The Dust of Everyday Life

The Dust of Everyday Life, a one-day symposium on the arts and mental health, returns to Glasgow next month.

It began in 2015 as a bit of an experiment. What would happen if you brought together people from the arts sector (artists, producers, programmers) and the mental health sector (health workers, activists, psychologists) for a whole day to exchange ideas?

In a sense, the Mental Health Foundation had been doing this already for nine years with the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, a groundbreaking, three-week programme that now consists of over 300 events across the whole of Scotland. As the festival approached its 10th year, though, it seemed like a good idea to think afresh about what this event – and other arts activity that explores mental health issues – is for, and what it might look like in the future.

The experiment, it’s fair to say, was a success – The Dust of Everyday Life sold out within two days of the programme being announced. And the event itself, at the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) in Glasgow, resulted in some fascinating conversations. Where else would you find TV presenter Gail Porter, musician Duglas T. Stewart of the BMX Bandits, Michael Rowe of Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and John McCormack of the Scottish Recovery Network, all on one panel, and with such illuminating results?

We also marked the tenth anniversary of the Glasgow Girls – a group of schoolgirls from Drumchapel in Glasgow, who made national headlines with their campaign for better treatment of asylum seekers. In doing so, we brought together Glasgow Girl Amal Azzudin (who now works with the Mental Health Foundation) and, for the first time, three of they key creative people the campaign inspired – documentary maker Lindsay Hill, theatre director Cora Bissett and film director Brian Welsh. Should you wish to, you can listen to both of these conversations, and other recordings from the conference at Soundcloud.

As it turned out, some conversations at The Dust of Everyday Life 2015 had a direct impact on that year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. Two of our conference speakers, theatre director Cora Bissett and performance poet Jenny Lindsay, ended up working together on one of the festival’s flagship theatre shows, In Her Shadows, an aerial dance piece exploring depression.

And a chance encounter between myself and Angie Dight, co-founder of the Scottish outdoor theatre company Mischief La Bas, resulted in a collaboration that would pay tribute to Angie’s late husband, Ian Smith, a brilliant, maverick theatre-maker who was also, in his later years, living with severe depression.

In both cases, the result was a memorable piece of new work that succeeded, in very different ways, in opening up important conversations about mental health and stigma. 

We are hoping for similar results this year. At time of writing, it is a few hours since we announced the full programme for The Dust of Everyday Life 2016, which will return to the CCA in Glasgow on 20 April – and tickets are almost sold out already.

You’ll find the full programme for the conference at www.mhfestival.com/about/conference. As the main programmer of the event it’s very difficult to pick highlights, but here are three that perhaps sum up its spirit, and its diversity:

The Dust of Early Life – children, creativity and mental health

Children’s mental health has been the subject of much media attention – and research – in recent years. Can artists reach out to children and young people in a way that other people and organisations cannot? Evidence suggests they can – Scotland, for example, produces some of the best children’s theatre in the world, which frequently explores difficult issues like grief and even suicide.

For Dust 2016, Fiona Ferguson of Imaginate – which does pioneering work in children’s performing arts year round as well as programming an annual festival of children’s theatre that draws audiences from across the world – will lead a discussion around children, the arts, and mental health, with Deborah Malcolm (author of Meh, a children’s book about depression), Rob Gallagher of Impact Arts (which runs art therapy courses for children), Alice McGrath (producer of Titus, an acclaimed children’s show that addresses mental health issues) and child psychotherapist Andrew Dawson.

This session will be the first of a planned series of events throughout the year, programmed by the Mental Health Foundation in partnership with other organisations, and focusing on children, arts, and mental health.

Architecture and Mental Health

Whether it’s the home we grow up in, or the hospice or hospital ward where we spend our final days, the built environment around us can have a profound impact on our mental and physical health, for better or worse.  For Dust 2016 we will bring together architect Richard Murphy (whose firm Richard Murphy Architects has designed two residential dementia homes and an 80 bed mental health facility); architect Andy Law of Reiach and Hall architects (responsible for the award-winning Maggie’s Centre in Lanarkshire); and Angus Farquhar of the groundbreaking arts organisation NVA, for a discussion about how architects – and artists with an interest in architecture – can create environments that help improve mental health.

Eve/Adam – portrayals of transgender lives

At this year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, the National Theatre of Scotland will premiere Eve/Adam, a double bill of theatre shows exploring transgender lives – Eve, a very personal, reflective show by playwright Jo Clifford, and Adam, the true story of an Egyptian trans man’s journey to self-discovery, directed by Cora Bissett (creator of Glasgow Girls and Roadkill).

The negative impact of stigma and prejudice on the mental health of transgender people is well documented, and throughout this year the Mental Health Foundation will be working with the National Theatre of Scotland to document transgender life stories in a positive and empowering way. For Dust 2016, Jo Clifford and Cora Bissett will discuss the aims of the project with Vic Valentine of the Scottish Transgender Alliance and Alison Wren from LGBT Health & Wellbeing.

Once again, we will be recording all the sessions at the conference, so if you’re unable to make it to Glasgow on 20 April you’ll be able to listen to the various conversations online afterwards.

In the meantime, we’re already starting to turn our thoughts to Dust 2017…