There’s plenty of evidence to indicate engaging in the arts is beneficial to mental health, says Festival Director Jill Bennett.

The arts have for centuries explored the distress, anguish, pleasures and pains of mental life. Today there is an abundance of evidence to indicate that engaging in arts activity is beneficial to mental health. Participating as either a creator or a consumer can help us reflect on and process complex emotional states, as well as increase our capacity for empathy and understanding the inner experiences of others.

The Big Anxietyis distinctive as a contemporary arts festival for setting the goal of promoting mental health. It favours participatory and conversational work; a programme of Awkward Conversations, for example, draws upon artists’ skills at designing engagement to address the inherent difficulty of conversations about mental health (one international guest being US performance artist, Lois Weaver, who now holds the prestigious Engagement Fellowship at the UK Welcome Institute where she researches conversation-based art practice). At the other end of the scale from the low-fi intimate conversation, there are large-scale, technically innovative, immersive environments, the result of collaborations between artists, scientists and communities.

The Big...