By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson
Monday, December 8, 2014.
The innovative Showcase Smoothie project which helps men who have experienced mental health problems to tell their stories and discover hidden talents using literature, music and performing arts presented a compelling end of year showcase at the Embrace Arts Centre in Leicester recently.
The well received night of rhythmic wordplay, attended by the Showcase Smoothie artistic director, patron and mentor Jean Binta Breeze, also featured film, music and choreography.
The project – launched in 2012 and supported by Arts Council England - has seen regular workshops, group work and one-to-one mentoring as one element of a holistic approach established by Leicestershire’s Health Trust (LPT) in collaboration with arts, health and educational organisations to address the often unreported and untreated mental health concerns faced by many young Black men.
Having provided a space to explore and exchange their stories through poetry, literature, spoken word and live performances and transforming the lives of many in the Midlands town the award-winning initiative has also established The Showcase Collective. Curated by Melanie Abraham of spoken word champions Renaissance One the select band have toured venues across the region over the last three years, presenting many pieces based on their anthology ‘Poems To Read - Before U Die’.
Talking about the inspirational work Showcase Smoothie’s Co-director and LPT’s Creative Arts Coordinator Lydia Towsey highlighted the project’s role and purpose: “to recognise and address mental health inequalities, nurture artistic talent, support creative and personal development, and challenge the stigma and misunderstanding that can sometimes surround mental health issues”.
The group also supports men of diverse ages, ethnicities and cultures and one of the evening’s participants, Mohammed, active in the group over the past 12 months and who suffers from bi-polar disorder, spoke about his transformation: “At first I found performing difficult but it’s now something I really enjoy and I look forward to coming here every week. I’ve met and worked with a diverse group of people and developed good friendships and extra support. It’s changed me a lot. You have to give people with depression something to make them feel better about themselves and to get them back into life. Showcase Smoothie does that.”
Echoing this accolade Lydia Towsey, also LPT’s Creative Arts Coordinator, elaborated that: “The project has transformed so many people’s lives and has had such a positive impact. It’s been fantastic to have the support of Arts Council England for the last three years - their funding has been crucial in getting this ground breaking project off the ground. We’re now exploring further possibilities to make it sustainable - and looking forward to a bright future.
Praising last weeks event Lydia Towsey, acknowledged the way in which: “arts can clearly contribute to boosting wellbeing, opening a dialogue and challenging the stigma that can still sometimes surround mental health issues.”
To find out more visit www.showcasesmoothie.com
Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson is a London based arts editor,
writer and journalist for www.thenewblackmagazine.com.
He writes about political, social and cultural issues.