I’m thinking a lot about accessibility and inclusion right now as I’m preparing to deliver AODA training to over 500 volunteers – that’s the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, explained here – and developing partnership with CultureLink, a settlement agency, to offer a New Canadian Volunteer Experience with Luminato.
That’s probably why a subway poster caught my attention with its colourful design (the cover image for this post) and the word ‘fest’. It also promised free food. Upon further investigation, MindFest 2013 turns out to be a free 1-day fair about mental health, hosted by University of Toronto’s Department of Psychiatry and Hart House, an active campus arts centre, on 6th May, to mark the first day of Canadian Mental Health Awareness Week. A visit to the website reveals that MindFest’s mandate is to “promote public awareness, dialogue, and understanding about mental health and illness”.
On the programme, talks from the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario and CAMH about ‘breaking the silence of mental health’, ‘dealing with workplace depression’ and ‘improving access and breaking down barriers’; workshops about ‘preventing suicide’ and ‘helping someone with mood disorders’; Canadian documentaries about mental health, buskers and comedians. The film and art content is provided by Workman Arts, which I had never heard of and immediately looked up.
Workman Arts is a Toronto-based arts and mental health company that works with its Members to create artistic experiences. Membership is free and open to “any individual who lives in and receives or has received services for mental health or addiction issues in the Greater Toronto Area, and is interested in developing their artistic talents”. From 8 Members in 1987 focusing on theatre, WA has grown into a 250-member, multidisciplinary world-touring company. Their list of past co-presenters is long and diverse, from other arts centres or programmes to health institutions and film festivals.
And to top it up – and make it even more topical for the purposes of my research about festivals – WA has produced 3 Madness and Arts World Festivals, in Toronto (2003), Muenster, Germany (2006) and in the Netherlands (2010) (each festival website has been kept live, presumably for archival purposes, and it’s pretty interesting to notice the digital outreach evolution). The main Workman Arts website announces a 4th festival in preparation in a country still to be determined.
Finally, WA will be relocated within the redeveloped grounds of CAMH, the mental health institution on Queen Street West, currently undergoing major site design changes that aims at “transform[ing] the face of addiction and mental health treatment in Toronto and bring new pride to CAMH and to the city”.
Besides MindFest, over the next three weeks, WA is involved in a fashion show, the Mad Couture Catwalk, as part of Fashion Art Toronto, a professional 4-day event in a 15,000 square feet historic industrial warehouse; the launch of a poetry anthology at The Drake, a hotel that marks the renewal of CAMH’s Queen Street West neighbourhood (just like the Gladstone – one with music, the other with visual art and design); and a photography exhibition, Here is Where, during Contact Photography Festival, a month-long series of exhibitions at 175 venues throughout the Greater Toronto Area that attracts an estimated audience of 1.8 millions. They also produce an international film festival which which has just launched its 2013 call for submissions.
And finally, they’ve participated in most Nuit Blanches since 2006, and they run a youth programme in schools, Rendezvous in the Classroom. With such a prolific, touche-à-tout activity, it seems that Workman Arts are creating multiple new patterns of relations and information, working relentlessly to both give their Members artistic opportunities and wide exposure and to increase chances for audiences to reconsider their view on mental health. As a Workman Arts Member puts it:
Show me a person with mental illness and I’ll show you a person with mental illness. Show me an artist with mental illness and I’ll show you an artist.
– Melissa Bender, Visual Artist, Workman Arts Member
Fittingly, on the night I’m finishing this post, they’re holding a post-festival party in their space for the closing night of Images Festival (as announced on Twitter). Fittingly because Workman Arts seems, through its online presence (of which archives are a big part), to carry a festival spirit throughout the year, by co-presenting events in multiple forms and with multiple partners – and I would think they’re pretty good at throwing a party.