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Reflecting on the Private View

It happened! Despite a few hiccups and wobbles along the way, the private view of the exhibition finally happened.

A private view is a like a party to celebrate completion but it's also a great chance to get feedback, to find out what works and how it's being perceived. Invite the right people, get it seen by the right eyes and anything can happen.

Last night was mostly people connected to Rural Arts, friends, family and a few people from college thrown in. However, that said, we did have a dignitary attend. The Lord Mayor of Harrogate, no less.

It's fair to say that I had been nervous about meeting him and saying the wrong thing. As there wasn't any of the Harrogate College tutors attending, I knew I would be ambassador for the college and accidentally offending the Mayor would not go down well. And I've said many many times before, I am not good at networking. As it turns out, I shouldn't have worried. It was an absolute pleasure to meet him and to talk about my work. He was interested, extremely open to the subject matter and supportive. We chatted about the importance of mental health and about how it seems almost impossible to avoid falling victim to mental illness in the current social climate. We spoke for quite some time which ended with him giving me his contact details, should I feel he's able to help my cause in any way.

Well that was something I hadn't foreseen. And it wasn't the only thing I couldn't have predicted that night.

I'd naively thought that creating dialogue was a secondary function of this body of work, and so this was somehow less important, but the private view showed me how wrong I was. I watched in awe as guests began opening up to one another, chatting about their own experiences of mental illness and creating an interconnectivity as spoken of by Olivia Segan (in her study of mental health service providers). In this study she noted how feeling connected to someone/something else positively impacted her participants, and I witnessed something akin to this at the preview. Watching my guests, it appeared to me that just knowing other people are going through something similar has a resounding effect on the psyche.

It amused me somewhat too, as I'd agonised over what to call the exhibition before finally settling on, "You Are Not Alone". I'd chosen this as the work is a collaboration and wouldn't exist without the interviewees. How strange then, as given the reaction at the private view, it seemed to become less about the collaboration between me and the friends I had interviewed, and more about how every one had an experience to share, and how willing they were to share it.

Unfortunately, around half the guest list didn't attend but isn't that usually the way these things go? As an unknown, emerging artist it's almost impossible to get the art world to sit up and take notice of events such as this. I sent out invites to five galleries and as expected, non turned up. Although disappointing, it is what it is and there's no point getting hung up on it. Especially given the response to the work. And it's because of this response, from people far outside the traditional art world, that I believe I can say, the private view and the work as a whole is a resounding success.

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