I was given the honour of saying a few words at the Love Arts Leeds closing party, here is my speech in full.
The Love Arts festival launched in 2011, and in a nutshell, focusses on wellbeing in the arts. This year is about Sharing Stories, and I’ve been asked to share mine, and my experience with Love Arts Leeds.
At the time of the first festival I was suffering from depression, and had also developed anxiety. I felt quite isolated and unsure of myself and my own capabilities as an artist. My desire was to find a positive community that would encourage me and so that I could feel part of something. I felt that volunteering would be a good place to start. I volunteered for the first festival over a variety of activities, I think it was about 15 in total. After hearing Tricia Thorpe talk at one of the events, I thought her story was very inspiring. I decided to volunteer afterwards with Time To Change Leeds.
From this initial interaction with the festival, I asked Linda Boyles, from Arts and Minds if it would be possible to facilitate a workshop as part of my final degree project. I ran a workshop with Arts and Minds members, which looked at wellbeing and in particular taking notice of your surroundings. Looking at the New Economics Foundation’s 5 ways to wellbeing.
The second festival I was invited to have my own exhibition from the work I had produced for my degree show with the Arts and Minds members, which was held at the White Cloth Gallery. I was also nominated for the visual arts award which I went on to win for my work on my wellbeing project. My speech last year was quite literally speechless, I was overwhelmed to the point of silence!
Between then and now I have worked with The Mount where we created a photographic collage with the elderly service users, and I have been invited back again this winter, I was recommended to them by Tom Bailey, also of Arts and Minds.
Inspired by the Highlights exhibition, which is one of the features of the Love Arts festival, I organised and put on an exhibition at the Hedley Verity last spring. It was open to everyone, encouraging inclusion and to raise awareness about the Time To Change campaign. I received over 40 pieces of work from a variety of artists, and it was a great pleasure to see them adorn the walls of this busy city pub.
This summer I have worked with Tricia and other volunteers from Time To Change Leeds to produce the Unheard Voices of Highroyds exhibition, exploring past and present at this formidable place. I was asked to create both the cover for the festival programme and the Love Music Leeds CD, which I have been very honoured to do so, it also saw me getting more creative outside photography with my book carving skills.
I will be taking on my first big commission with Abbey House museum starting this month. I’ve secured a job working with Emma Saynor, a fellow Love Arts volunteer from 2011, as facilitators and community learning tutors at Mencap. And I founded a photography group called Take Notice Leeds, which is a more inclusive and open group for people who may normally feel intimidated at other groups.
I don’t want to brag about all the things I’ve done, as there have been many equally amazing projects and stories from many of the participants in the festival. But the main point I want to make about all of this is, how from the first festival to now I have grown and changed as a person. I don’t think it would have been possible for me even to have written a proposal to a Leeds museum a couple of years ago, let alone be standing here talking to you about it, but being part of the Love Arts Festival, and what has come from, it has given me the confidence, the encouragement and above all proven that the arts really can improve your wellbeing and mental health. Oh, and I think the most important thing, it has given me some really incredible friendships.
I didn’t win the Visual Arts awards for which I was nominated again this year, I had stiff competition from the Place and Memory collective, who deservedly won. And my good friend and Pop-Up Booth collaborator, Charys Ellmer is one of the artists. But as part of the Time To Change team and the Unheard Voices of Highroyds exhibition, we did win the Peoples Choice award. I don’t get to spend as much time with the team since my new job, but I’ll always remain a volunteer in any capacity I can.