A colourful community haven on Middle Meadow Walk
Those of you who have walked across middle meadow walk on a Sunday last semester may have noticed a colourful addition, with everything from art projects to delicious free food to jam sessions. The Student spoke to the organiser of this ‘Gifting Art Space’, Bernadette.
Bernadette has been using the space by the tree stump to share her love of art, food and her ethos of gifting. The idea arose through Bernadette’s experiences with bipolar disorder. She describes how after a long period of extreme depression, which forced her to stop working as a physiotherapist, she attended a course that taught her about being compassionate to herself. She decided to focus on what she loved doing the most: cooking, creating art, and caring for other people. She took the many art supplies that she had bought during a manic episode to the meadows to share with the public, with the idea of teaching people how to be compassionate to themselves and nurture their spirit through art. She describes how she was blown away by the help she received from some boys she met on the street, who helped her spread out her supplies and her rugs, which invited a birthday party nearby. By the end of the first day, more than 50 people had participated!
As Bernadette shared her experiences with the participants, many of them began to come forward with their own struggles with mental health. She recognised the need for a welcoming space free of judgement for people to find communal support. Through the food she cooks, and through the art, they create together, she hopes to create a space where people can “relax, communicate and [become] nourished – spiritually, mentally and bodily”.
This community support is so necessary in a world where it is easy to become increasingly isolated. Bernadette tells me how she feels for students away from home and family, especially during the pandemic when it can be very difficult for international students to get back home. Sundays in particular, she says, are a time for family, and that family space is what she is trying to create with her Sunday events. She says, “When you listen to young people, you realise that they are crying out loud for this kind of a space.” She recognises how few spaces there are for people to go without constantly paying money. This is why the spirit of gifting she describes is so important: building a space based on community reciprocity rather than monetised transactions. All her volunteers are ad-hoc: gifting food, time or craft-based skills whenever they can, from helping to cook and transport food to giving art lessons to children.
However, Bernadette has faced continued harassment from the council and the police over her right to be using the space in the meadows. In a world where everything is monetised and buried under layers of bureaucracy, setting up this kind of community organisation is a gruelling task. She is currently in the process of registering the organisation so she can apply for funding and space. At the moment, her priority is looking for a suitable space on Sundays that she can use to continue nurturing and building her community. In the meantime, she is continuing to organise events, and she hopes to be back in the meadows when the weather is warmer.
All events will be published and advertised on: @gifting.art.space
Image Courtesy: @gifting.art.space