William Kentridge, #11733 Hyacinths (Wait Once Again for Better People), Lithograph on paper.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
The Healing Arts 2021 campaign, a call to action by the world of the arts in response to the mental health crisis caused by COVID-19, is being launched in the UK March 22-26 by CULTURUNNERS, as part of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) series of solidarity events. CULTURUNNERS produces cross-cultural campaigns, exhibitions and journeys, promoting peace-building and sustainable development, through art. Healing Arts London brings together a coalition of partners, including University College London, Tate, The Art Newspaper, Community Jameel, Castello di Rivoli, Hospital Rooms and the National Centre for Creative Health, to present a five-day programme of events alongside a charity auction by Christie’s on March 25 of works donated by Antony Gormley, Ragnar Kjartansson, William Kentridge, Martin Creed and Yoshitomo Nara.
The Healing Arts’ online events begin on March 22 with an exclusive conversation between Gillian Anderson (known for her roles in The Crown, The X-Files and The Fall) and Christopher Bailey, a former actor and now Arts & Health Lead at the WHO, with special guests, sculptor Sir Antony Gormley and the WHO’s Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Over the four days there will be:
• virtual ‘artists’ house calls’ exploring creativity in various places of confinement, including artists’ studios, a hospital psychiatric unit and a prison
• a webinar with medical researchers, art therapists and policy-makers about the evidence for the efficacy of the arts improving mental health and the quality of life of people living with dementia
• curators and activists giving practical examples of the role of art in improving mental, societal and environmental health on the frontline of global challenges like COVID.
As COVID-19 has confined our lives, the arts have emerged as an essential part of our mental wellbeing. Researchers have collected convincing evidence that they bring consolation and healing to people suffering in the mind. Dr Ghebreyesus comments: “Cases and deaths can be counted. Less easy to measure is the toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on the mental health of so many people. “We call on every country to include services to promote mental health and to prevent and treat mental health conditions as part of its plan to respond to and recover from the pandemic. “I’m grateful to Healing Arts for drawing attention to mental health, and for highlighting the role that the arts can play in supporting and sustaining mental health.” Stephen Stapleton, artist, social entrepreneur and CULTURUNNERS founding director, says that “millions of us have quietly struggled with our mental health during the pandemic. “The WHO Secretary General has warned of a mass trauma in the coming months and years, comparable to that experienced after the Second World War, as a result of increased isolation, separation from loved ones, economic hardship and bereavement.
“Against this backdrop, the Healing Arts initiative is calling on the arts sector to help, believing (and there is growing evidence), that the arts can play a central role in counselling, comforting and creating meaning for those most vulnerable and at risk as a result of the pandemic, on the margins of society. “As we emerge from this global health crisis, can artists and creative communities help us heal our minds, and in so doing imagine a path forward — creating a more sustainable and healthy post-pandemic world?” Launching at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2014, CULTURUNNERS’ first project was a multi-year artists’ road trip broadcasting between the United States and the Middle East.
It has since grown to encompass large-scale cultural exchange and diplomacy projects, an artist-led media platform, artists’ spaces and partnerships with institutions around the world. A recent report by WHO highlights the widespread concerns about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s mental health. The isolation brought about by lockdown, fear of infection, financial worries and bereavement have all contributed to increasing levels of stress and anxiety.
The Healing Arts programme will highlight several projects supported by funds from the auction, including programmes in Iraq, in partnership with Community Jameel, documenting and sustaining traditional cultural practices to address mental health needs among the Marsh Arab and Yazidi communities, and in the Navajo Nation, Arizona. The pioneering 90-year old Land-Artist Agnes Denes, who planted a wheat field around New York’s Twin Towers in 1982, has created a flag, “The Future is Fragile, Handle with Care”, which will be flown from the roof of Tate Britain to mark the launch of The Future is Unwritten Artists’ Response Fund. This provides financial and production support to artist-led projects contributing to improved mental, social and environmental health in the wake of COVID-19.
Christopher Bailey, the WHO’s arts and health lead says: “Art has a unique ability to help us comfort, confront, contextualise and create community. And when embracing science and evidence as bedrock, art and culture can help us imagine a better way forward to a positive future.” Healing Arts was launched in 2020 as part the United Nation’s 75th anniversary celebrations. The programme benefits from a collaboration with Christie’s, hosted Healing Arts first auction in 2020, with the record-breaking sale of Ahmed Mater’s Magnetism for $120,000, that will continue throughout the year. The initiative is being produced by CULTURUNNERS, directed by Stapleton and Bailey, together with John Blaffer Royall and Anna Somers Cocks, writer, publisher and collector and with the support of the Blessed Foundation and Community Jameel.
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