you call that a crisis?

this is the curator’s note for gallery gachet’s Mad Pride 2014: It’s A Crisis!

At the end of this week, we open our annual Mad Pride show at Gallery Gachet. Its subtheme this year is a response to what’s gone on in this room and others – that is, It’s A Crisis! Mad Pride is an international movement which advocates for human rights within the psychiatric system, and calls for a re-examination of definitions of mental health within the context of a world gone mad. Mad Pride is also a reclaiming of words like Mad – crazy, lunatic, nutters – that have been used to oppress us. We reclaim the systems that have designated us outside of mainstream society, and we assert our right to challenge these labels, and the society that stigmatizes us.

This is a politics of freedom. We do not want a tokenistic seat at a table where the meal is already set, that is, the table of the system that has long oppressed us; we want to determine how we’re treated, in the broadest sense. We’ll make the table, and prepare the meal, and invite everyone. This gallery is our dining room: join us, pull up a chair.

no one like you has ever existed or will ever exist again

I look to our shared history, and remind us all that “the mad” are always with us. I use the idea of neurodiversity – the idea that there are different kinds of minds and no matter how different and apart from the ordinary, this difference is part of the human experience.

At Gachet – well, first – Dr Paul Gachet was Vincent van Gogh’s doctor in the last year of his life. He encouraged van Gogh’s art as part of his care, and that last year was the most productive of his life.

Gallery Gachet springs from a unique idea – or rather, the collision of ideas. We are an artist-run centre with a social and a political role in mental health. We exist through these two traditions: the artist-run movement, in which arts work collectively to advance their practice, and the peer-run movement in mental health. Unfortunately both these movements were more prominent – and better funded – in an earlier time.

Our Basis of Unity

  • We agree to support the artistic and professional development of our community as a means to achieve social, cultural and economic justice 
  • We agree to support the wellness of people marginalized by their mental health, trauma and/or abuse experience 
  • We work for the elimination of discrimination against people marginalized by their mental health, trauma and/or abuse experience 
  • We believe in the expression and practice of art and culture as a human right 
  • We agree to promote the critical function of art and culture in building a healthy society 

We believe art is a means for survival, self-expression and health   

This is an empowerment model: it sets the conditions for healthy collective work and encourages members to run our own ship – to learn how to manage a gallery at every level. It’s also a great example of how the role of work, in this case, arts-based work, has a profound therapeutic value. It is transformational therapy, and not merely for us, but for the world-as-it-is. 

We do not believe that art is therapy in a direct sense; rather, it is the work of art in challenging societal norms, stigma, and for the purpose of changing minds. Art is not an adjunct to conversations about mental health, it is absolutely central. In the words of Yoko Ono, Art is a means for survival.

To illustrate, programs were in place that encouraged and acknowledged this labour as a way of breaking cycles of isolation and well, the feeling of utter uselessness that people feel, which is another consequence of stigma. 

To be specific. There was a program by the Ministry of Social Development that gave people $100 monthly to acknowledge volunteerism in the community. Besides the justifications already noted, the program could also be understood as a way for people to begin taking steps toward employment, and receive some financial benefit. That program was cancelled. VCH offers a program for people in the mental health system: $50 monthly for volunteering. There’s quite a waiting list for that program. Here is a simple and obvious way for the city to play in advocating for such programs, and for contributing financially. To use LAP language, it promotes inclusion and belonging for all members of our society, particularly the most vulnerable.

This kind of initiative goes beyond simple remuneration, however. We want self-determination and meaningful lives. As such, peer-run initiatives benefit both the people who run them and the people they serve. The city can play a role in this as well, by facilitating workshops for people to learn how to begin this kind of work, whether it be a social service and/or health initiative or a coffee shop. Or the necessary promotion of peer navigators and communication tools to help people negotiate the mental health system and be aware of their rights within it.

I would like to end on that point. One of my neighbours is in the ACT team system. She sees it as an constant and oppressive intrusion into her privacy and sense of dignity. I can put it no better terms than hers: I have the right to my own mind.

i remember that shirt!