Research by geographers at the University of Glasgow into a unique ‘arts and mental health’ collection, Art Extraordinary (AE), has fostered a new model of academic-museum curatorial practice. Work has produced community co-curation of public exhibitions, and increased skills, confidence and empowerment of mental health and community groups.
Experiences of mental ill-health have previously been under-represented in the work of Glasgow Museum.
Since 2012, geographers have been leading research into the historical geographies of mental ill-health using archival sources and museum collections. This is part of a broader programme emphasising the ‘humanity’ of those enduring mental ill-health and the possibilities for creating spaces of care and compassion.
The research opens up and demonstrates the significance of Art Extraordinary (AE), a unique collection of Scottish ‘outsider art’ collected by art therapist Joyce Laing during the period 1970−2000s and donated to Glasgow Museums in 2012.
A new model of meaningful collaboration and co-curation has been nurtured between the university, museums and mental health, prison and other communities.
The projects were designed to train participants themselves to become curators of the Art Extraordinary collection and 290 people participated across the AE community engagement programme.
A key aspect to the design of the projects was to encourage confidence and inspire empowerment through the display of participants’ work in exhibitions. At least 13 participants created their own new artworks inspired by their work with AE, including textiles, painting, drawing and sculpture.
In Barlinnie prison, 15 participant prisoners gained their Scottish Qualification Authority qualifications in ‘Communications’, as a result of engagement with project workshops. The resultant exhibition event was attended by the Head of Education for Scottish Prisons, who indicated that this work was a model of best practice for prisons working with the arts.
The benefits of the projects were recognised by Glasgow Museum, who have funded a research-led AE handling kit called ‘Art Outside the Box’, designed as a permanent community resource.
Institution: University of Glasgow
Researchers: Dr Cheryl McGeachan