A team of UNSW researchers, artists and designers are working with a network of mental health, arts and cultural organisations to present Australia's first mental health and arts festival.

A ground breaking initiative The Big Anxiety Festival - the biggest mental health and arts festival in the world – will run from 20 September to 11 November bringing leading national and international artists, scientists, technology experts, and the public participants together to explore and re-imagine the state of mental health in the 21st century.

Two years in the planning The Big Anxiety Festival is generously supported by public and private funders and supporters committed to addressing 

Tackling the big anxieties of our times, as well as the stresses and strains of everyday life, The Big Anxiety Festival encompasses more than 60 events across Sydney with hubs located at Customs House, Riverside Theatres Parramatta, and UNSW Paddington.

The Big Anxiety Festival is set to transform the ways people think about and deal with mental health via innovative experiences that include state-of-the-art immersive environments including the world’s highest resolution 3D cinema, international art exhibitions, theatre and performance, contemporary dance, interactive media events and public forums for the entire family.

According to Professor Jill Bennett (UNSW Art & Design), Executive & Artistic Director of the Festival, “There is resounding evidence that the arts can contribute to our mental well-being in really substantial ways, far beyond simply promoting awareness. We want to transform the way people think, feel and connect”.

Uniquely for an arts festival, The Big Anxiety Festival will contribute to real-life mental health research, with researchers at Black Dog Institute measuring the social and health benefits for participants. “The research underpinnings make this event a world-first, establishing an evidence-base for the impact of communities engaging together around mental health issues," says Professor Katherine Boydell, the Festival’s Mental Health Lead from Black Dog Institute.

The Big Anxiety Festival revolves around five major themes:

Awkward Conversations explores the way we communicate, especially when it comes to discussing difficult subjects like suicide and anxiety.

Lived Experiences examines the nitty gritty of life like trauma, loss, recovery and hope through the lens of creativity and vulnerability.

NeurodiverseCity celebrates diversity of the mind by asking why difference prompts anxiety and stigmatisation.

Power, Politics and Institutions investigates the increasing struggle to maintain mental health in our fast-paced, hyper-connected society and the hand that institutions play in perpetuating illness.

Mood Experiments uncovers the way our environment can drastically influence the way we experience the world.

Two years in the planning The Big Anxiety Festival is generously supported by public and private funders and supporters. It is an initiative of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in association with the Black Dog Institute and more than 25 partners across Greater Sydney

The Principal Festival Partner is the Bridging Hope Charity Foundation. 

Major public and private funders, partners and supporters include Australian Government, Department of Communication and the Arts: Catalyst - Arts and Culture Fund; The Neilson Foundation; Australia Council for the Arts; City of Sydney; Mental Health Commission of NSW and the NSW Government.

View the full program of events here.

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