By Jo Newman, Associate Director, Salisbury Playhouse
On Friday 9 February artists and industry professionals from across the South West gathered at Salisbury Playhouse for the third South West Theatre Symposium run in partnership with Take Art, Activate and Theatre Bristol. This year we collaborated with Viv Gordon (performance artist, mental health campaigner and all round brilliant person) to put together the event, to interrogate whether the arts industry is conducive to mental health and wellbeing, to learn from and support artists who are making work with ongoing mental health conditions to create a more enabling sector. Though there is growing awareness of mental health in society, the arts sector still has a long way to go in terms of enabling artists with lived experience of mental health conditions who face countless barriers which are not recognised, more urgent than ever in an industry which is “whimsical, competitive and insecure… runs on artists’ adrenaline, resilience and vulnerability”. (Viv Gordon)
This is the third time we’ve run the symposium event and, after the success of the last two, we wanted to make sure that this one felt just as useful, meaningful and practical – and thanks to Viv and all the brilliant contributors, I think it really did. It feels really important to share these learnings here.
“For a long time mental health has been poorly understood in the arts. Many people can’t see any exclusion because they believe mental health is already included. They say that theatre is full of mental health narratives. But what they don’t see is that too often these narratives are told by people with no lived experience and riddled with stereotypes, oversimplifications, misrepresentations and problematic cultural appropriations.” Viv Gordon.
Following Viv’s opening provocation, we had the privilege of hearing from artists Louisa Adjoa Parker (exploring mental health and intersectionality in relation to her life and work), Viki Browne (sharing her experiences of her practice) and Dolly Sen (how we can entrust a system to know what the word ‘reasonable’ means when it is full of old, decrepit prejudices, and asks if the arts world is any better) who gave moving, hilarious and rousing provocations in equal measure. All the provocations are recorded and you can listen to them here…