Eva Okwonga’s Story
Eva Okwonga travelled to the USA in 2016 to explore peer-led music projects for people with mental health issues.
Eva is a musician, activist and researcher with lived experience of mental illness. Since 2008, she has been running a peer-led music project for people affected by mental health issues. She was keen to observe similar projects in different countries and bring back learning to the UK, to benefit the UK arts and health community, and her own practice.
For her Fellowship, Eva spent four weeks with the Me2/ Orchestra in the USA, the world’s only peer-led classical music organisation for those with mental health problems and the people who support them, and worked closely with Ronald Braunstein, the orchestra’s conductor, and adminstrator Caroline Whiddon.
Eva’s Fellowship took her to Burlington, Vermont and Boston, Massachusetts, as well as a week in Edinburgh at the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival.
“My Fellowship gave me the chance to participate in a range of peer-led music activities, and I was able to see how the projects provided many benefits for participants, peer music leaders and the wider community. I was amazed to see how Me2/ had grown from humble beginnings to an organisation in three cities, helping close to a hundred musicians, and with an international profile. This has inspired me as I seek to develop and expand my own project” –Eva Okwonga
On her return to the UK, Eva spoke about her Fellowship with colleagues at mental health charity Mind. She also presented her findings to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Well-Being at the House of Lords, and has contributed evidence to a report the Group is producing on its work since it was established in 2014. A draft of Eva’s Fellowship report has been presented to the Group’s secretary.
Eva’s Fellowship has greatly influenced her own peer-led practice, and she is hoping to establish a peer-led orchestral music ensemble for mental health in London, with help and inspiration from the Me2/ Orchestra. She is also pursuing a PhD in this research area.
Eva’s peer music group ‘Music in Mind’ was shortlisted for the 2017 Epic Awards, which celebrate the achievements of voluntary arts groups across the UK and Republic of Ireland. In June 2017 she spoke at the Culture Health and Well-Being International Conference in the UK, sharing her findings (9mins 46 secs) with delegates from around the world.