Exhibition review – Cooltan Arts

Opening Exhibition
Cooltan Arts
The Independent Gallery,
London SE17
Until 30 April
Cooltan Arts

This exhibition marks a new era for the charity Cooltan Arts, which has in the past 10 years developed a strong reputation for providing arts activities for people with mental health problems in south London, writes Mark Drinkwater.

Previously tucked away in a workshop under a railway arch, Cooltan has now moved to a more spacious building near the Elephant and Castle that now has space for a permanent gallery.

To celebrate the move, Cooltan is exhibiting examples of the diverse work of its members. There’s work by accomplished artists nestling alongside more experimental artists, with some of the drawings, films, poetry, collages and paintings dealing explicitly with mental health issues. Other work is more abstract or based on patterns, including an impressive array of batik prints – batik being a method of dyeing.

The project treads the line between providing a safe environment for people with mental health problems that is at the same time accessible to the public; indeed, the opening night was
attended by a mix of service users, professionals and public.

The strength of Cooltan’s work and its exhibitions is that there is an eclectic mix of art forms – so there is a feeling that there is something for everyone.

Cooltan is run by people who have had mental health problems and receive funding from charitable trusts. But recently, further funding has also come from statutory agencies, demonstrating their growing commitment to user involvement and services run by people with mental health problems.

Mark Drinkwater is a community worker in Southwark, south London

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