As part of their Horizons programme, Birkenhead’s Open Door Centre have partnered up with the Convenience Gallery to roll out a project which encourages people to get in touch with their inner artist.

In this latest in a series of Bido Lito! features with the ODC, Ryan Gauge, Andrew Shaw and Claire Henderson from the Convenience Gallery talk about the purpose of their multimedia Horizons Community Arts Project and how creativity can benefit your mental health.

This can feel like a tough time to want to be creative. It’s surely much easier spent looking blankly out of the window for hours. But taking baby steps to add a little creativity to your day could be just what the doctor ordered. There’s a myriad of benefits to getting creative, but first and foremost, it is a lot of fun. And something we currently need an abundance of is simple, clean fun.

The Convenience Gallery is a small artist-led gallery in Birkenhead. We work tirelessly (until lockdown) to showcase contemporary visual arts, host talks and workshops and a party chucked in here and there. For the last four months we have also been managing the Bloom Building, a creative café space/venue and home to mental health charity The Open Door Centre with whom we’ve partnered for the Horizons Project.

Creativity and mental health can be paradoxical bedfellows to many art world professional, but there is no doubt a plethora of positive benefits to getting creative. To create an open dialogue around art, we decided to develop THE HORIZONS PROJECT. The simple aim is to create conversations between us, artists and the public – essentially get everyone trying different artistic techniques and hopefully soak up a little bit of the abundance of time that most people now have.

We have kept the skills and materials needed for the weekly prompts as simple as possible to make sure that everyone is able to work on the challenges. Each of our tasks have been developed by our team alongside a collaborator or key artist to help us bring diversity and a varied skillset to the project.

Trying new skills and hobbies is always great challenge and this is the perfect time to have fun and attempt techniques you have long wanted to try. Be it painting, collage, cross-stitch, rug making, filmmaking, 3D animation, drawing, photography; a tentative first try could lead to huge potential in the future. It could even take you back to your childhood roots of being a little silly, doing some doodles and playing with some paint. Whatever your motivation, it is not wasted time.

A valuable benefit of getting into a new creative practice is the mindfulness element that comes with getting engrossed in what you’re working on. While there may be no substitute for true focused meditation, sticking your favourite tunes or podcast on and making something can turn into hours of blissful peace – proving the perfect way to decompress from all the chaos around you.

All this free time can be incredibly daunting, so Horizons’ simple weekly challenges hopefully will help to guide people, whether artists or not, to try something new. It has also been great for us to open conversations with a myriad of different people. We are now hosting weekly Zoom calls with groups of people to just discuss art, creativity and projects people are working on. We are also trying our best to do the challenges as well and work on our own creative practices during this time.

“Everyone works and thrives in differently situations so just focus on your personal goals and the things you enjoy” The Convenience Gallery

Such a sense of community is another part of the magic within the art world, especially in Liverpool. We have a great network of supportive pals all doing similar things to build culture and support the arts. You can benefit from home too when following local artists, galleries and studios on social media (we’re here!). You’ll find lots of great content about art and ways to get involved. You can share work with your friends and build up your own little community. Get your family, housemates or partners to have a go at some different practices, which is the perfect way to get everyone to put down their Nintendo Switches and do something together that might break some of the tension from being cooped up inside (read about our Unity Matters Programme for more tips on this).

Being creative at home can also help you establish a new routine. Obviously during this time most people’s day-to-day routines are going to have changed dramatically. Adding weekly or daily creative activities can really help you put in some structure. An hour spent trying a new skill or an evening put aside to get involved with our online creative challenges can break up your time nicely. Add this to a bit or housework, a future personal project, making some lunch and a one-hour mandated outdoor exercise and it’s starting to look like a full day. Trying to keep some form of simple routine is definitely important for your mental health but it doesn’t have to be a wall-to-wall full plan, so leave some hours to spend some time in the sun, have a read and chill out if you can.

As we mentioned in our Isolation Tips article, keeping a journal can be really helpful to monitor patterns in your mood. You could also consider keeping a sketchbook. You might find it a great way to process what is going on in your head. Little scribbles, words, phrases, collages; they might not mean anything to someone else, but they can be extremely memorable to you and can be a useful first step when getting creative. Also, there’s no pressure; it’s a tool for you to think and learn. No one else ever has to see it.

Another tip: please don’t compare. We all do this, whether its spending more time on social media and seeing our peers running 20k, painting five times a day, producing a short film and eating well-balanced diet each day. It can be difficult to observe and make you feel unproductive. Remember that everyone works and thrives in differently situations so just focus on your personal goals and the things you enjoy. Spend a little less time on your phone if possible and focus on friends, family, hobbies and personal development. Just keep trying, move your body and don’t worry about how the next person is doing.

CREATIVITY AND WELLBEING Image

Being trapped at home for long periods of time will be detrimental to a lot of people’s mental health, but we are doing it for one reason and one reason only; to save lives. If you don’t feel like doing something creative or exercising every day, you don’t have to. Listen to your body, listen to your mind. Look after yourself but don’t force anything, this is something extreme and new for all of us. But if you can and feel up to it, definitely take steps to incorporate good healthy practices and creativity into your day.

Be kind to yourself and spend this season doing the things you love. If you have the time, try new skills and start some of our projects. It’s all about having fun, after all.

For more information on the Horizons Project follow The Open Door Centre on Facebook.

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