What we do
NIMHAF is a festival highlighting mental health by showcasing arts events
across Northern Ireland. With arts on offer from visual arts and photography, poetry and song to psychodrama, music, comedy and film, the festival promises to put transformation on the agenda across Northern Ireland.
Founded in 2013, the Northern Ireland Mental Health Arts Festival (NIMHAF) was the first of its kind in Northern Ireland.
Why is nimhaf important?
“These festivals are important as they give the public an opportunity to engage with art specifically referencing mental health. They also give venues and organisations the chance to work with new artists, commission new work and connect with new audiences locally and regionally. Funding will help support the institution to programme talks, workshops and exhibitions. With the aim of bringing a range of high quality and engaging, free events to the public and creating opportunities of paid work for artists and creative practitioners based in or from Northern Ireland.”
Laura McCafferty – CCA Derry
“Festivals Like the NI Mental Health Arts Festival are an important part of the wider work of de-stigmatising mental health issues.
Currently we have an alarming number of young talented people leaving Northern Ireland, and Ireland as a whole to search for better opportunities. Being open and dealing with our collective trauma and mental health is an important part of trying to make our home a place people want to stay. To give people the support we need.
In Northern Ireland there is a mental health crisis that has existed through the troubles and after until this day. We deal with less funding than other parts of the Unitied Kingdom despite more demand for mental health help and treatment. A serious issue that needs to be addressed to give people the resources and facilities they need, and the funding to make it work correctly; to build a better future for ourselves and future generations. To break the cycle of intergenerational trauma.
While the push for this happens what we can do is investigate and try and start the healing process ourselves using the tools we have available. As artists we can use our abilities to show what we have to put on the table culturally and socially that often gets pushed aside. To show the narrative of our country that exists outside of the trauma that too often defines us both to ourselves and people from elsewhere in the world.
When we define ourselves by our abilities and creativity and the positive efforts we make in the world we can gain the confidence and space to understand, deal with and make peace with our mental health and to gain empathy for others as well.
We all deal with mental health issues at some point in our life, some our whole lives. It’s part of the human experience. The better we understand it the more prosperous and happy our lives and our future as a society will be. Festivals like the NI Mental Health Arts Festival show that we are willing to talk about our mental health and move forward, and we want the help and resources we need to do that. It shows that we are also defined by our actions, our work and our efforts and the amazing culture we produce outside of the narrative of violence and trauma that defines us all too often. We need compassion, empathy and space to do the work required in our home to heal. Festivals like the NI Mental Health Arts Festival are doing the grassroots work in a place that desperately needs more support that it gets.”
Billy Woods – Photographer
“I have always relied on art as a therapeutic tool for supporting my mental health. Art allows us to communicate difficult emotions when we cannot find the words. Viewing artworks can allow us to imagine ourselves in another reality, or to find beauty and new perspectives in the mundane and everyday. Creating art indulges our inner child, provides time for contemplation; and is a form of self-care. Events such as NIMHAF promote social opportunities, spark new conversations about mental health and remind us that it is not taboo. The program of exciting events and exhibitions can be just what is needed to encourage you to get dressed and out the door on difficult days.”
Maria Crean – Illustrator
“NIMHAF is great for local artists of all disciplines to have a platform like this to support their work and engage with new and wider audiences. There is a lot of great work going on across NI and it great to see it celebrated and showcased in this way.”
Gemma Walker-Farren – Choreographer
"I think many artists creative process is often a form of meditation . Being focused and present in the moment can have an amazing restorative effect on your mental health and I've recently realised making art is a tool I've been using since childhood. The NI Mental Health Festival is a great way to bring more positive attention to the conversation on mental health and offers a creative outlet which is often the best way to engage people in a what can be a very difficult subject"
Claire Miskimmin – Artist & Musician
“In our work, we are opening to the world. We are putting our vulnerabilities, struggles, and life experiences out there and that’s not easy to do. We must really open and be true about what hinders us, and put ourselves in a headspace that is challenging. Using art as a therapeutic tool to me has been like a form of therapy minus the therapist asking the hard questions, and I can assure you delving deep within yourself to heal is one of the biggest challenges I have face. Recovery is not linear, rather it's elliptical. The festival is important to offer people a platform to tell their story to reach out and engage with others. It offers a real-life experience to be told in a universal language.”
Teresa Lyle – Artist
“Why I think festivals like NIMHAF are important - I think festivals like NIMHAF are important because art and creativity has been one of the best ways to cope with my mental health disorders. I use them to channel my emotions and direct my struggles into something productive and positive. Having a platform like NIMHAF to showcase this helps me build confidence and gives me an incentive to create, as well as sharing my story and reaching a wider audience. This is important to me as I hope for my films to connect with people on a relatable level, so they don't feel so alone in how they're feeling.”
