Welsh mental health arts festival

Wales’ first ever mental health arts festival will be held in autumn 2015. Little Sparks will see events held around Wales during October and November.

‘Little Sparks’ will see seminars, exhibitions, performances, workshops and a film screening held in various venues over the next couple of months. The festival’s name is taken from a quote by the late Robin Williams, who said ‘You’re only given a little spark of madness, you mustn’t lose it.’

‘Little Sparks’ has been co-ordinated by Disability Arts Cymru and Making Minds and is funded by the Arts Council of Wales and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. A number of other organisations are involved with the festival in different ways, including Ynys Môn a Gwynedd Mind, Arteffact, Vale of Clwyd Mind / Musical Meatballs in Mind, MaDCaff, Blackwood Little Theatre, Pembrokeshire Mind, Motiv8, Wales Millennium Centre, Ucheldre Centre, the National Botanic Garden of Wales and Llandough Hospital.

little sparks banner

The idea for the festival first came to Mark, our co-chair, about 3 years ago, when conducting research into what Making Minds could do, at least a year before the organisation existed. We looked at events such as Pride Cymru and Mad Pride – one of which is a single event that people come to from all over Wales, the other is a movement that means different things in different parts of the world, holding different types of events.

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We then discovered the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. First held in 2007, the event has grown year on year. The last festival covered the majority of Scotland and lasted nearly three weeks. However, it started very small and probably for very good reasons. The same thing applies to the First Fortnight festival in the Republic of Ireland and the Northern Ireland Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, which have come onto the scene in the last few years. There’s also the Anxiety Arts Festival in London and localised events at Arts & Minds in Leeds, among others. We have also met with the organisers of the Scottish festival, who have offered to help advise us on our journey.

We’ve worked particularly closely with Disability Arts Cymru on the festival, starting with a series of consultation events that were held around Wales to find out people’s thoughts on the festival and whether they would like to be involved. The meetings were successful, providing many strong ideas and leads that we can take forward.

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Until now, Wales was the only part of the UK and Ireland not to have an arts festival dedicated to mental health. Such events elsewhere have helped reduce mental health stigma and discrimination, raise awareness of mental health, celebrate the relationship between creativity and mental health, community groups / local organisations and others have had their work highlighted under a bigger, national banner. Generally, the role of art and creativity in mental health has received greater recognition, taken more seriously by decision makers and seen as an outlet – a pathway for so many people. It’s becoming a way of life in the mental health sector, the arts sector and elsewhere. We would like to see something similar happen through an equivalent Welsh festival.

There are a number of Facebook groups, where people can discuss ideas and share their thoughts on the festival. There is a main, all-Wales group, along with regional pages for North Wales, Mid Wales, West Wales and South Wales. Full details of the ‘Little Sparks’ programme can be found online atwww.littlesparks.rocks. You can join in with the festival conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #littlesparks15.

It’s hoped Little Sparks will inform plans for a larger festival, to be held in autumn 2016.

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