Expel the gloom

Rebecca Atkinson, 11.11.2013
Marching with the Uplift Army
I’ve been uplifted. It involved brightly coloured feathers, singing and the marching spirit of the old home army.

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The army in question was the Uplift Army, a Barnsley-based group of actors, artists and local residents who have joined a growing movement in the town to expel the gloom, promote wellbeing and happiness, and get people talking about mental health.

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The army marched through the BT Conference Centre in Liverpool during the Museums Association’s annual Conference and Exhibition, handing out feathers and spreading the word.

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Uplift is a project, a concept and a social brand. It’s run by Action Space Mobile, and is one part of its Arts on Referral scheme. In association with Barnsley Arts and Museums, the army and other Uplift projects have held camps and festivals, artistic gatherings and tea parties with the express aim to enable people to create happy memories and improve their wellbeing.

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One member of the Uplift Army, landgirl Diane, said: “Uplift has made a real difference to my life. I needed help moving on from bad experiences in my past, I was encouraged to be positive and make the most of my talents. I felt valued and listened to, making friends and new skills. There’s no pressure – Uplift has been a lifeline to me.”


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14.11.2013, 20:34
I am not criticising 'Uplift' for their part in this, or any aspect of their motivation for doing so.
I am merely cynical about the decision to making this a compulsory experience at a museum conference.
There is no doubt in my mind that arts, music, culture, performance, theater are all important experiences and community building. These are the aspects why I (still) work in the sector.
I think it just misses the point when it is 'prescribed' in a 'one fits all' stunt.
14.11.2013, 19:53
Wows. Very surprised at those comments.
Firstly I should say that I know the people that run Uplift and have talked many of the members often, both about the projects and about their own experiences with mental health.

I should also say that I have my own experience with severe depression and self harm a number of years ago.
The type of service uplift offer is not for everyone. I personally would have been reluctant to take up this kind of service, but I had other options available to me.
Many others don't - especially in our postcode.

Uplift is not all about fancy dress and performance art. But by learning to perform as a group and/or solo, by learning to paint and write, to sing and speak, Uplift has taught many of its members to accept themselves - faults and all. It has also enabled them to over come barriers - both set by themselves or by others. But often it is not about finding a cure, it is also about day-to-day management of an illness.

Uplift doesn't just involve the arts. There is a lot of talking, listening, caring, looking out for each other, helping, and the entire group, members and facilitators are not just an 'army' but a family too. A family that many of these people need.

The project also promotes well-being in general by holding public events, open to anybody. Open-mics, poetry events, crafts at festivals etc. where its members perform alongside seasoned musicians and artists.

I'm rambling now, but I should say that I recommend getting in contact with Uplift and finding out more about what they do. It is hard to totally get what uplift is without hearing about their experience directly from them.
Jemma Conway
MA Member
Community Heritage Curator, Barnsley Museum Service
14.11.2013, 16:50
I have to say from the start I am biased as I have seen the work in action. Its probably a good idea to take a look at the Uplift Blog to understand a bit more about the project. http://upliftbarnsley.blogspot.co.uk/p/how-to-ge.html
Uplift is a calendar of events, sometimes taking place at museum, sometimes not, and is aimed at promoting wellbeing for people who have either self-referred, or been referred through other streams (this is not something which is pushed onto people in the street). The feathers and frivolity may seem strange if you didn't attend the session at conference, to explain more, these are retro army references for a group of volunteers who have been through the project, know (and have felt) the benefits of taking part in creative activity and are now on the road to recovery and part of the 'army'. If you would like to know more information about the project I would be happy to talk via email or put you in contact with the people who run it.
13.11.2013, 19:59
It is just patronising.
Human beings are emotional beings and the reasons for individual's sadness, upsets, depressions are reactions (chemical, environmental, circumstantial...) to events in everyday life through other's behavior, tact and understanding and/ or lack of mutual respect.
It is all a bit more complex than 'hiring' a feel good service.
It also implies that you have to be happy.
The constant expectations of people to cheer up, be happy, be positive, and all the rest is intimidating.
A depressed, sad or unhappy person isn't the problem that has to be fixed- as first of all these are all part of what is the human condition and in the current worrying, changing and turbulent times (the reality for many workers in the museum sector for example is full of anxieties, stress and frustrations) are very reasonable, expected consequential human responses.
Instead of 'fixing everyone up' to join the corporate happiness- pretend its all fine- it would be worth while addressing and engaging (talk to people rather than manage them) with the people around us, listen and look out for one another.
In order to solve issues and/ or problems you first have to identify and acknowledge them.
The money saved by 'Do It Yourself' can then maybe be invested into something meaningful, ie. community projects, or paying volunteers and interns!
Focus on improving the quality of museum's work environments, invest in the quality of the content of what museums do and how staff, visitors and community groups can access, study and utilise these in our own clever and creative way.
The journey in figuring things out and learning to find solutions in how to get a result for oneself is what gives us the tools and lets us discover mechanisms to help ourselves (It's also what makes us unique as human beings). We should all make sure that there is the space and openness for our fellow human beings to feel confident in exploring the best mechanism for themselves.
Do we really need to outsource being human to a marketable happiness strategy as a quick fix?
Sharon Heal
MA Member
Head of Publications & Events, Museums Association
13.11.2013, 13:53
In response to "cringe" and "really" I'm interested as to what you are anonymously objecting to? Museums making a difference to people's lives? Museums improving well-being? Museums talking about mental health issues? Please do elaborate. this was a really valuable contribution to a positive and pragmatic conference agenda.
MA Member
13.11.2013, 18:24
I am mentally ill, and I would feel uncomfortable if these people approached me in that way. I think museums are great at changing lives- I just fail to see how "handing out feathers" is a valuable contribution. Perhaps if you elabroate more on what they actually DO?
Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
13.11.2013, 13:51
I think/hope both the anonymous comments below misunderstand the point of Uplift. Personally, I think a scheme that uses arts and culture to promote people's wellbeing (people who in many cases have overcome difficult circumstances to take part) is really valuable and important.

And I'm glad it was visible at Conference - the idea of health and wellbeing was a central theme of the event. so what better place to see it in action.
MA Member
13.11.2013, 18:33
I do not at all object to the idea that museums can use arts and culture to help the mentally ill- I just felt from reading this article that it screamed "enforced joviality" and as a person who suffers from depression, I've had quite enough of that in my life. As a depressed person you are constantly told "cheer up it may never happen" or "lighten up" when my problem is a chemical imbalance. I do think medication should be supplemented with good experiences in order to get well, but it should be up to the individual whether they actually feel happy from the experience.
MA Member
13.11.2013, 11:55
Cringe. You can't force people to be happy.
12.11.2013, 20:23