The Monthly talks to Paula Matthews about Deep Down Arts and Well-Being

What got you involved with the Arts?

My grandparents encouraged us; my grandfather was a visual artist, a painter, and my grandmother worked with wood carvings. They also encouraged us musically, they were always singing to us and would encourage us to sing.

At school I did my grades in music, mainly singing. Music was my primary passion. I performed in musical theatre. As I got older I fell in love with poetry.

After I had children I started to look at my own writing and I started to develop that side of my work.

Did you continue with the Arts after school?

I did a degree in English Literature when I left school. I always loved English and so that suited me.

After completing that degree, one of the first jobs I had was working as a development officer with Jigsaw Northern Ireland.

The organisation worked on Visual Arts for people in our community who had mental health issues. We went to Day Centres and worked on mosaics, things like that. During the period in that job I started to see how the Arts could improve people’s mental health.

Jigsaw NI

That job had an impact on your practice?

Yes. I was able to see how creativity could impact positively on mental health; that the arts could aid in recovery.

Later I qualified as a Social Worker, and I started to include the arts, poetry in particular, in my work with people recovering from domestic violence. I used poetry to help build their self-esteem.

And you develop that practice using the Arts to aid in recovery?

Yes. I worked in the prisons using literature, and went on to work in private care as a Diversional Therapist, it was a unit which dealt with mental health using arts-based therapy.

I now work in a neuro disability hospital and I’m developing a programme using the arts.

Diversional Therapy

Is there something that the arts offers which other therapies don’t?

For me writing is very important, poetry seems to work well with regards people with mental health difficulties. There is theoretical literature which explains why this is, there is a theory based approach known as “Positive Steps” which looks at the steps to improving mental health and well-being. There is a notion that allowing difficult ideas to flow to the page allows some respite from those ideas maintaining themselves in an unhealthy way in the mind.

When you have mental health problems, or more importantly you experience trauma, your para-sympathetic nervous system tends to shut down, this is the area that allows you to be calm, get rest and sleep. Artistic activities tend to allow this system to re-establish itself and that aids in overcoming trauma.

Now it is important to state here that I am not suggesting that Art for Art’s sake isn’t immensely important. I want people to engage artistically, but in my case the arts and mental health is what I am passionate about.

So how was Deep Down Arts and Well-Being set up?

I set that up. I put out a call on Facebook about Arts and Well-Being. That was in County Down initially and a lot of people were interested and we did some consultations with artists who were working in this area, and with suicide prevention groups and mental health groups.

From those consultations, we developed a programme that became Deep Down Arts and Well-Being.



This project is multi genre and also you have spaces, meetings, which people can attend?

Many people said to us we needed more than just one off events. We have set up spaces which are ongoing, which are easy to access and which are low cost. The idea is that the activities we set up have an approach which isn’t short term.

We are aiming to build groups and networks, we have a songwriter’s network and a poetry group. Those are art-forms that we have managed to find locations which suit people.

We are developing a network of artists. We are aiming to build a group who support each other, there will be training around coping mechanisms regarding Mental Health issues.

That is a work in progress.

Rail Crossing

You are providing training?

We are aiming to do that. Artists we talked to said they often found themselves being asked to work in areas that they really needed training for but that training wasn’t always accessible.

We have also had Care Homes contacting us to let us know that artists who have come in to work in the homes really needed additional training, so we are looking at ways to build bridges between those needs.

How is this project funded?

We don’t have funding at the moment. We are a newly constituted group but we hope to look for funding in the future.

Can people be part of the project?

We are open to people joining us either through lived experience or as artists. You can email us at and the website can be found at the following link –

artist forms link
New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.