They say, “a picture speaks a thousand words” and that was certainly true at the Messages from the HeART exhibition in Ocean Studios last month. The collective voice of the artworks – paintings, sculptures, crafts – was loud and it was clear:
“Listen to us; hear our story”.
And we did: we ‘heard’ and ‘felt’ the lived experiences of those artists, many of whom were depicting deeply moving circumstances of, for example, domestic abuse, eating disorders and homelessness. Together, the collected works raised their voice, and they were heard.
What gave Messages from the HeART greater power was that, among those taking part were some of the very people employed to make decisions about the types of services with which many of these artists might be familiar. On a day of workshops and reflection organised with POP and the Belong in Plymouth initiative (to reduce loneliness and social isolation across the city), we had commissioners from the city council and healthcare professionals from Livewell SW participating alongside the artists and service-users who were sharing their experiences.
Enabling this ’connection’ and encouraging people to prioritise relationships rather than ‘systems’, was one of the project’s principle aims. Tam Martin Fowles, from Hope in the Heart, who led the initiative and the workshops, says it brought about a profound experience:
“There was something so powerful about people knowing that they were being heard; that they were safe to express themselves and that their stories and messages were being heard by the very people who make the decisions that can affect them. It was extraordinary”
Many of those who took part in the workshops welcomed the innovative and empathic way of working with each other. One of those deeply moved was City
Councillor, Zoe Reilly, who is now determined that the residents in the ward she represents – Honicknowle & Ernesettle – should benefit from this experience:
“Looking at the artworks was such an incredibly powerful experience for me: I’ve never felt emotion like it.”
And she applauds each artist who took part:
“Recognising their bravery, and knowing that each individual picture validated someone’s experience, was, honestly, like a lightbulb moment for me. I just know that, as a city leader, I feel bound to bring it to more people and give them the opportunity to create their vision for Plymouth and the area in which they live.”
Following the Plymouth-based pilot, Messages from the HeART has already been commissioned to take place in Cornwall and potentially in several boroughs across London. Meanwhile, here in Plymouth, the success of bringing it to our own neighbourhoods and communities will help to bring about a more compassionate city.