The Healing Arts 2021 campaign launched to address mental health crisis caused by COVID-19


Gillian Anderson, Antony Gormley, William Kentridge, Agnes Denes and Martin Creed among artists to support programme

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 on 22-26 March 2021 as part of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) series of solidarity events. Healing Arts London brings together a cultural 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 25 March of works donated by Antony Gormley, Ragnar Kjartansson, William Kentridge, Martin Creed, and Yoshitomo Nara.

A recent report  by the World Health Organization (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.  In addition, mental health services have been severely disrupted during the pandemic; according to a WHO survey conducted in mid-2020, the pandemic had disrupted or halted mental health services in 93% of the 130 countries responding.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General comments: “Mental health needs must be treated as a core element of our response to, and recovery from, the COVID-19 pandemic… A failure to take people’s emotional wellbeing seriously will lead to long-term social and economic costs to society.”

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 .3

The Healing Arts’ online events begin on 22 March with a programme that includes Gillian Anderson (known for her roles in Netflix’s ‘Sex Education’ and ‘The Crown, The X-Files and The Fall) in conversation with 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 following 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;
  • women curators and activists giving practical examples of the role of art in improving society in the aftermath of the pandemic.

This last session on 26 March 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 the 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 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.

The fund is administered by the London-based Blessed Foundation, with projects chosen by a committee consisting of Christopher Bailey of WHO, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev of Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Turin, Heidi Holder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Stephen Stapleton of CULTURUNNERS, Cara Courage of Tate and John Blaffer Royall.

A portion of the money raised is for the newly-established WHO Foundation based in Geneva. The Foundation is an independent, grant-making body, and will use funds raised from the auctions specifically to benefit the WHO’s programmes on the front line of the response to Covid-19 mental health problems.

Christopher Bailey of WHO says: “Art has a unique ability to help us comfort, confront, contextualize 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.”

The Healing Arts was launched in 2020 as part the United Nation’s 75th anniversary celebrations. The program benefits from an unprecedented collaboration with Christie’s, hosted Healing Arts first auction in November 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 Stephen Stapleton, and Christopher Bailey of WHO, together with John Blaffer Royall and Anna Somers Cocks, and with the support of the Blessed Foundation and Community Jameel.

For the full programme, click here.

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