Music therapy that can make us all feel so much better – Inside Croydon

KEN TOWL, pictured left, took a superfast SuperLoop bus a few stops from East Croydon to the Bethlem Gallery and encountered a surprisingly engaging new exhibition about music and the mind.

Bethlem Gallery’s latest exhibit is not your average exhibit.

Reception Center: art is at the heart of everything the Bethlem Hospital gallery does

It felt like I would be out of my comfort zone, but tentatively I went. I’m glad I did. From the moment I arrived I was made to feel welcome, invited to come in, look around and play any of the musical instruments.

I looked at the workshop-ready banners and altered album covers that filled the wall, and then a man dressed all in black invited me to sit on one of the three couches in the center of the room.

This turned out to be the exhibition’s curator, Mark McGowan, also known as The Artist Taxi Driver.

“The open mic session is about to begin,” McGowan said. It’s like we arrived at the right time.

Gentleness: Barrington G was among the open mic performers

First up was Barrington G on guitar and he played a bit hesitantly but filled the room with the serenity and softness of his voice.

It was a vulnerable and soulful performance and I felt privileged to be one of the people in the room.

Warren on sax followed, and then some spoken word poetry, for which the performer apologized before he began, and then apologized again after he finished.

It was outrageous, and outrageously funny, delivered staccato and deadpan. This was contrasted by the next performer, a young woman whose poetry was more lyrical, more meditative. What these performers shared was a sense of liberation that seemed to hold them back. It is hoped that by – quite literally – giving them a platform, McGowan can help build their confidence. They all have a lot to say.

McGowan himself offered his poem Custard Creams and Toast, a darkly humorous work about addiction. He identified the exact type of toast he was talking about: “You know that thick 70p Tesco toastie?” and described how she couldn’t stop frying, buttering and eating until it was all gone and started using economy creamers and stuffed herself with carbs and self-loathing.

The poem was especially poignant given that 25 years ago, McGowan was treated at Bethlem while addicted to heroin and first discovered his own talent and interest in art there.

After the show, we asked McGowan what visitors can expect to see at Bethlem Live Lounge. He said: “Unexpected.

The Grand Curator: Mark McGowan, the Taxi Driver artist, poured a lot of energy into the exhibition

“It’s an open space for people to come and play, make music, play with some old gadgets like walkmans, minidiscs, synths, a string double bass, sample machines.

“We want people to see how easy it is to make music.

“We make drums! We have a crafting and crafting workshop every Friday from 10.30am to 12.30pm.

“It’s open to all ages, audiences, and we have people from the Bethlem community come to our projects and workshops.”

McGowan made several references to the “Bethlem community” as we spoke. He looks back on his time at Bethlem with more fondness than his university days. It is, he says, his Alma Mater.

The Bethlem community included residents and day patients and a large cohort of specialized staff supporting the arts program at Bethlem. McGowan is keen to break down stereotypes about mental illness and institutions like Bethlem. Instead of seeing patients as different from us or dangerous, we should understand that “it’s about getting better“.

Hence the gallery, music therapy, art therapy. And art and music, of course, are good for all of us.

They’re also easy to get to, just three stops from East Croydon bus station on the super fast SL5 SuperLoop bus. The Bethlem Gallery is open Wednesday to Saturday from 9.30am to 5pm and the Live Salon, organized by Artist Taxi Driver, will run until July 13. It is indeed a very comfortable lounge.

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