THE theme of “revolution” has been hailed a success by organisers at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival (SMHAF) as this year’s events draw to a close.

The festival will host its final performances today after nearly three weeks of events celebrating the relationship between mental health and the arts across Scotland.

This year, the Mental Health Arts foundation – which leads the events – aimed to “do things differently” by choosing a theme of “revolution” for the festival.

Arts and festival manager Rob Dickie said: “The festival has been really great this year. Starting with the theme of revolution – we’ve had such a great response to that theme throughout the festival. It’s really galvanised communities to get involved.”

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He added: “With the theme of revolution we wanted to do things differently.

“One of the new things we’ve done this year is have an opening event – create a big showcase event which really brought together a whole community of people who are connected by the arts of mental health.

“Some have been involved with SMHAF for a lot time, but also bring new artists and new audiences into the same space and create a really creative environment.

“A particular highlight from that opening day was a newly commissioned piece. We commissioned three creative provocations which were the headline acts in our opening event, and one of those was by Imogen Stirling and Sonia Killman (below), who we commissioned a new performance piece from called The Boulders We Carry which brings the myth of Sisyphus into present-day Glasgow.

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“That was one of the real highlights of the festival. There was such a buzz after the show and everyone was talking about it for the rest of the day.

“It shows what can come out of innovating and opening up opportunities so that new people can get involved.”

Other art pieces playing on the theme of revolution in the festival included a series of screen-printed posters documenting a “mad revolution” by Lea Cooper, a comic spoken-word meditation piece by Jen McGregor and a performance piece by Jamie Bolland which was performed on the festival’s opening day.

The opening event, Manifesto, was a day-long series of performances and activities exploring the question: “What does a mental health revolution look like? And how do we start one?”.

Dickie said the festival aims to give those who can benefit from art better access to it.

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He said: “The festival aims to give everyone a platform to create and share art inspired by mental health. That can be both art that explores both people's own lived experience with mental health and mental illness, or it can be creative activities to support mental health recovery – or give people an opportunity to take part in the arts for their mental health.”

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More than 180 events take place across Scotland as part of the festival, and it relies on a national planning group with connections in communities across the country to bring the events together.

It also emphasises the importance of community in mental health, with last Sunday’s Moving Minds event bringing together audiences and participants to watch performances together and participate in creative workshops.

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Dickie said: “There’s always challenges with organising a festival of this scale. There’s always a challenge in co-ordinating that and recognising that different communities in different areas have quite different levels of resources – and there’s always limited funding for this kind of activity.

“Events take place all over Scotland, from right up in Wick down to Dumfries and Galloway, so there are events taking place all over the country.

“Some of our key events do usually take place in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but we’re looking at working more directly with local communities in other areas.”

He said the festival was always looking to involve more and more communities from across the country, and hopes to expand its programming outside the Central Belt in the years to come.

He continued: “For example, we had a screening of Typist The Pirate King in and a Q and A with director Carol Morley at Dundee Contemporary Arts and we were excited to have that with a new venue and a new community and bring our programming to different areas – and that’s definitely something we’d like to do more of in the future.

“We have our national planning group which really has that reach and engagement with communities all across Scotland – which is such an essential part of our festival.

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“We’ve had lots of other festivals from across Europe which have come and learned from them and used that model for themselves as well, so it’s something that has always been a really important part of our identity.”

Last year’s events ran on the theme of “gather” – following two years of a purely online festival due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.

Dickie said that some of this year’s successes came as a result of learning from the lockdown period.

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He said:  “Our artist commissions we started mainly in response to lockdown, and what we saw from that is we had so many new voices getting involved in the festival and lots of artists from backgrounds we know are underrepresented in the arts and don’t always have access to these opportunities were applying and getting involved and we were able to support them in doing that – and that’s something we wanted to take forward.”

Dickie said that the festival is not only a celebration of arts and mental health, but also has a “campaigning ethos”.

He said: “I think one of the main things is trying to get change in the way we approach mental health services, get more creativity and to get creative approaches recognised as something that can be so important for preventing mental ill-health and supporting recovery for people.

“Social activism has always been a key part of what we aim to do, to galvanise change both at a community level and at some of our more high-profile events – trying to reach the right people and build momentum around that.”

The theme for next year’s event is yet to be decided by the festival’s national planning committee.