Student-run Mental Health Festival Celebrates its 4th Successful Event

Thanks to Taylor’s Sponsorship, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) on Campus Tulane implemented the 4th Annual Celebrate Mental Health Arts & Music Festival in November 2018. The festival promotes ending the stigma surrounding mental illness through education and awareness, and encourages participants to examine how mental health intersects with every aspect of life.

In April 2018, the NAMI on Campus Tulane executive board assembled a planning committee to organize the 4th Annual Celebrate Mental Health Arts & Music Festival. Our team of 18 undergraduates worked in 12 committees through the summer to construct all of the elements that would go into making the festival a success.

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The Celebrate Mental Health President, Alexander Ledet, met with each member individually to establish a vision for their committee along with realistic goals to make the vision come to reality. In between internships and family vacations, our dedicated committee chairs accomplished everything from securing donations for our raffles to conceptualizing a marketing strategy.

Once NAMI meetings resumed in September, the team met together in person to figure out how to best involve the general NAMI membership in our planning process. Committee heads were able to develop their leadership skills by delegating to the NAMI volunteers throughout the fall semester. It was a challenge to hold meetings with each other and with department heads across campus while balancing school, jobs, and social lives. The last few weeks leading up to the festival were a blur for all of the committee heads. The festival had to be approved by the university, and there were countless meetings, emails, and phone calls in an effort to get all of the details set in stone as soon as possible.

After 7 months of hard work, November 3rd finally rolled around. For both the planning team and the hundreds of festival attendees, every ounce of effort put into making the festival a success was worth it. For the CMH planning committee, the day brought immense relief. We realized that we had worked on this for 7 months. The stage was set up, the speakers were working, we had 60 tables, food, stuff to give away, and people coming. It was evident that it all had come together, and we didn’t need to worry anymore. We could just enjoy it.

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50 student organizations took part in the festival, each hosting an activity that connected their club’s mission with mental health. We also had an art tent displaying student artwork. There, students could make their own tea bags with several varieties of loose leaf tea. While making their teabags, they were surrounded with art related to mental health.

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Festival attendees participated in the numerous activities and racked up raffle tickets, which they could cash in to win one of our dozens of giveaways. The giveaways, ranging from essential oils to vibrators, were intended to encompass all of the different ways that mental health is intertwined in our everyday lives.

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While participants were enjoying the student organization led activities, live musicians performed on stage. The festival featured a variety of artists, from student band Lip Candy to a local group, Thomas Thoreau & the Indie Folk Orchestra. The music was the backbone of the relaxed atmosphere of the festival. Crowds came and went throughout the day, but there were always a few groups of friends laying in the grass in front of the stage, soaking up the sun and enjoying the music.

Many attendees approached members of the e-board and told us how powerful the festival was for them. Talking about mental health and mental illness can be challenging, and the festival gave people a forum to start difficult conversations. Even people who had friends involved in planning the festival were impressed by the magnitude of the event. Filling up Bruff Quad with live music, food, and people was a testament to how much the festival has grown over the years.

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Jesse Benzell, a former NAMI President who co-founded the festival in 2015, returned to attend the festival. He was touched by the legacy he left at Tulane. The festival has grown and evolved immensely over the years. No matter what form it takes on, it will continue to encourage Tulane students to stay informed of the resources available to them on campus and to support each other. Throughout the process, the CMH planning committee relied a lot on the documentation from previous festivals. Our Google folder, which contains every spreadsheet, budget, and letter draft since the festival’s conception in 2015, was immensely helpful. The NAMI President and the CMH President were careful to extensively document the planning process as past leaders have done. The CMH planning team will continue to learn from past successes and missteps in order to craft an event that is inclusive, educational, and accessible for the Tulane community.

For some, the Celebrate Mental Health Arts and Music Festival brought experience in event planning. For others, it brought a relaxing day full of food, music, and friends. For everyone, it brought an atmosphere where talking about mental health was encouraged without judgment.