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Hats exhibition promotes mental wellbeing

Arts on High artist Douglas McRae's hat, called Broken
MIX artist Daniel Phillips' hat, called Travel
MIX artist Peter's hat, called Frankenhat
"The 40 exhibiting artists from five creative spaces created work that spoke to their vulnerability and helped reduce stigma."

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After “pimping” a jacket for the Pimp My Jacket competition organised by Hutt Valley mental health support group MIX in 2018, Wellington artist Rosemarie Bowers leapt at the chance to pimp a hat for last year’s Get a Hat Get A Head exhibition held to raise awareness of mental health issues.  

Get a Hat Get a Head was something different – it was an awesome project and I had lots of fun doing it,” says Rosemarie, whose hat was one of 40 exhibited at Wellington Museum’s Flux Gallery to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week in September 2019. The name of the exhibition – affectionately known as GAHGAH by the artists involved – came from a 1940s advertising slogan, “Get ahead, get a hat”, which was slightly reworded to put the focus on mental health and point out that you need to “get a head”(or attend to your mental wellbeing) in order to get ahead.

Collaborative project between five creative spaces
GAHGAH was a collaborative project between five creative spaces – MIX, Pablos Art Studio, Vinnies Re Sew, Arts on High and The Shed Project. But the collaboration went beyond those five organisations. Also closely involved with the exhibition were the Wellington Museum, which provided the gallery space and administrative support, and interns from Victoria University's Masters of Museum and Heritage Studies class.  Each of the five creative spaces had its own intern helping with things such as marketing and administration. "Collaboration should be at the heart of what we do as creative spaces,” says MIX General Manager Fiona McCourt. “We can’t have all the answers on our own: it’s all about coming together. We really are stronger together.

The collaborative nature of the project, and its success in raising the issues of mental health, was recognised in Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards 2020 on 13 October, when it received the Arts Access Creative New Zealand Community Arts Award. The award carries a prize of $3000.

In their comments the judging panel said: “This project gave a voice to mental health during Mental Health Awareness Week 2019. The 40 exhibiting artists from five creative spaces created work that spoke to their vulnerability and helped reduce stigma. The partnerships were strong and strategic, and we loved the involvement of MA Museum Studies students and Wellington Museum.  An outstanding collaboration with high-quality artistic outcomes and an impressive public programme of events.”

Letting her imagination run wild
For Rosemarie, who works out of Pablos Art Studio in central Wellington, taking part in the GAHGAH exhibition was a chance to let her imagination run wild. The decorations on her hat include two GI Joes and a piece of driftwood.

“Most of it was sewn on or attached with wire. I created it without a particular theme in mind: the ideas just kept coming while I was doing it.”

While most people upcycled existing hats found in local opshops using a range of different materials – including, in one case, a stuffed bird – others made their hats from scratch. “It was really fantastic to see the range of artists and the range of hats produced,” Fiona says.

The artists were able to compare notes and techniques at the opening night, which featured bands from The Shed Project and MIX. Many of the artists also took part in a schedule of public activities and workshops held at Flux Gallery, some of which explored issues around mental health and the arts.

Artists celebrate collaboration with kai
After a month at Flux Gallery the exhibition moved to Pablos' ROAR! gallery, after which Pablos hosted a hui for the artists to celebrate their collaboration and share kai.

Rosemarie particularly enjoyed being able to showcase the work of Pablos – “I love getting the opportunity to talk about Pablos!” – and hearing about other creative spaces in the Wellington region.

“That’s what we’re about – connecting with each other and the wider community,” Fiona says.

As a result of the closer relationships developed during the exhibition Pablos and MIX have now started another collaboration, meeting monthly for a tikanga day to share Māori culture, kai and art.

And while Covid 19 means the five creative spaces will not be holding another joint exhibition this year, they’re looking at doing something similar next year, possibly involving a different item of clothing: “If we do it again next year, maybe it will be shoes,” Fiona says.

Written by

Arts Access Aotearoa

16 Oct 2020

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