Giving a voice to MouthPieces in Salisbury

10 Lego figures stand in a circle in a bell jar.
Bell jar installation by Aidan Moesby at Salisbury International Festival 2016

Unlimited first connected with Salisbury International Arts Festival through a provocation Jo Verrent made at the No Boundaries conference in 2015. That led to a conversation, then a plan, then a project with Aidan Moesby (the Festival’s newly-appointed 2016 Disability Associate), then an Agent for Change – and now the Festival kicks off this year with a new programming strand: MouthPieces.

MouthPieces brings together a range of work spanning dance, theatre, talk, visual arts and film, spotlighting art made by people with lived experience of mental health. As part of Arts Council England South West’s Agent for Change initiative, artist Viv Gordon has curated the series, working closely with Festival Director Toby Smith and the Festival team to weave the strand into the wider programme.

MouthPieces opens with “Witness This” (28 and 29 May), a powerful new outdoor piece from Company Chameleon charting the personal journey of Chameleon’s co-director Kevin Edward Turner. Vici Wreford-Sinnott’s “Butterfly” (3 June) looks at stigma through the ages, using the concept of the butterfly effect, whilst Viv’s own piece, “I Am Joan” (30 May), uses comedy to connect with various inspiring Joans, including Joan Collins, Joan Jett and Joan of Arc, all of whom embody elusive qualities of resilience and self-belief. And Running Dog Theatre’s “Wanna Dance With Somebody!” (27 May) is a new show that uses dance and theoretical physics to explore social anxiety and coping mechanisms.

A double bill of films (29 May) pairs “The Alcohol Years” and a selection of short films by Carol Morley with Tarnation, a mesmerising journey into the troubled minds of film maker Jonathan Caouette and his mother, who lives with schizophrenia. Alastair Campbell (4 June) talks about the current state of British politics and his journey with and campaigning for our better understanding of mental health. An afternoon of conversation, sharings and performance explores the arts and mental health under the banner “Mouthing Off” (3 June); and throughout, Aidan Moesby will be taking the emotional temperature of the Festival with his innovative “Periodic Table of Emotions”.

The MouthPieces programme is acting as a catalyst to forge new connections with the local mental health support community, to develop audiences, to develop the Festival’s approach to production, and to train staff and volunteers in mental health awareness to better support artists and audiences visiting the Festival.

Unlimited were delighted to catch up with the Salisbury team at this years No Boundaries, where we were able to launch our commissions. As Toby said, “Seeing the amazing work Unlimited has selected this year is a perfect reminder that we all do what we do in order to support artists to make the very best new work for us all.” And we want to make the most of that interest and commitment.

There are big changes on the near-horizon, with Toby’s four-year term as director coming to an end this summer, and the ongoing merger of the three current Salisbury-based NPOs (including the Festival). But all concerned are convinced there is further potential to explore, with the MouthPieces model ready to embrace new voices into the future, and the continued development of connections and engagement with Salisbury’s communities.