Last year for World Mental Health Day, Bella Milroy produce a series of workshops for our first Soft Sanctuary in Bootle Library, bringing together artists, library users and librarians. We focused on the idea of a ‘sick day’, what it means to take time to rest and give ourselves permission to relax.
For this year’s Soft Sanctuary, because we can’t all be in a room together, we’ve thought we would record some conversations with Bella, our lead curator Maria Brewster and writer Steph Niciu, facilitated by producer Laura Yates, for you to enjoy at home. Grab your duvet, sit back and relax whilst listening to some wise words about art, collaborating together, celebrating disability and caring for ourselves and each other.
We have made three podcasts of enlightening and uplifting content, as well as a written interview with Bella focusing on what good mental health means to her, self-care rituals, and the importance of the hand-held and closed captioning in her practice.
Disabled joy & empathy, ableism and attraction with Bella Milroy, Steph Niciu & Laura Yates — Part 1
Artist Bella Milroy and writer Steph Niciu caught up with Laura Yates, one of our participation producer, to discuss life living as female artists with disabilities, talking about the positive and enlightening aspects of that. They touch on the power of the social model in empowering disabled people, giving them agency and identity, taking charge of your own mental health, and holistic approach to programming.
Disabled joy & empathy, ableism and attraction with Bella Milroy, Steph Niciu & Laura Yates — Part 2
Carrying on from their first conversation, Bella, Steph and Laura continue to talk about finding disabled joy through small rituals, challenging negative stereotypes around how disability is portrayed and how Soft Sanctuary centers disabled experiences through a universal concept of finding care and wellbeing.
In conversation about Human Libraries — Bella Milroy, Maria Brewster & Laura Yates
Artist Bella & our lead curator, Maria Brewster, caught up to chat about Bella’s on-going programme for Soft Sanctuary and Maria’s drive to create, curate and deliver participatory art in library contexts.
In this podcast, they share wisdom on the essential elements of good community-led practice, the library as a space for self-led personal development and touch on what young artists can do to develop a practice with communities at the heart.
Soft Sanctuary Synopsis
Written by Bella Milroy
Soft Sanctuary began with a simple premise; for people to come to Bootle Library, connect, and have a nice time. Such a simple idea, and yet one that you rarely get to take advantage of as an artist; with the main goal of the commission dedicated and focused on people having a ‘nice time’. What started as a one-day event for World Mental Health day, turned into a programme of events across the Autumn of 2019, featuring artist-led workshops, free lunches with artist-designed recipes, and an accompanying mental health colouring book. A coming together to celebrate the sanctuary nature of the library; a place to relax, feel safe, and looked after.
This initial programme sparked much joy and creativity amongst participants, artists, the Human Libraries team, and Bootle Library staff. Soft Sanctuary seemed to tap into so much of what we collectively need in order to feel ok in our day-to-day lives, all held within the beauty of this sacred shared space; the library.
One of the key aspects that felt such a triumph in this series was that it commissioned exclusively disabled artists. A great example of this is the ‘Sick Day Banquet’, a free lunch meal was designed by disabled artists based on their ideal sick day foods. Being able to take something that is often held in great pain, stress, and discomfort, and place it in a setting that celebrates the beauty and importance of such practices was a joy to carry out. It shows the universal truth of such experiences being that no matter what your circumstances; we all know the transformative power of eating together and this is something that has been made painfully challenging to achieve over the course of this year for so many of us.
The programme of events held in 2019 felt like we only scratched the surface of what could be explored in how we find sanctuary and solace in our day-to-day lives. Our online version for 2020 hopes to be able to build upon these notions and explore how using those same basic principles of shared creativity, learning and food, can come together in powerful ways. Whilst the library as a physical entity has become inaccessible to so many of us, the way in which we connect and how we carry out such programmes has had to change too. The false narrative of the digital being this COVID shorthand of access-for-all has only revealed how so many are left without such vital resources in their own homes, and how the library remains a fundamental part of how they connect with the wider world.
Throughout the course of planning Soft Sanctuary online, it was deeply heartening to see members of the Human Libraries team maintaining the connective tissues of the work that they do, in going literally door-to-door to reach those cut off by lockdown measures. Whilst it’s no substitute for the library itself, the Human Libraries team are continuing to carry on the ethos of that public space; reflecting the generosity of spirit in both the work they do, and the building of which they hope to return. This second iteration seeks to draw on that vitality and skill in bringing people together, reaching beyond the digital, and offer a programme of work that hopes to be able to support, comfort, excite and inspire people to spark care and creativity in their everyday life.