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Errol Francis

Anxiety and the arts: exploring contemporary health and wellbeing

This paper is about the thinking behind how an arts festival came to be curated around the theme of anxiety, with analyses of selected works and concludes with suggestions on how such a festival might translate to the Australian context.

From the first identifications of what was termed neurasthenia, it was observed that there aspects of modern life that seem to give rise to neurosis and a whole cluster of ailments manifested with varying degrees of physical and psychological symptomatology. After Charcot and Freud separated hysteria and anxiety from neurasthenia artists (eg the surrealists) had radically moved from interpreting the world from the point of view of its appearance to the vantage point of individual psychological experience and perception.

In addition to these art historical reasons for an association between anxiety and art there are compelling public health reasons to make connections between the arts and anxiety as a public health issue. Anxiety disorders are amongst the most common mental health problems in the world and there has been intense public discussion about increased levels of anxiety since the start of the current economic recession. It has been estimated that the total number of people with anxiety disorders in England was 2.28 million in 2007 and this is projected to rise to 2.56 million by 2026.

The Anxiety London 2014 and Acting Out Nottingham 2015 were curated around the connections between modernism and anxiety – as well as the contemporary prevalence of the disorder – with a programme of film, visual arts music and performance. An analysis of selected works from the festivals exemplifies the curatorial approach and a non-medical form of public health education, some of which may tour to Sydney as part of a forthcoming festival of anxiety.

Errol FrancisErrol Francis

Errol Francis graduated from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Social Policy and from Central Saint Martins in Photography and Fine Art. He has substantial experience of community engagement with minority groups. He was formerly Joint Programme Lead at the Sainsbury Centre of Mental Health, Senior Associate Coordinator at the Department of Health and was Inspire Programme Manager at Arts Council England. Most recently he was artistic director of the highly acclaimed Anxiety Arts Festival London 2014, one of whose projects has been nominated for the 2015 Turner Prize. He has recently directed the Acting Out Nottingham 2015 public engagement programme.