Following more than one year of pandemic, through different forms of restrictions to private and public art spaces, plans of cultural centers still need to adapt. Rather than focussing on virtually re-creating the exhibition’s experience, the Gabriel Caruana Foundation, with the Forma Mentis initiative, tackles the role of Art Therapy in relieving what’s been named “pandemic fatigue” or any other mental issues arising in connection to the pandemic. Initially designed for persons at higher risk of marginalisation and exclusion, the initiative broadened its scope to the whole community.
The Mill – Art, Culture and Crafts Centre is located in Birkirkara, in Malta, at one of the busiest crossroads of the island. The building is an old windmill built in 1724, during the rule of the Knights of Malta. A surprising but unlikely place to house a contemporary cultural centre.
For a number of years, the Mill was abandoned and left in a derelict state. Following a tender issued by the Government of Malta, Gabriel Caruana successfully gained the lease title for the Mill to be used as contemporary art, culture and crafts centre, which was opened to the public in June 1990.
The Gabriel Caruana Foundation aims to:
- promote and preserve the artistic legacy of modern and contemporary art exponents,
- encourage and provide opportunities for established and emerging artists
- raise awareness and promote quality modern and contemporary art in the Maltese Islands and beyond.
Forma Mentis is a project developed by the Gabriel Caruana Foundation. This project was meant to be a series of workshops held at the Richmond Foundation (a well established mental health foundation in Malta). It aimed at exploring the relevance of arts-based practices to empower individuals that, as a result of mental health status, experience marginalisation and social exclusion. However the Covid 19 Pandemic changed their plans. They opened up the initiative to a wider audience, developing a series of pre-recorded video workshops and a zine that contained a series of exercises.
The videos are led by three contemporary Maltese artists (Gabriel Buttigieg, Denise Scicluna and Pietru Farrugia), which also have a background in psychology and psychotherapy. They present exercises that aim to explore and enhance emotional resilience and personal/communal wellbeing.
The project has been funded through the Small Initiative Support Scheme managed by the Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector on behalf of Parliamentary Secretary for Youth, Sports and Voluntary Organisations within the Ministry for Education and Employment.
The foundation has promoted this initiative on all its communication channels. Both the topic, Art as therapy, and the kind of dissemination material produced, the zine and the videos, have helped the foundation in enriching their content, both online and offline, as well as reaching a broader audience, thanks to the partnership established for the project.
The original audience were persons who experience marginalisation and social exclusion, as a result of mental health status. This target has been adapted, considering the pandemic and how it affected the whole community, with phenomena such as pandemic fatigue or other mental issues, such as anxiety, fear, depression related to the pandemic and its effects. The final target can be considered as completely opened-up, including the whole Maltese community.
From a final user perspective, this initiative represented the chance to enter the practice of visual arts for mental health wellbeing, but at the same time to get in touch with the local contemporary art scene.
The public was invited to post creations on social media, using the #FormaMentisArt, so to be promoted and keep alive the interest of the followers.
Initiatives such as Forma Mentis have a double pronged positive effect:
- creating a new point of contact between the community and world of contemporary art
- approaching art not just from a practice perspective, rather than the more common fruition perspective.
Strategies for a more effective community engagement and broader participation could be reviewed, although the online presence has been curated with a very high standard.