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The First European Art Festival for Mental Health with Irish Partner, First Fortnight

First Fortnight Daveand JP 788 525

The First European Art Festival for Mental Health took place 1 - 6 October 2016 in Athens, Greece. The lead partner was Greek organization, EDRA KSDEO with other members in the partnership including First Fortnight in Ireland. We talked to David Keegan of First Fortnight about the 2016 project.

The First European Art Festival for Mental Health organised by NEFELE took place 1 - 6 October 2016 in Athens, Greece. The Festival included art exhibitions; film screenings; theatrical performances; photo exhibitions; workshops, music events and open discussions. Participants from 23 countries were involved including Irish performers and artists.

NEFELE is the Networking European Festivals for Mental Life Enhancement project. It brought together five European arts organisations working in the field of arts and mental health. The lead partner was Greek organization, EDRA KSDEO with other members in the partnership including First Fortnight in Ireland; Funtation Intras in Spain; Euronet in Italy; and ASOK in Lithuania.


First Fortnight was formed in 2010 by J.P Swaine and David Keegan. First Fortnight is a charity-based organisation with the expressed aim of challenging mental health prejudice through the creative arts. Their approach takes the view – supported by national and international evidence - that prejudice and discrimination are two key factors that perpetuate the highly negative personal, social, and economic impact of mental health stigma. Both founders believe that the arts creates a space where people can talk about mental health issues in a non-scripted manner.

INTERVIEW with David Keegan of First Fortnight

1. First Fortnight was founded by you and JP in 2010. When was the first festival held? And what was the reaction to it?

David: We began testing the model with our first events in Jan 2010 and 2011, producing our first two-week arts festival in 2012 and the reaction to it was overwhelmingly positive. Every year since, in the first two weeks of January, the First Fortnight Festival runs a programme of music, film, theatre, spoken word, debate, and visual art events that aims to break the stigma and silence around mental health issues. This year in 2016, we programmed 61 events, in 8 counties and in 3 provinces!

2. First Fortnight aims to offer a ‘gentle space for a non-scripted dialogue about mental health.’ How do you go about curating a programme of events that blends art, various kinds of performances, and the theme of mental health?

David: We have an idea each year of topics we want to address based on the feedback we gather from our annual research. This is carried out by our wonderful army of socially engaged volunteers who invite attendees to complete a short questionnaire gauging attitudes toward mental health. We also contextualise our artistic programme with post-show discussions and talk based events such as CORINTHIAN – a sports and mental health conversation-based event. Some of the areas covered this year included rural isolation and body image. We work with other organisations such as the Dublin Fringe Festival, giving an award for work that speaks to the core mission of First Fortnight, and then we remount the work in the following year’s festival.

3. How did First Fortnight become involved as a partner with NEFELE?

David: We were approached by the lead partner, the Greek organization, EDRA KSDEO which had some experience running arts based mental health projects. They found us through web based articles written about First Fortnight over the years. They were really interested in the First Fortnight festival model as an anti-stigma campaign and felt it could be adopted and applied to the first European Mental Health Arts Festival.

4. What advice would you give to groups who are thinking about applying for Co-operation projects funding?

David: Be patient! It can take up to a year to build up good relationships with your partners in advance of even beginning the application so make sure you start as early you can with a clear understanding of the mission from the outset. If your idea is a good idea in terms of potential European benefits and impacts, and you can convince your partners to believe in it, make sure to do it justice in the application so that an organisation like Creative Europe will see the advantages of it too. Don’t be afraid to make a strong argument for your project in the application and ask for advice from the Creative Europe Culture Desks in your respective countries!

5. What Irish performers are going to Athens for the festival with First Fortnight?

David: Verse Chorus Verse which is the moniker of Northern Irish singer-songwriter Tony Wright, a musician who has been with us from the very beginning of First Fortnight and who is open about being bi-polar. Visual artist, Sinead McDonald, has also taken part in First Fortnight with large scale pieces exploring public perceptions of mental health. Frank Berry’s acclaimed film, I Used to Live Here, will be shown in Athens. Featuring a non-professional cast of local people in Killinarden in West Dublin, the film takes a fictional look at the tragic phenomenon of suicide clusters.

6. What’s next for First Fortnight?

David: We recently got some great news! First Fortnight received Erasmus+ funding for a Mental European Network of Sports Events which combines 16 organisations and 13 countries. Work on that begins in January 2017.

[Photograph from left to right: Michael Pope, Le Galaxie; Heathers, Ellie & Louise McNamara; David Keegan, FF CEO/FF Co-Founder; Pat Kinevane, Actor; JP Swaine, FF Co-Founder; Mary McEvoy, Actress; Dil Wickremasinghe, Newstalk; John Moynes, Writer.]

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