Dance City – we are open here.

The art form of dance is uniquely expressive and sometimes deals with difficult and emotional subjects. It is estimated that at least 1 in 4 people in the UK is dealing with a mental health challenge today. As an arts organisation with an opportunity to influence both these issues we are developing a range of objectives for inclusivity and accessibility in relation to mental health. We are calling this area of work ‘Open Here’, named after the group of experts that we are working with on this project.

Dance City is working with Open Here on a pilot project to create a toolkit resource that supports cultural organisations and buildings to assess and improve accessibility in relation to mental health. The process will engage cultural workers, collaborate with mental health service providers and users in its delivery, and outcomes will be disseminated at conferences, cultural network meetings and online to UK arts and research audiences. The long-term aim of the project is to raise awareness and provide a framework for better practice in relation to mental health and cultural programming.

Open Here is a partnership between artists Tess Denman-Cleaver (Tender Buttons) and Aidan Moesby, North East mental health charity Launchpad, NTW NHS Trust, North East Early Intervention in Psychosis Team (EIP), and creative producer Cat Jarman (Drop Everything). Since 2012 OH has delivered creative activity and cultural engagement programmes for people experiencing severe and enduring mental illness. Tess and Aidan are experienced arts facilitators, Cat has managed numerous engagement programmes for a variety of organisations including Newcastle City Council and East Durham Creates. Launchpad and EIP bring specialist knowledge of mental health to the partnership and provide qualified support for Open Here participants.

Running bespoke programmes for 6 years means Open Here has in-depth understanding of barriers people face to accessing culture as a result of mental illness and the particular challenges programming, marketing and publicity, ticketing, front of house and physical space of cultural institutions pose for those living with mental illness.

Dance City is passionate about developing new audiences and supporting existing ones on rewarding dance journeys. A key audience development aim for Dance City is to attract and retain genuinely diverse audiences, provide access to people who identify as disabled and ensure Dance City supports people experiencing mental illness. Dance City has experience delivering large-scale and long-term development initiatives, has UK wide networks and provide an open and ambitious context for this pilot.

Ultimately this project is aimed at increasing engagement in the arts for mental health service users, enabling them to safely and regularly enjoy local cultural programmes, by first working with venues to improve policy and practice across the sector.

We are encouraging dialogue with our audiences, and if you have anything to say about Dance City and mental health please get in touch We are also using the hashtag #openhere on social media.