The Arts Council of Northern Ireland has invested National Lottery Funding, along with funding from the Baring Foundation, in a three-year mental health and arts programme.

Artists, arts groups and representatives from mental health organisations gathered at a special event in the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast this week to hear about the new £600,000 scheme.

The project has three strands:

  1. It will provide tailored training and support for artists to improve their own mental health.
  2. It will offer specialist training and upskilling for artists who work in the field of mental health.
  3. It will benefit wider society by providing funding that pairs artists with specialist mental health organisations, in order to develop bespoke community arts programmes for vulnerable groups.

Northern Ireland has the highest rates of mental ill health in the UK¹ and this initiative has been established to improve the mental health of artists and arts participants. It follows recent research by the Arts Council, which shows that artists suffer particularly poor mental health compared to the rest of society².

The Arts Council’s mission centres on developing and championing the arts through investment, as set out in its 10-year strategic plan, Championing the Arts, launched earlier this month. The National Lottery investment, in particular, will help achieve outcome 2 (‘A sector that develops, looks after its people, and is more inclusive’) and priority 3 (‘We will create the conditions to grow artistic talent and develop the wider arts workforce’) of the plan.

Speaking at the launch, Roisín McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, explained that the new mental health and arts programme is one example of how the organisation will do this. She said:

It has become increasingly clear to us, through our research and discussions with artists and healthcare professionals, that this intervention has become an imperative for the Arts Council.

We know that the arts can play a significant role in helping to promote good mental health across all of society but if we are to expand upon those benefits, as the arts become increasingly integrated into the work of mental healthcare provision, we must ensure we are also looking after those tasked with delivering these interventions, starting first with supporting and upskilling our own artists.

Some of our best creative talent, such as our theatre companies, musicians and visual artists, are already engaged with local communities and healthcare organisations, delivering a wide range of programmes for vulnerable groups. Through this new Mental Health and Arts Programme, we can look forward to growing that work over the next three years, building not only a more resilient sector but the funding to support a host of new arts-based projects within the mental health and wellbeing arena.”

Baring Foundation director David Cutler said:

The Baring Foundation is delighted to be partnering again with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, We believe that everyone had the right to be creative and this new fund will give new cultural opportunities to people with mental health problems at a time when need has never been higher.”

Inspire will be leading on the first round of training workshops for artists this summer. Lisa McElherron, Inspire’s Group Director of Insight, Engagement and Innovation, said:

Inspire is delighted to part of this much-needed and valuable project. This is an important project on so many levels. We all know how art and creativity bring joy and contribute to wellbeing across our society, enriching our sense of connection to each other and the world around us. Inspire is lucky to work with artists as part of our services supporting inclusion, recovery and storytelling. Art and the creative industries are important vehicles for exploring many of the social, environmental and economic issues that matter to us all.

As we all benefit from art and creativity in so many ways, it is vitally important we support the people who create that art, shine a light on the issues and provide us all with positive experiences. As workplace wellbeing specialists, we are proud to be working alongside the Arts Council as they invest in the mental health and wellbeing of people right across the creative industries in Northern Ireland.”

Other speakers at the launch event included Arts Council economist Javier Stanziola, who presented recent research on the mental health and wellbeing of arts practitioners in Northern Ireland, writer and multi-disciplinary artist Soso Ní Cheallaigh and performance poet Alice McCullough.

According to key findings from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Working and Living Conditions of Artists report 2024:

  • There was an 11% decline in real income for artists in Northern Ireland from 2010-23.
  • 30% of artists perceive mental health issues as personal challenges that hinder their work.
  • In response to the question “How anxious did you feel yesterday?”, artists report levels of anxiety two times higher than the general population.
  • 23.9% of artists have undertaken training relating to community arts but only 16.6% have undergone training relating to mental health.

The Arts Council’s 10-Year Strategic Plan 2024-34: Championing the Arts

Outcome 2
A sector that develops, looks after its people, and is more inclusive

Priority 3 – We will create the conditions to grow artistic talent and develop the wider arts workforce

Priority 4 – We will ensure that the arts sector in Ni is inclusive and reflects society

Outcome 4
A sector that contributes to social and economic benefits and cares about the environment

Priority 6 – We will support arts projects that address contemporary societal challenges

Outcome 6
A sector that is more valued across society and government

Priority 9 – We will work in partnership with policy makers, decision makers and people in NI, the positive impact of the arts

Please note, the Working and Living Conditions of Artists report will be published by the Arts Council in full later this year.
Further details of training workshop for artists and funding opportunities for eligible projects will be announced via the Arts Council’s website and social media platforms.

References
¹ Mental Health Foundation (2024) (Online) Available at https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk
² Information extracted from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Working and Living Conditions of Artists report, due to be published later in 2024

To find out more about Inspire’s training offers, contact the team on hello@inspirewellbeing.org or visit www.inspirewellbeing.org/courses

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