In this series our Director, Ben, chats with leaders in the culture, science and care sectors to discover more about their inspiration, influences, and the future of arts in health. This week: London Brain Project.

Who are you, what do you do, and why do you do it?

We’re Louise Weiss, Georgia Pitts, Michelle Downes and Julia Vogl. We’re the London Brain Project: a not-for-profit organisation that aims to improve the lives of people with mental health and neurological conditions by facilitating open and evidence-based conversations about brain science through the arts.

We’ve two main strands to our work: The Beyond Series is a series of Art-Science workshops and exhibitions exploring a range of neurological and mental health conditions, from the misunderstood (Beyond Seizures) and misrepresented (Beyond Tics), to the hidden (Beyond My Brain). We bring together professional artists, families with lived experience, and researchers and clinicians to create collaborative artworks. We find that art is a powerful medium for exploring topics from a range of perspectives, fostering confident and open sharing between people from all walks of life. 

Alongside the Beyond Series we also deliver a range of interactive, hands-on, Art-Science events which aim to engage different audiences with the wonder of their own mind and brain. From necklace making to dreamscapes, we use a range of creative methods to inspire a whole variety of people. In doing so, we aim to encourage society to value and nurture the brain and mind, just as much as the body.

Silver gelatin print from Holly Birtles series, Brain Layering.

You’re bringing the Beyond My Brain exhibition to our own gallery space, the Menier Gallery, from 17-21 January 2017. Tell us a little bit about the show.

There aren't enough conversations about childhood brain injury – it’s a hidden condition which can often go undetected in the classroom, with great repercussions for the child’s learning, friendships and quality of life. That’s why we wanted to get people talking about it. To do this, we brought together children with brain injury, their families, researchers, clinicians, teachers and artists for an afternoon of open conversation. Topics ranged from the emotional to the hilarious, from the day-to-day to future dreams. All were captured in a collection of artworks co-created by the participants. By curating these works, alongside new commissions, Beyond My Brain invites a wider audience to join the conversation. Provoking questions about how we, as a society, respond to those who are grappling to understand the consequences of their injury, the exhibition highlights the need for more open discussion around the many conditions which are ‘hidden’ inside our heads.

During the exhibition, we're also hosting a Teachers Workshop and a free family fun afternoon on Saturday 21st January.

At Paintings in Hospitals, we believe that experiencing visual art, either viewing or making it, improves people’s physical and mental wellbeing. What’s been your experience of this? Does it really make a difference?

The arts are completely different form of expression, liberating for many who feel constrained by the social norms of communication. Much of what we try to facilitate is communication and expression, which we have shown can be incredibly empowering and unburdening for many who struggled to share their story. A sense of pride instils confidence and some former participants in our workshops are motivated to confront their difficulties: physical, emotional, psychological or social. Former participants have gone on to stand up and explain their condition to friends to classrooms and the web, when previously they struggled to confront the condition themselves. We use art as a common ground and that enables one to open up and really share. We find there is an incredibly rich connection between the arts and wellbeing.

Participants at Beyond My Brain Workshop

What’s your vision for the future? Where do you see the arts and science sector going next?

Exactly that - to be seen as one sector instead of completely disparate ones! Often people are encouraged to pursue either art or science early on their education - there can be little enthusiasm for taking on a course of education in both fields. We're really excited that art and science are now being taught together in HE institutions, and we hope that this will trickle down to the very first stages of education. There's been a shift recently in how people view art and science and we've been lucky enough to see it, and to be a part of it. Both practices complement each other extremely well, making concepts more accessible and increasing learning and engagement. They are more similar than first meets the eye.

London Brain Project and Ben are both on Twitter: @LondonBrainProj, @HighStreetBen

Visit the Menier Gallery to find out more about upcoming shows...