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THE BIG ANXIETY Festival Comes to Melbourne in September

The festival runs 21 September – 15 October 2022.

Designed to promote curiosity, insight and action, The Big Anxiety is a cultural festival that connects people to share their lived experiences of mental health, emotional distress, trauma and recovery.

The Big Anxiety program offers a range of creative and experimental experiences that advance innovations for mental health support, understanding and awareness.

As a creative response to aid the escalating mental health crisis, the festival repositions mental health as a collective community-based cultural responsibility - beyond a narrow medical or clinical model.

Presented in partnership with UNSW Sydney and RMIT University, The Big Anxiety, Melbourne Naarm 2022 festival program is produced by RMIT Culture in collaboration with Yarra Ranges Council.

Coinciding with National Mental Health Month, The Big Anxiety, Melbourne Naarm 2022 festival program is co-directed by Scientia Professor Jill Bennett from UNSW Sydney and Professor Renata Kokanović from RMIT University.

"The arts are the best means we have for sharing complex experiences. It is a pathway that can show us what we may not know about ourselves and others, and it also shines a light on relationships and social settings that help or hinder mental health. We have seen evidence that the arts can make real and meaningful transformations and change," said Scientia Professor Bennett.

"Evolving in the wake of the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System, The Big Anxiety, Melbourne Naarm program uses experimental creative practice to promote insight into lived experience. It will advance systems and create change and innovation to develop trauma-informed resources to support mental wellbeing," said Professor Kokanović.

Drawing from significant research and deep engagement with personal lived experiences, the festival program features a series of events and exhibitions, including hi-tech interactive spaces, performances, workshops, conversations and one-to-one dialogues.

Over two days, The Big Anxiety Forum promotes a cultural approach to mental health - it will enable a space to learn from those with lived experiences of trauma and emotional distress. The forum brings together artists, researchers, clinicians, health and community workers to experience creative approaches that can transform mental health care and support.

The forum will welcome national and international leaders across the arts and mental health sectors, including Girrimay woman Marianne Wobcke, a registered midwife, nurse and professional artist who has developed a culturally-connected birthing practice and trauma recovery program.

RMIT University's gallery spaces will exhibit Archives of Feeling, a series of innovative group and individual works that record and communicate different dimensions of trauma experiences and recovery. The exhibition experience allows visitors to listen and process feelings and emotions.

The interactive project, Children's Sensorium is a space for young people to explore their senses, feelings, thoughts, worries and hopes. It will support emotional resilience and wellbeing by activating children's curiosity through engaging installations and activities that involve light, colour, touch, sound, smell and taste inspired by Kulin Country.

The 2021 Australian Mental Health Prize recipient, Honor Eastly will premiere her performance memoir No Feeling is Final. Drawing on stories from her critically-acclaimed podcast series about her lived experience of suicidality, the event will be brought to life with amazing visuals by award-winning video and projection artist Carla Zimbler.

Awkward Conversations is a one-on-one conversation program to discuss challenging topics about mental health. People can book a stimulating chat with ten inspiring artists, including Anna Spargo Ryan who has experienced psychosis, Clem Bastow who was diagnosed as autistic as an adult, Daniel Regan who has experiences of self-harm and self-injury and Debra Keenahan, an artist and psychologist who has achondroplasia dwarfism.

Conversations and performances are part of The Big Anxiety Speaker Series, which features a line-up of expert creative thinkers, including an assembly of writers with disability sharing their vision for inclusive mental health possibilities and Leslie Jamison, a preeminent writer on empathy, will live-stream from America to unpack the challenges of living with an addiction.

As part of the Speaker Series, Claudia Rankine and Evelyn Araluen will consider the potential of poetry for political resistance and Stéphanie Kabanyana Kanyandekwe, Meg Mason and Daniel Regan will discuss the responsibilities when crafting creative, relatable and authentic depictions of mental health.

Hard Place/Good Place: Yarra Ranges is a creative research project that looks at lived experiences during major environment changes. The exhibition at Yarra Ranges Regional Museum showcases augmented-reality stories told by local young people impacted by the fierce storms that ripped down over 25,000 trees and damaged more than 170 properties in June 2021.

As part of the Yarra Ranges program, Arts Centre Warburton will host Edge of the Present, an Australian world-first virtual-reality experience for suicide prevention and mood change, made in collaboration with psychologists, mental health specialists and people with lived experiences of suicide survival. Inspired by neuropsychological research into memory and imagination, the ten-minute installation helps viewers engage with the present moment - and the future - with openness, curiosity and confidence.

Other festival highlights in The Big Anxiety, Melbourne Naarm program include Creative Media Tools for Mental Health, a showcase of interactive virtual-reality experiences at ACMI and Unnerved, a large-scale animated work in the Fed Square Atrium focussed on the effects of trauma and grief, created by New York-based multimedia artist Anita Glesta.

Poetic Portraits is an exhibition and book launch at Frankston Arts Centre that promotes poetry as a way to convey the experiences of women from Frankston impacted by mental health struggles and loneliness.

During The Big Anxiety, a group of international students, in partnership with Outer Urban Projects, The Social Studio and Youthworx, will have agency to activate some of Melbourne's public spaces with pop-up performances and installations as part of Takeover.

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