PROMOTING positive mental health through creativity is the aim of the annual ‘Reflecting Through Art’ exhibition organised by the Cork Mental Health Foundation (CMHF).
While the exhibition usually opens at Cork Airport and moves on to other venues, this year the art is being shown online because of the restrictions arising from the coronavirus pandemic.
Established in 1996 by Michael Looney, a former psychiatric nurse involved in the arts, the exhibition creates a bridge between people with mental health issues and the general public, says Brendan McCarthy, CEO of CMHF.
This year, 226 pieces of art are on show, including paintings of landscapes, still lives and figurative art. The paintings are for sale.
“We don’t keep any of the proceeds,” says Brendan.
“If the paintings don’t sell, we have the paintings framed and give them back to the artists. They have worked hard at their art so we want the work to be seen by as many people as possible.
“We’ll probably leave the art online for about three months. Generally, about 10% of the art work sells.”
But the selling of the art is not the most important thing, as Brendan points out. It’s having a creative outlet.
There is clearly still a social stigma associated with mental health issues as the artists didn’t want to be interviewed by The Echo for this article.
“I suppose the stigma is part of the reason why we do the exhibition. It’s to show the public that people with mental health issues can be very creative and productive.
“By putting something on paper, they can be honest about their experiences. The majority of people have put their names on the art. They are proud of their work. But being interviewed by a journalist is daunting for them.”
The CMHF also runs an organisation called ‘The Next Step’ which is based at the Unitarian Church in Princes Street.
“The people involved do all sorts of art and have exhibitions. They also do yoga and mindfulness.”
Brendan and colleagues visit a lot of day care centres in Cork city and county, looking at art that can be exhibited as part of the activities of ‘The Next Step’.
“And there are some fantastic art therapists who submit pieces of art to us. We get them framed up and put them on display every year.
We get great support from St Raphael’s in Youghal, which is for people with intellectual disabilities. They come and work every day. It’s not just for people with mental health difficulties. There are also people involved who have an intellectual disability.”
The CMHF also has a housing association providing much needed accommodation for vulnerable people with mental health issues. The association has 39 properties in Cork city and county, housing 110 tenants. They are either sharing houses or are living on their own. There is also staff on hand to help people move to independent living.
Because of the coronavirus lockdown, Brendan says that the CMHF is doing what it can to prevent social isolation.
“Unfortunately, we have had to cease some of our activities. But ‘The Next Step’ is doing art classes online and yoga. They’ve set up their own chat line so members can contact each other at any time of the day, just to have a chat. It’s important to let people know there is someone there to communicate with. People tend to come together in adversity.”
Brendan says that the majority of those housed by the CMHF’s housing association would have been homeless.
“We try to bring them from homelessness or being in acute mental health units into a community, supporting them to live independently. We have a housing officer that calls to them on a regular basis to make sure they’re maintaining their homes and looking after themselves. We get rent from the tenants which is used to maintain the properties.”
Funded by the HSE and through fund-raising efforts, Brendan says more properties are needed.
“We’ve got funding from the government to be able to purchase properties. Any way we can get a property, we’ll do it. Having a home is the main priority for everyone.”
If having a home is a fundamental need, art is an enjoyable — and therapeutic — occupation for the people that the CMHF caters for.
“Some of our people are self-taught. Others go to day care centres and avail of art therapists.”
The CMHF, which started as the Cork Mental Health Association in 1962, is all about the community.
“If we can assist someone who has a mental health issue, then we’ll do that. We provide bursaries for people to go into further education. The National Learning Network runs courses for people to go back to education.”
To view the ‘Reflecting Through Art’ exhibition, go to www. facebook.com/corkmentalhealth.