Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 2019: a celebration of connectivity and community

Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 2019: A celebration of connectivity and community


SMHAF unveils diverse roster of events, featuring appearances by Ian Rankin and Emma Pollock, as well as the latest documentary from Orlando von Einsiedel

The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival has announced their complete programme for 2019, which will see creative works about mental health showcased across the nation from 3–26 May. This year's theme, 'Connected', ties together the key messages of this year's festival, which will focus on the importance of community and family to mental health – particularly in this time of virulent social and political division over Brexit – as well as the trauma of male suicide.

Despite issues of mental health becoming increasingly accepted in mainstream discourse, those who suffer from mental health issues still face stigma and a scarcity of resources and support. Through its diverse programming, which is built from the ground-up by regional coordinators across the country, SMHAF seeks to emphasise the negative impact of isolation on mental health, and has designed events to include marginalised communities that may feel that isolation more acutely, such as asylum seekers, the LGBTQ community and travellers.

Amongst the many highlights of this year's festival, several noteworthy names include the announcement of Ian Rankin as the host of the SMHAF Writing Awards. Created in partnership with Bipolar Scotland, the award supports first-time authors in getting published alongside established names, and will feature a live recitation from the ten shortlisted candidates. The evening will open with a set from acclaimed singer-songwriter Emma Pollock, and will also see the launch of 70 Stories, an anthology which ties stories from the writing competition to tales from the past 13 years of SMHAF. 70 Stories also marks the 70th anniversary of the Mental Health Foundation, which will be another major theme of the 2019 festival.

Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 2019: A celebration of connectivity and community

Emma Pollock / credit: Jannica Honey

This year's theatre offerings feature some of the most dynamic works in the festival's history to date, including the award-winning gig theatre Electrolyte, which follows a young woman after a psychotic episode; Holding It Together, a new performance piece about two women brought together by grief; A Day of Failure, which will be a gathering at Tramway wherein participants can share their experiences of failure; and Viola, a solo aerial piece that uses Shakespeare's Twelfth Night to explore notions of isolation and anxiety.

Another major aspect of the festival is the film programme, which this year will expand beyond Glasgow's CCA to stage screenings at Glasgow Film Theatre and Flourish House, as well as venues in Edinburgh, Inverness and the Isle of Lewis. Notable films include Oscar nominee Orlando von Einsiedel's documentary Evelyn, which sees the acclaimed filmmaker turn the camera on himself and his family as they re-visit sites once beloved by their brother, who had ended his life 13 years ago after a protracted struggle with schizophrenia. A similarly personal documentary feature on the line-up is Iain Cunningham's Irene's Ghost, wherein he searches for clues about his mother's life, who died when he was three years old.

Other highlights taking place across Scotland include comedian Angela Barnes bringing her sell-out Fringe show Rose Tinted back to the Stand in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Lily Asch's Real Talk: Storytelling for Wellbeing will also be making a return, as well as Walk a Mile events in Paisley, Kyle of Lochalsh and Inverness, wherein participants are encouraged to chat and connect with their fellow walkers over the 1 mile route.

'Since this festival began 13 years ago it has grown and thrived because of the connections it has made,' says Lee Knifton, a founder of SMHAF and director of the Mental House Foundation, 'between communities all across Scotland, between the arts and the public sector, and also with artists, filmmakers, activists, organisations and other festivals from all across the world. Those connections are authentic, deep-rooted and unique, and have taken a long time to build. This year we want to celebrate that. We also want to continue to be provocative and challenging, which is partly why are making a point of celebrating connectedness at a time when so much of what is happening politically, from Brexit to the rise of the far right, is pushing people apart.'

SMHAF, various venues, Scotland, Fri 3 May–Sun 26 May,