that?

Taking place on a bigger and more ambitious scale than our online programme in 2020, this year’s festival will explore all these issues and more, including the relationship between mental health and ‘nature’, the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week.

National Programme Highlights

Highlights from the national programme curated by the team at the Mental Health Foundation – taking place entirely online – include:

International Film Programme: Launching with a virtual International Film Awards ceremony, the film programme will be showcased online at INDY On Demand, with all titles available on a Pay What You Can basis or through a SMHAF Pass. All screenings will include a live, open discussion with filmmakers and guests, and there are also opportunities to get involved through a series of participatory workshops. Explore the programme here.

Gathering: This month-long project by SMHAF associate artist Emma Jayne Park will explore what it means to gather together. Gathering will form part of the launch for a new mental health creative network, supported by the Baring Foundation, and designed to bring together people working in the arts and mental health across the UK for mutual learning and support.

'Normal' Conversations: These artist discussions pose the questions what is the climate crisis doing to our mental health?, with theatre-maker Katy Dye, visual artist Fadzai Mwakutuya and Billion Minds Institute founder Gary Belkin, and what is a 'normal' way to be an artist?, with musician Amble Skuse and theatre-maker Skye Loneragan.

My Normality: Six new artist commissions responding to the festival theme from artist of all disciplines. The commissioned artists will be announced in April and work will be shared online during the festival and throughout the summer.

Writing Awards: Held in partnership with Bipolar Scotland, the virtual Writing Awards ceremony will celebrate the winners and shortlisted entries from the SMHAF Writing Competition. This year saw over 300 entries to the competition, which gives first-time writers and opportunity to be published alongside established names.

Regional Programme Highlights

Highlights from regions across Scotland feature small-scale in-person and outdoor events, as well as online workshops, exhibitions, film screenings, discussions, and performances. Get involved with:

Exhibitions, including a collaborative national exhibition hosted on the SMHAF website, bringing together works by individual artists and groups involved in exploring mental health through creative work; All, Entire, Whole, curated by See Me Community Champion Sean McGugan, now in its third year; The Nature of Ideas, a curated exhibition by artists from Project Ability’s Reconnect workshop; and the annual SMHAF Highland exhibition at The Bike Shed in Inverness.

Workshops, including Mind To Move, a mindful movement practice led by Julia James-Griffiths; Creative Nature for Wellbeing, a series of workshops exploring the connection between our mental health and our relationship with nature hosted by The Beacon Arts Centre; online and outdoor versions of Sketch & Wander, a creative meditation led by artist Lynn Fraser; Creative Café from Your Couch, a mini-festival in West Dunbartonshire featuring botanical illustration, nature photography and process painting; and Postcards from the Edge of the Rabbit Hole of Normal, an opportunity to create a textured postcard telling somebody what you want them to know about mental health.

Films, including Healing The Loss, the screening of a new film produced by the After A Suicide Working Group in the Borders with support from Alchemy Film & Arts; Routes Back To Normality, featuring collective creative responses to normality during lockdown by participants of Bazooka Arts’ therapeutic arts programmes; and Hope Through Film, a hopeful short film programme curated by Richard Warden, including a new film by North Ayrshire Wellbeing & Recovery College. 

Performances, including Home: A Performative Space, a participatory performance led by artists Clare Robertson and Stefanie Blum in which audience members repurpose household objects into an installation into their own home; Mind You, an online storytelling performance with Dougie Mackay, led by the Scottish Storytelling Forum and CAPS Independent Advocacy; and the welcoming Mad Jam Open Mic run by and for folk with experience of mental health issues.

Get Involved

There are hundreds of events available to browse and book at mhfestival.com/whats-on – and plenty still to come from partners across Scotland. Events are listed according to their regional programmes to ensure that everybody can connect with their local communities, but we encourage you to virtually venture further afield and get involved wherever events are taking place. 

We look forward to you joining us for our 15th programme from 3-23 May.

The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 2021 is led by the Mental Health Foundation, and supported by Creative Scotland, See Me, Edinburgh Health & Social Care Partnership, Thrive Edinburgh, NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, and The List. It is also made possible by hundreds of arts, community and public organisations, plus individual artists and activists, all across Scotland.