Start’s external exhibition programme has won several awards including the MLA Award (Museums, Libraries and Archives) and the International UCL Arts and Health Award (University College London/ Slade School of Art) for its successful work. Judges commented that Start effectively uses exhibitions to spread recovery messages, to promote better mental health, to tackle stigma, and to illustrate the benefits of creativity to health.
Working together, Start students (service users) and staff create art that touches on mental health issues, that uses humour, personal stories and thought-provoking metaphors to stimulate discussion or challenge misinformation.
We have been very successful in reaching a wide audience with our exhibition programme - over 300,000 visitors have viewed our touring shows over the last few years.
Reaching High Standards
Our exhibitions are part of our work to meet the National Service Framework for mental health (Standard 1 - mental health promotion).
Standard 1 states:
Health and social services should:
- promote mental health for all, working with individuals and communities
- combat discrimination against individuals and groups with mental health problems, and promote their social inclusion.
Start Lead Artist Wendy Teall explains:
‘For Start, as a mental health organisation, exhibitions of approachable, imaginative visual art are an excellent way of connecting with the public. Our exhibitions are full of optimistic messages about mental health - the fact that you can recover from, or manage mental illness, the way that illness may actually be an enriching experience for personal development, the truism that having a mental illness doesn't mean you lose your abilities or your potential. The exhibitions help us to get a positive message across, to transform attitudes and combat stigma.’
There’s other aspects to the exhibition programme, too. The experience of working on exhibitions develops skills and confidence. As one student says:
‘Working on exhibitions is quite scarey because you've got the thought about the public looking at your work, and what if it isn’t good enough? But then when you get good feedback… well, I think the sky’s the limit then, I feel so pleased!’
It’s an important part of a Start student's training because it provides a wider art arena to link up with and show work within, wider agendas to tackle, a chance to try more complex, conceptual ways of working, to stretch technical and design abilities. It also develops employment skills such as time management and project organisation. This helps to build students’ futures, giving them more options after moving on from Start.
Here’s what the public say about our art exhibitions:
‘Creative… imaginative… witty… challenging… changing attitudes… outstanding… exceptional… massively successful… a celebration of recovery and discovery…’