Sushila Devi-Callaghan – Filmmaker
“Festivals like NIMHAF are important because they provide a dual purpose: at once bringing awareness of often serious mental health topics to a wide and varied audience, not just those with lived experience and their families but to those engaged with community and culture; whilst also celebrating the reality of lived experience in a unique and creative way. Enabling everyone to engage at a level that is welcoming, allowing people the opportunity to experience first hand interaction with people from all areas of mental health. NIMHAF helps show mental health/illness does not have a face or a type, it can impact anyone at any stage in life but it doesn't have to define the individual, sometimes creative output can be the therapeutic upside to the mental health journey.”
Colin Dardis – Poetry NI
“Our key focus at Millennium Court is to support the local community through creativity and wellbeing events. We recognise the importance of NIMHAF in highlighting that participating in arts activities can make a powerful contribution to our mental health and wellbeing.
Engaging in art is can help people deal with a wide range of mental ill health issues, it helps many people express themselves without having to use words. It doesn’t have to be for any else to see but we hope that through this exhibition of people who have engaged with Action Mental Health’s services, others will recognise the positive impact on their mental health and encourage others to get involved in creativity.
We are excited to once again be able to showcase the work of local people during this festival and encourage participation in creativity activities.”
Susan O’Connor – Millenium Court Portadown
“Festivals like NIMHAF are an incredible asset to all of us in NI both as artists and participants. I feel that being able to showcase my work and incorporate the themes of mental health awareness is both interesting and rewarding. Embracing how we are all complex and diverse in this way is not always approached or embraced in this way and it's definitely what makes the festival special.”
Clare McQuillan – Workshop Facilitator
“As the current Chairman of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Liam Hannaway, stated recently in a speech given at the ABC Culture Conference in Armagh, “art is for everyone” and festivals like NIMHAF enable venues like the F E McWilliam Gallery to welcome people that normally wouldn’t come to an art gallery and show them that art is there for everyone to enjoy and appreciate. As well as this, it has been proven that art can have a beneficial and positive effect on our mental health and we at the F E McWilliam Gallery are delighted to think that we can contribute in a small way to the mental wellbeing of everyone in our community.”
Jason Diamond – FE McWilliam Gallery
“Festivals such as the NIMHAF provide a vital connection between individuals, communities and the rich cultural heritage of our country. I think one of the things that is so important about this festival, and the work Dawn is doing, is that it provides an opportunity for those who are perhaps unable to access the mainstream arts circuit to really get their work out there and to get involved. My own relationship with mental health has often been defined by isolation and self-containment, and while my work as a photographer and filmmaker has been really important in processing and understanding that - there is still that feeling of okay but ‘how’ or ‘why’ should I bother this stuff out there. With this festival, not only do those opportunities become much more accessible to those that need and deserve them, but it also gives a much greater platform to bring different voices and perspectives to the forefront to the nation’s conscious.
I think that’s what makes this years brief is so beautiful: Myths, folklore, legends - they all serve a really important function within our personal lives - allowing us to probe and perhaps even gain a little acceptance about the forces in this world which are beyond our control. This is something which my film BANSHEE attempts to explore. However, beyond this, there is something more profound about our need for these stories and myths - they provide a gateway to something more inexplicable - an awareness, not seen or heard - but felt - between ourselves, our ancestors and the land that we share.”
Mervyn Marshall – Photographer and Filmmaker
“Festivals like NIMHAF celebrate the talent, diversity and rich expression of creative minds informed by their lived experience around mental health. They promote inclusion, innovation, wellbeing and participation, forming a vibrant community of artists, creating new audiences and forging meaningful connections.”
Maddie Kitchen – FRSA Director
“Festivals like the NIMHAF are very important to shine a spotlight on mental health issues. So many people suffer in silence not knowing where to go or what road to turn to seek help. Festivals such as this show people they are not alone and by talking to others and joining in they can start along the road to recovery.”
Catherine McKeever – Ballymena Visual Arts
“Festivals like NIMHAF are so important. It is needed to raise awareness and stop the stigma of mental illness. Art is a common form of therapy for those struggling with their mental health. It is a brilliant way to express yourself when you can’t put what you feel into words. Art is one of the best forms of communication that everyone can share. Mental illness can be isolating. Festivals like NIMHAF allow everyone to come together and show each other that we are not alone, we are in this together.”