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'The Arts and Mind: What I learned from co-ordinating a charity creative arts competition'


'The Arts and Mind: What I learned from co-ordinating a charity creative arts competition'

By Laura Tan

Money on my Mind
At school, I took part in many of the fundraisers for important causes - the fun runs (gentle walks around the field which got you out of wearing school uniform, score!), putting on parties for older people (especially when you're 14, obsessed with 70s music and finally feel like someone gets you!) and cake stalls (yes, I definitely liked those. Note to self: must do more). Like most, I always had that warm, fuzzy feeling from the knowledge that doing good would raise a great amount of money. However, to be honest, that was pretty much where the train of thought used to terminate. It rarely crossed my mind as to the ways in which the money was actually used. I was accustomed to footage of respected celebrities doing their brilliant work in developing countries. However, I admit that I had no real knowledge of how charities were supporting people in communities, right here in the UK.

Out of sight but not out of Mind
In 2011, I began volunteering with Mind in Hertfordshire. I assisted adults - who had been out of work due to suffering from debilitating anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder - in gaining computer qualifications as well as confidence. It was an experience that really struck a chord with me as looking around, I saw people with huge potential with their whole lives ahead of them while they were just trying to make it through the day. I had the privilege of supporting good-hearted, funny and talented people who didn't deserve to feel like failures, to feel out of control of their lives or house-bound by fear. It opened my eyes to the world of hidden disability as the picture painted of a depressed person is often someone with dishevelled hair, with an alcohol problem, alone, 'lazy'; all sorts of unfair stereotypes. In actual fact, I was surrounded by mothers or fathers, clean living, who might have experienced unforeseen circumstances such as a bereavement or a long-term illness. They were actively trying to 'rehabilitate' themselves for their family's sake. It was lovely to see such a range of activities put on for people to help them pass time in a positive way.

Making up my Mind
This year, I decided that I wanted to organise something in aid of Mind. My Facebook feed was full of people completing marathons, sponsored swims across the channel and 'Dryathletes' (all brilliant - just impeded by my inability to run, fear of being eaten by a shark and the fact that the only thing I drink way too much of is a good brew). Therefore, rather than focussing on what I felt I couldn't do, I tried to focus on what I could. Writing, for me, is like changing the radio to your favourite station when you're driving through pouring rain and turning the volume right up so I thought about ways in which I could integrate my love of the creative arts and merge this with my passion for positive psychological wellbeing. The result was the 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' Creative Arts Competition. The aims of the competition were simple. 1. To raise funds for Mind (target of £100). 2. To raise awareness of Mind's work and mental health issues. 3. To create a collection of positive poems, photos, art and/or songs. The rules of the competition were simple. Entrants could contribute an original poem, photo, art or song and linked to the theme of 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' with all entry fees of £2 or more going directly to Mind.

Getting peace of Mind
I was in disbelief at how supportive people were and am still hugely appreciative of how they helped me get the campaign underway. My other half, Lewis, backed me from the beginning and gave me the confidence to set it up. My wonderfully talented brother-turned-Twitter-tutor, Chris, was fundamental in designing the logo and banner. My friends (in particular, Jessica, Anne, Phillippa and Lorna) shared my posts, encouraged me and made generous donations to help keep the ball rolling. Dr. Shivani Sharma from the University of Hertfordshire also accepted my invitation for her to judge, since she researches mental health. Even bestselling author of The Humans, Matt Haig (who previously suffered from depression) retweeted details of the competition. It just reminded me that some people can just pretend they don't have time (even though they've got time to share meaningless things on Facebook!) or pretend they don't have money (and then 
buy meaningless things!) but that many people are kind. People who just heard about it on Twitter, people who restored my faith by sending me a nice message or making a donation, showed me that the Good Samaritan still exists even in a world where the social media stickers and funny cats (guilty and guilty) can distract us from some of the bigger issues in society.

Mind Blown
The competition ran from 1st March 2015 - 31st May 2015 and received a total of 32 amazing entries, with entrants ranging from the amateur photographer to professional artist to an 81 year old man who never pursued his desired career in art due to crippling social phobia. The submissions were showcased on the competition web page, the Twitter feed as well as the Facebook gallery. The winners were: 1st place: Photo submission by Johannes and Megan, 2nd place: Art submission by Lottie and 3rd place: Poem submitted by Asma.

The Twitter feed also amassed
302 followers and was used to keep everybody updated and to tweet and retweet important messages about mental health (get me, being all down with the kids). Due to the huge generosity of every single person who donated as well as two very kind professional artists (Ivor Sexton and Alan Brain) who donated their paintings to generate further proceeds, the final fundraising total was £583.86! I can only thank and thank and thank everybody who was a part of it. However, it will need more than just spending money to help people with anxiety and depression. It requires entrants mulling over mental health themes and how to express something which is often so difficult to imagine. It involves passive onlookers being inspired to do something too and not succumbing to the bystander effect. It involves every single one of us keeping in mind how even the smallest of gestures can make a big difference.

Laura Tan became an Associate Lecturer with the Open University in January 2014 and is thoroughly enjoying it! Her background is in Psychology and her interests include learning disabilities, mental health issues, bullying as well as educational technology.
You can view the gallery of competition entrants at https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152786462251990&set=a.10152664112506990.1073741832.535386989&type=1&theater


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