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Art of Recovery

22.08.14 Categories: Art and mental health, How donations help, News

Thanks to funding from donors, Maudsley Hospital has recently become home to an exhibition space called the Long Gallery. Open since last autumn, the gallery is a light, airy and tranquil space which is available to those interested in exhibiting artwork. Each exhibition runs for several months. 

Two staff members, Dr Richard Corrigall, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, and Valerie Hartland, Art Psychotherapist, have taken advantage of the new space for a very special reason. The Art of Recovery exhibition showcased artwork created by young people who have spent time in Snowsfields Adolescent Unit, an acute psychiatric ward for ages 12-18. Poetry, photography and artwork from projects facilitated by internal and external collaborators is on show, as well as work that has been produced in art psychotherapy sessions.

Art psychotherapy groups are held once a week and are open to all service users in Snowsfields. In the first 30 minutes the young people create their art, an opportunity to express whatever they want with no outside influence. The second half of the session offers a chance to review each other’s work collectively. Richard co-facilitates the groups and was so impressed with the work he’s seen, that the idea for the exhibition was born.

‘Art psychotherapy is not intending to teach people to be good artists, it’s not about training or giving them skills,’ he says. ‘We very much emphasise that it doesn’t matter how good or bad you are, and it’s not about technical ability, but nonetheless it does sometimes reveal obvious talent. It’s very rewarding how you can reveal someone’s ability and talent to them.’

A young person whose work featured in the exhibition said:

‘The group helps you not to get lost inside your own thoughts. It’s interesting to observe how shared moods and atmospheres impacted on the art we made, and how each person changes over the course of their treatment here.’ 

Journeys of recovery

The exhibition was curated to display work that was produced at different stages of a patient’s admission on the ward - many of which clearly show a process of recovery through the artwork. Co-curators, Richard and Valerie, wanted the exhibition to help people understand more about mental health problems, and whilst some of the images could have been construed as disturbing, they believe this plays an important role in increasing public awareness.

‘It’s about breaking down the stigma of mental illness and saying, this is disturbing and difficult but it doesn’t mean it should be hidden away,’ says Richard.

‘It’s helping people to understand what it’s been like to go through things. Everybody knows about abuse, but to actually understand what it means for that person, how they cope with it and what happens later in their lives; this helps the public understand so they feel more of a connection to the person. That’s what the young people have really bought into when agreeing to their work being displayed. They like the idea of improving public understanding.’

As well as positively reflecting the young people’s recoveries, the exhibition (and the connections it has created) has opened doors for the artists. Collaborative projects with organisations such as Dulwich Picture Gallery mean that Richard has been able to offer opportunities such as work experience, and has even helped arrange for young people to go on to art college.  

Richard has worked at Snowsfields since it opened in 1998 and has seen many art-based projects throughout his time there. He says that it can be an important part of recovery for people suffering from mental illness to have creative outlets available to them, as it enables them to tell their story in their own way or to offload difficult experiences. 

Maudsley Charity and art as therapy

Maudsley Charity strongly supports art and its role in mental health recovery - particularly through its involvement with the Bethlem Art Gallery which is located at one of SLaM's sites, the Bethlem Royal Hospital. In funding the opening of the Long Gallery, the charity was keen to bring a strong and permanent art presence to Maudsley Hospital too.

‘It’s open to everyone and the ethos of the gallery space is about bringing people on to the site and inviting the public in,’ says Richard Morley, Senior Communications Officer at SLaM.

‘We want to open up the hospital and make it accessible, and I think that’s worked really well.’

Exhibitions run on a quarterly rotation and the whole of 2015 is already booked up, proving the Long Gallery to already be a popular space. 

Donate to SLaM and help us continue to support people with mental health problems through projects like this.

Below: in sequence, four artworks created by a service user at different stages in her recovery. 

   painting of an eye

drawing using words

multi-coloured painting

drawing of a kingfisher