Northern Ireland Mental Health Arts Festival 2021

NIMHAF’s logo. Graphic by Sathishaa Mohan

Northern Ireland Mental Health Arts Festival (NIMHAF) organises events as a response to the call for a ‘Loneliness Strategy.’ 

The festival, which provides a platform for artworks related to mental health, will coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week and will run from 10th to 16th May 2021.

Festival Director Dawn Richardson said that the theme of this year’s festival will be ‘Loneliness’. All artworks, soundscapes and dance pieces related to the theme will be posted on the NIMHAF website.

After having to move the 2020 Mental Health Arts Festival online for the first time, NIMHAF has discovered that the festival was more accessible than ever.

“NI Mental Health Arts Festival is created by, and for, those who have faced mental-health challenges and who are often missed by both the arts and health education models,” said Richardson in the official announcement of the event. The festival aims to provide  a space where people can gain insight and share experiences.

The Festival began on Monday with the work of a multidisciplinary artist, Sabi Nicholson. 


Nicholson, who was born in Belfast and is now based in the Netherlands, has centred a special episode on the theme of loneliness for her Dublin Digital Radio show ‘Substrata’. You can listen to the episode on Soundcloud or by going to the event page on the NIMHAF website here. Along with the soundscape, Nicholson also submitted a photograph titled ‘Avoidance’. 

Aside from Nicholson’s artwork and soundscape, the festival also organised a Live Life Drawing class. The class celebrates the diversity of the human body through art. It aims to guide artists with varying expertise on life drawing with techniques, materials and poses by a professional artist. 

Yesterday, the festival planned a special Instagram live version of Ruth Bate’s YouTube show ‘Painting with Ruth Bate’. 

Screenshot of Ruth Bate’s livestream on 11 May 2021.

The Instagram live show displayed Bate working on two different paintings from The Master series while listening to a curated playlist of his back catalogue of Alternative music from his work as a solo artist and his band Modern Blonde. 

Bate’s Instagram live show began at 7pm with about 40 people in the audience as he answered questions and spoke about his struggles with mental health issues. 

Among the many other online shows that will take place during the festival, you can tune in for ‘‘Big Mood’ by Spark Opera Company on Thursday 13th May. A special FX makeup workshop by Connie McGrath and an Instagram Takeover by Jacqueline Wylie will be live-streamed on the 14th of May. You could also join the musician Fears to celebrate the release of her debut album ‘Oíche’ with a Friday night Zoom disco.

On the 16th May, there will be a festival party organised by MINDS DJs, as well as the screening of the film ‘Horrible Creature’ by Áine Stapleton about the life of James Joyce’s daughter Lucia.

“Through our shared rich culture of the Arts, we can challenge stigma and mental-health inequalities in our systems and society,” said Richardson. “We can support the recovery and wellbeing of those who have experienced mental health issues through accessible, interactive, empowering arts projects.”

You can also check the festival’s events from 2020 which are still being shared as recommendations on social media platforms and are available on the ‘Event Archive’ page of their website.

You can check the full programme of the festival here

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