Last week saw the culmination of three months of organisation and planning for the opening of the exhibition Recovery Stories: Celebrating Journeys of Courage, Compassion and Hope. RSA Fellows, West Kent Recovery Service staff and service users, local dignitaries, partner agency representatives and many more gathered at The River Centre in Tonbridge to welcome the RSA’s president, HRH The Princess Royal as she launched the exhibition. The show was comprised of artwork created by people experiencing and supporting recovery and was received with respect and admiration. HRH gave a speech where she captured the ethos of the project, saying, ‘To be honest, the exhibition speaks for itself and I hope that the artists and those that contributed feel it has done them well…Nobody ever knows what quite causes people to have the stories you have, but equally you must be given as many opportunities as possible to latch on to things that will get you out of them.’ Our aim in the coming months is to use the momentum from the opening to continue offering opportunities to express and honour individual stories of recovery.
Though a large part of our focus in the past three months has been on the preparation for this one-off event, its development, success and future value is based on the foundation of the other strands of the Whole Person Recovery project. The art was produced by people from diverse backgrounds and varied experience with artistic media. Two of the contributors from Gravesend are long practising artists and are trying to establish themselves in the extended creative community. The opportunity to show their work to a large audience has already led to an agreement between our collaborators, Stepping Stone Studios, and an artist to do a solo exhibition at their gallery in Maidstone. Several artists have looked into applying for a Small Sparks Scheme grants to further artistic pursuits and take advantage of the opportunities to connect to new networks.
Though all the artists may not get their own solo show, the Recovery Café in the community hub in Gravesend will be opening in the next few weeks and has long blank walls that we are planning to cover with art by community members. This work will either come from the exhibition once it has finished its residence in public spaces in Gravesend or Maidstone or it will be developed by the continued art groups starting soon that will be led by a volunteer and mentored by those who already participated in the 10 week series of art workshops. This will build on our Everyday Activities Programme and nurture sustainability and leadership in the recovery community.
The greatest success of the exhibition has been, and will continue to be, creating a platform to share recovery stories that present a broad and varied view of the experience. Reaching out to wider communities to inform and reduce stigma has always been the aim of the Public Events Programme but this event has reached an unprecedented variety of community members and has garnered a welcome interest in contributing to the project from our Fellows, other agencies and individuals. If you would like to get involved we would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit the exhibition at The River Centre in Tonbridge from 25th June – 18th July, opening to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10.30 and 16.30.