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ART: A Lifeline throughout COVID and the Largest Enforced Isolation in History


COVID19 has brought the largest enforced lockdowns and self-isolations in history (1).

In a matter of weeks, life as most of us knew it, changed. Our normal routines ground to a halt, and education, shopping, social activities, sports, work, and much much more ceased to be certainties. Suddenly, our lives were dictated by daily government updates, social rules, and new terminology (I don't think I'd ever used the term social-distancing before). To say things 'changed' is a huge understatement.


It is therefore not surprising, that while there is a lot of positive reflection on communities' resilience, there have also been observed and reported rises in anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. It has also been noted that for many individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions, COVID19 and Lockdown have increased symptoms (2).


We know that mental health conditions account for approximately 25% of ill health in the UK. We know that mental health links to physical health, and that health in general links to bigger, broader factors including poverty and socioeconomic wellbeing (3). Sadly, COVID19 and Lockdown have brought increased: job loss, financial stress, and housing insecurity. There has been huge changes and stresses connected to education, health, and social services... and for many just being able to get the basic household necessities has been stressful (yes, including loo roll!) The impact of COVID19 and Lockdown infiltrates many layers and systems within our societies (4).


But even just looking at the instruction to self-isolate. Absolutely, to stay safe, manage, and improve the COVID19 pandemic is vital. But from a totally human perspective, self-isolation and social distancing have meant a dilution of contact, community, recreational and social resources... all of which are pillars in health and wellbeing. Hence, it is not surprising, that 2/3 of adults in the UK have experienced increased anxiety and loneliness since the start of COVID19 (5)



During Lockdown, Cambridgeshire Expressive Arts and Counselling Centre C.I.C (CEAACC) reached out to artists in Cambridgeshire and surrounding communities asking for artwork & contributions for our Revolving Gallery Exhibition starting October 2020. The theme of the exhibition being, "Community".


A core aim of the exhibition was to highlight and recognise the importance of art and creativity for mental health and wellbeing. Six adult artists came forward, as well as several children and young people.

Above: A snapshot of artwork exhibited in the gallery.


It has been amazing to see the depth and diversity of materials (from acrylics, to crochet, to mixed-media, to pastel, to oils) and themes in the artwork exhibited. What has been incredibly striking is the abundance of nature depicted in the artwork. Despite the openness of the title, "Community", and potential spectrum of content and themes... nature has definitely shone through! Access to gardens and the outdoors has been in the spotlight over Lockdown, with 1/8 people in the UK not having any access to any private/shared outdoor space(6). It seems that whether in nature itself, or using memories and imagination for inspiration, nature is intrinsic to good health and wellbeing.


The personal experiences and voices beyond the images have also been incredibly connective and inspiring. Artists have spoken openly about how the process of art-making, and reconnecting with art has helped them to manage anxiety, depression, loneliness and low mood.


For Ely based artist Victoria Wood, Lockdown meant that she “picked-up a paintbrush for the first time after 35 years”. For her, painting daily became a source of “calm and positive focus”. Artist, Jennifer StQuintin expressed, “With the added isolation and separation from my support network, art, creativity and crochet helped to me to cope and manage my anxiety and depression. Creativity has always been part of my life, but this year with COVID19, it’s helped me to stay in the moment and has been a huge part of managing my mental health.”


Artist, David Ogilvie shares: “During Lockdown I made several pictures of the nature reserve where I live, these pictures are about the hope of emerging from dark days into a brighter future. I find making art helps me to rebuild my mental focus and investigate feelings.”

As well as developing self-awareness, and expression, the exhibition highlights how art and creativity are key for connectivity and memory work. Local artist, Selena McCabe said, “My art is a snapshot of memories taken from a time and place that evokes feelings of contentment… finding beauty in colours to brighten, inspire, escape and reflect.”


It's not breaking news that art and creativity are important parts of our wellbeing toolkit. The creative process helps to externalise and process feelings, reduce anxiety and stress, and develop self-esteem (7). However a core celebration of CEAACC's "Community" exhibition is that there's no criteria, qualification, or recipe needed to be creative!


For all of the artists involved in the exhibition, their art-making has fundamentally been about the process, connectivity, discovery, fulfillment and nurture. Several artists have described art and creativity as a "lifeline" during an extremely challenging time.


"It's not about having the right materials, or even the practice... it's about starting somewhere and seeing where the journey takes you." Artist

Above: Artist Peter Crussell uses a silicone sponge to paint with.


CEAACC's "Community" Art Exhibition has illustrated that Community can mean many different things. For some, it's the interpersonal and social connections, for others the opportunity to find calm and hope in nature. As always, art extends beyond the boundaries of words... and expresses so much about personal experience and emotions. The exhibition has already sparked some amazing community connections and conversations about creativity & mental health... and hopes to inspire many more! The Exhibition is running October 1st 2020- November 20th 2020,


Please contact us for more information about appointments & viewings. CEAACC is following COVID19 guidelines.


CEAACC is a mental health community organisation in the heart of Ely CAMBS, which provides counselling and therapeutic services to children, young people and adults. Our Revolving Art Gallery is an opportunity for local artists to exhibit their work free of charge for 6 weeks.

www.ceaacc.com

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Sources:

1) Nuffield Foundation www.covidsocialstudy.org 2020

2) World Health Organisation 2020

3) Mental Health Foundation 2020

4) The Health Foundation 2020

5)The Health Foundation 2020

6)Ordnance Survey and Natural England

7) Mental Health Foundation

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Counselling and expressive art therapies for children, young people and adults. A holistic service-model integrating Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Expressive Therapies, Person Centered Therapy, Psychodynamic Therapy, and Systemic.

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