On World Mental Health Day, 10 October 2011, 100 helium-filled balloons were situated around Sligo town and county – on the street, in shops and fields – just for that day. Each balloon had been painted with a representation of something important to its author – something that enhances mental wellbeing.
The balloons were painted by persons supported by the Mental Health Services, healthcare staff and artists working in the Admissions Unit, Raheen Day Centre, Easkey Day Centre, Liscarney House Day Hospital and Ballymote Day Centre; by PLC Art & Design Students Sligo VEC; Transition Year Students at Coola Post Primary School, Riverstown; 5th and 6th class children from Clohoge National School, Castlebaldwin and people at Dóchas, Clubhouse in Sligo Town.
10 x 10 Balloons aimed to openly engage people of different ages and backgrounds in making a creative statement about positive mental health and to anonymously gift that to the public.
The project was led by Arts Initiative in Mental Health, Mental Health Services Sligo Leitrim which works to creatively engage persons whom the service supports by providing access to participatory and collaborative art projects. It does this in a number of different settings, across art forms and approaches.
Persons who are supported by the Mental Health Services informed this project which invited people to participate in creating an original artwork on a flat ‘pill-shaped’ helium balloon, responding in whatever way they wished, to the question: What enhances your mental wellbeing? Younger participants were asked: What makes you feel happy? Places, people, things, text, activities, colours and patterns were all featured.
It was important that the project was structurally simple, used flexible materials that would aid inclusivity and was open enough for people to artistically respond in their own way.
Workshops were conducted in different settings and the balloons were placed in public and private spaces, both urban and rural. Settings included a petrol station, a piece of public art, a playground, various shops, a shopping centre and other public spaces. The paintings were given freely to the project and could be taken away by passers-by, and many were.
The project emerged from the ethos that mental health is everyone’s business. Reflecting on what enhances mood, making that manifest via a creative act and sharing that publicly, is a kind of ‘well-wish’ to strangers.
There are multiple audiences for this work – the maker as audience, the public display of the artworks and an online gallery documenting each balloon in situ. An interesting but unintended outcome was the performative aspect of positioning the balloons. While the balloons were being tethered, it naturally drew an audience and members of the public and staff in various workplaces engaged in conversation about the project, offered to hold or position the art works and photograph or be photographed with them.
See http://10x10balloons.wordpress.com/about/ for more about how and why the project began.
- The project has not been externally formally evaluated.
- The lead artist/ project co-ordinator privately evaluated the project in the form of a reflective journal
- The lead artist/ project co-ordinator invited other artists, via the Artists’ Wednesday Network in Sligo to critique specific aspects of the project.
- Public feedback is invited via http://10x10balloons.wordpress.com/about/
100 painted balloons were displayed in numerous settings for one day, 10 October 2011. Those that participated were given the opportunity to say something about what is of value to them. For some it was an idea – a place they had never been to but could visit imaginatively. For others it was a social activity such as, ‘driving the tractor with Daddy’.
The impact on participants was not measured, but the outcome in the form of the works of art demonstrated engagement, generosity and interest.
Passers-by were curious, delighted, ambivalent and interested in the project and many removed the artworks to keep, presumably because they liked them!
10 x 10 Balloons was highlighted as a significant factor in the awarding of Centre of Excellence status to the Inpatients Unit of the Mental Health Services Sligo in a recent Art against Stigma Award by Lundbeck Irl. Ltd.
Documentation and Dissemination
The project was featured in local press, the Mental Health Ireland newsletter and through the project website.
It is intended that the website will be a lasting online archive of the project.
Mental Health Association, Sligo
September -October 2011
HSE, Voluntary Organisation and artist
Niamh O’Connor (Artist and Project Co-ordinator)
Nature of project