The road to Europe’s Mental Health Arts Festival 2019

access_time 6 minutes
person by Darragh Mulryan
create 12 December 2018

How We Got To Here


First Fortnight is a grass roots voluntarily led social enterprise whose primary focus is to eradicate mental health stigma and discrimination in Ireland through cultural action. This year sees First Fortnight take on a new challenge as we set to host Europe’s Mental Health Arts Festival in January 2019.  Our presentation of this festival aims to showcase the vibrancy of modern Ireland with an emphasis on the European community and the benefits of working together. Let’s take a look at how First Fortnight started, and how we got to this point…




2009 saw Ireland struggle through what was being described as a suicide epidemic. For First Fortnight co-founder David Keegan, it didn’t seem to be high enough on anyone’s priorities and he felt something needed to be done. One day, out of the blue, his childhood friend J.P Swaine asked him "do you want to help me run a mental health event?". With mental health being a deeply personal matter for both friends, they set out to design a model to start a mental health conversation. With arts being a central component to both their lives, an arts festival felt like the natural route to take and thus, the first iteration of First Fortnight was born.




Learning more and more each year, First Fortnight organisers and volunteers year after year delivered sold out arts & spoken word events, film screenings, dance, comedy & theatre performances, music events, workshops, exhibitions and talks. With support from some or Ireland’s leading mental health NGOs (See Change, Mental Health Ireland, Mental Health Reform, St Patrick’s Mental Health Services), we were able to gain considerable attention in local and national media and build on our goal of eliminating the stigma of mental health and starting healthy conversations around the subject. 2013 saw the founding of First Fortnight Centre for Creative Therapies, Ireland’s only creative art therapy service working with homeless people in Dublin. We believed that the benefits of creativity and cultural activity we had demonstrated at a large scale through our festival could be micro targeted to individuals in need of social and emotional support by the provision of fully accredited and free at the point of use Creative Therapy and we began to develop the concept of the First Fortnight for Creative Therapies. The mission was to provide help to the most vulnerable in the city on the one hand and also trigger an evidence based disruption in the mental health service provision system. Skip a few years forward, and our 2017 festival programme saw our biggest growth yet, with 37% of the festival being free (up from 14%) with 51 events in total across 8 counties and over 6,000 attendees. After the success of this event and in the midst of planning the 2018 festival, we joined a Creative Europe project to create a network of mental health arts festivals throughout Europe and contributed Irish acts towards the first European Mental Health Arts Festival in Greece. After this first foray into international territories, we realised we had this great opportunity to positively affect the talk surrounding mental health on an even bigger scale. After an enormous effort from our board and volunteers, we then won a bid to host the European Mental Health Arts Festival, which is what takes us to now.

Europe’s Mental Health Arts Festival 2019


So here we are, about to deliver our most comprehensive and inclusive festival to date. With a focus on European artists from all corners of the continent, we look forward to seeing a widely colourful, thought-provoking and conversation-starting range of art on display this January. With our full 2019 programme to be announced shortly, keep up to date with all things First Fortnight on this website or though our social channels like Facebook and Instagram.

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