A recap on Inside Out: Public Art, Nature, and Mental Wellbeing
On Wednesday 12 October 2022, CREATURE (Research Centre in Creative Arts, Cultures and Engagement) at London Metropolitan University hosted its first physical panel discussion with the title Inside Out: Public Art, Nature and Mental Wellbeing. The evening, in collaboration with The Line - Public Art Walk and Mind, brought together conversations at the intersection of public art, nature, and mental well-being with speakers from The Line, Mind in Tower Hamlets, Newham, academics and friends from the community whose work reflected these themes.
Megan Piper, Director of The Line, began the session with an introduction to the project, Inside Out inspired by the works of Madge Gill. The three-day public programme culminated in a series of exhibits, walks and workshops. After screening Nature in Mind, a short film about the project, Sheyamali Sudesh (The Line) Aisha Johnson and Sarah Hyland (Mind) shared their experiences of the workshops. Participants were encouraged to forage for plants on the nature walks and invited to create free drawings at the studio enabling them to enjoy the process and not focus on the output. The group was also able to have discussions on the significance of plants in various cultural contexts. Participation in a community project such as this allowed for forming deep connections and sharing of emotions without revealing too much of one’s personal experience. One of the key learnings, Sheyamali adds, is about the importance of organising long-term engagements that reinforces the feeling of being able to carry on and how being mindful in public spaces and around nature stimulates that feeling.
The second part of the event hosted a discussion chaired by Dr Jacek Ludwig Scarso (Course Leader MA Public Art & Performance and Deputy Director of CREATURE) and invited speakers to exchange thoughts about the importance of connecting public areas, art and community. Emphasis on creating safe spaces for people of all ages to be able to access neighbourhoods and be part of the community was the theme of the conversation. Dr Zoe Moula (Lecturer in Mental Health, King’s College London) showed us how small interventions like taking school pupils to the park during school hours, as part of a research project recently conducted, showed a significant change in their welfare. Creative researcher and writer Menka Sanghvi encouraged the group to use Mindfulness in our approach to everyday things and use observation as a creative act. Melissa Moore (UAL) emphasised the importance of looking at land and public spaces as shared resources and the importance of acknowledging the space as a public resource. Perhaps the biggest question of the evening was to ask, what are considered public spaces and who has access to them.
Arts educator and cultural producer Farzana Khan began the discussion by urging everyone in the room to find ways to actively contribute to movements for equitable access and spatial justice of resources, communal spaces and dignity. The speakers encouraged the group to start actively taking part in interrogating the relationship between people and spaces, creating safe spaces for curiosity, starting equitable interventions in education systems, and finding different ways to engage through the various forms of art.
A question from the audience prompted the biggest takeaway of the project which is inspired by the continuum of nature itself – ‘how you can carry on too’. The event was the first of many seminars to be hosted at the campus and being a part of such conversations as an MA Public Art and Performance student allowed us to think deeply about each of our practices and encourage collaborations with the community. The growth of arts lies in learning from each other and opportunities to interact with practitioners beyond the classroom open up many possibilities for young creatives.
About the Author
Shanmukha Priya Mohan is a MA Public Art and Performance student at London Metropolitan University, Aldgate Campus.