- To connect people who would have limited or no access to day services and supports due to Covid restrictions.
- To provide a connection for people who are cocooning or feel isolated as a result of Covid-19.
- To encourage participants to use various media to express their feelings, to explore new methods of expression and embrace new challenges.
- To explore lived experiences of adapting to the ‘new normal’, and share with the wider community.
- To create new challenges in a fun way, as a means of empowerment, creating new contacts and a different, more positive way of seeing in the midst of uncertainty and negativity.
- To provide a connection to the wider art world, breaking down barriers to participation.
The artist connected with participants for weekly online workshops using the WebEx video conferencing platform, with morning sessions for adults and afternoon sessions for CAMHS participants, each lasting two hours.
Occupational Therapists from Longford/Westmeath Mental Health Services provided training and support for participants not familiar with using online media. This was ongoing throughout the project.
When devising the project, it was decided to post each participant an art pack (containing sketching pencils, paints, brushes, sketch pad and a journal) in order to facilitate delivery and maximize the challenge and fun. These packs were sponsored by Mullingar Mental Health Association, with the help of a grant from Mental Health Ireland.
The group decided on an area of exploration each week which was then articulated through photography, painting, drawing and writing. Each participant was encouraged to document their thoughts and ideas in the journal provided. To create a link to the wider art world, participants looked at the wide variety of approaches and methods in the work of well-known artists, such as Matisse, Picasso, Francis Bacon, Kiki Smith, Jackson Pollock, Sean Scully and many more, emphasising that each person’s way of seeing and interpreting is different and unique to them as individuals.
Some weeks were focused around a theme chosen by the group such as the lockdown experience, my environment, isolation, the mask task, emerging from lockdown, and looking towards the future. These themed weeks were combined with weeks where each participant was free to explore the feelings that were important to them that particular week.
Each week the participants electronically sent photos of their work to the artist and some participants also sent written material or audio recordings exploring each week’s themes. Rosaleen then inputted the work into a digital presentation to show the participants during the next session, to encourage discussion around the experiences conveyed, the various media chosen and how different approaches could be used to further express thoughts and ideas. As a number of the participants had never used paint or drawing materials previously, Rosaleen created short videos showing basic techniques, along with live on the spot demonstrations of drawing and painting in response to queries from participants.
The variety of media encouraged all participants to experiment and try out new things, validated by the idea that there is no right or wrong, but that each piece of work reflects how each person interprets the themes and that everyone’s opinion is equally valid.
This approach was successful in that every participant, despite some initial reservations, used the materials provided, and explored varied means of expression resulting in individual and diverse art works.
A booklet of works was produced and funded through a Mental Health Ireland grant. Each participant submitted works of their choice, which were then curated with the group online for the final production over the course of three meetings. The final proof was viewed and approved by all participants before publication.
The booklet was published in October 2020 to coincide with Mental Health Week.
A digital version of the booklet can be viewed here: www.artsandhealth.ie/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Our-Vision-Our-Voice-’20_Booklet-of-Artworks.pdf
An exhibition was scheduled for The Atrium in Mullingar Arts Centre. However, this was postponed due to Covid restrictions with the hope that it may go ahead again in October 2021 if it is safe to do so.
The project was evaluated through the artist’s reflective journal, group discussion and feedback at the end of the project.
From an artist’s and facilitator’s perspective working online was challenging. Not being very ‘tech savvy’, this was a steep learning curve. Doing live demos was initially challenging until I used my DSLR camera for live video which was much more successful. Pre-recorded videos worked very well, except they proved too big to email or send digitally to participants who had missed a session. Initially everyone felt a bit awkward and active participation was at a minimum. However, as the project evolved, people began to feel more comfortable with meeting virtually and with their digital capabilities; it then became easier and more enjoyable for everyone.
From an OT perspective, Covid-19 has posed many challenges such as loss of occupation, isolation and loneliness. This project has allowed for shared expression of emotions associated with Covid-19, captured through drawings, paintings, words and photos.
‘We all reacted to lockdown differently. For some home was a safe haven, free from the anxiety of having to go out, to others it was a prison with limited contacts and loved ones apart from us. This group made us challenge ourselves to try new things, and step out of our comfort zone, many of us having never painted before.’
‘Tuesdays were the highlight of my week, I hated to have to miss a meeting.’
‘Because of my mental health issues I would not be able to attend a face to face group, so this project suited me as it was online.’
‘This unique group helped us use our creativity, it brought out the best in us, especially the support from Rosaleen and the group. It helped me express my emotions around Covid-19, especially with having to cocoon for so long. It really helped my self-esteem and made me feel good about myself.’
‘We learned not to be afraid of paint, we can achieve anything when we get the courage to take that first step. The project provided a connection to new friends who understand, and connections that will continue beyond the life of this project.’
Documentation and Dissemination
The booklet of artworks was disseminated through the libraries in Longford / Westmeath. A copy of the booklet was included in The Westmeath Examiner newspaper to reach a wider audience.
This project is ongoing, moderated by Rosaleen. The group has reconvened for the duration of this current lockdown, using the same format.
Mullingar Mental Health Association, Mental Health Ireland, Longford / Westmeath Occupational Therapy Services, Longford / Westmeath CAMHS