COUNCILLOR Patricia Logue, Sinn Féin Mayor of Derry and Strabane District Council, opened a day-long symposium on wellbeing and the arts as part of the Northern Ireland Mental Health Arts Festival (NIMHAF) in the Guildhall Derry.

Patricia recognises the importance of the role the arts play in informing and shaping our experience of mental health. 

Speaker after speaker addressed the various ways that the arts have had an impact either on themselves, their communities or the organisations that they are involved in.

Lee Knifton, Director of the Mental Health Foundation for Scotland, Wales and NI, spoke of how Scotland's Mental Health Festival has moved from being health-funded to being arts-funded and how he lobbied for money being spent on mental health advertising to go directly into providing services. Noelle McAlinden, chair of NIMHAF, introduced a number of of inspirational  speakers

It was good to see the focus moving for a change away from Belfast to the north-west. The symposium will move to Ulster University in Belfast on May 16 and if you're  interested there's still time to register at  

We have a crisis in our mental health services and the arts can be a key driver to recovery. Art therapist Rachel Johnson reminded us of the healing potential of creativity and she referred back to a time when art was a sacred ritual and a vital part of the healing culture.

My opinion is that our current times need this 'medicine' more than ever and the region we live in has a unique need for this cultural elixir to be available for everyone, in particular those at the margins of our society.

As a board member of the festival, alongside Dr Cherie Driver I've curated an exhibition called 'Let's Pause' in the foyer of the Belfast School of Art. It consists of the work of artists who have experienced mental health issues in their lives, directly or indirectly. Most are from a  collective of artists who meet every Thursday from 10am to 2pm in the 2 Royal Avenue space.

Included are Margaret Moore Woods, who developed an amazing body of drawings during her mother's descent into dementia; Heather Dornan Wilson, who created her art while dealing with the death of her father, her mother's stroke and a personal unexplained paralysis; Emmanuel Cunningham, who came to our assisted studio with a drawing on his phone he did of a jam jar and paint brushes – he's now painting in oils with a personal perception of light that is unmatched; Tommy Dunlop, who after a Parkinson's diagnosis found his symptoms abated when painting or even thinking of art; and Christopher Simpson, who's building a reputation for his natural talent and draftmanship.

The exhibition is open Monday to Saturday until May 19.

The Belfast School of Art degree shows will open on Friday, June 7 and will run until June 21. It's an opportunity to come and look at the wide selection of art and opportunities that a career in the arts can offer, to say nothing of supporting some of the talent that is coming out of the university. So if you or anyone in your wider circle has a creative leaning, come have a look.