House of Art & Science at VUB
Brussels, Belgium

The reason that Pilar dedicates a festival to mental health

When we scheduled the theme of ASAP VI in early 2021, we thought March 2022 would be the perfect timing to look back on the pandemic that had been dominating our lives for so long. Back then, we thought we would have left corona behind and there would be the possibility to reflect, from a far distance, on all that it has brought us the past two years. How would we look back on such an odd period of time? Would our social life be as vivid as it used to be?

Fast forward to February 2022: corona still dominates the lives of many. Especially the lives of youngsters. The last two years, they delivered impressive efforts to tackle a virus that they’re usually not very affected by physically. Months of remote education, canceled leisure, quarantines, closed night life and isolation.

Youngsters and their mental health

Conclusions in the reports of the GEMS (group of Belgian experts on corona), World Health Organization, the Motivatiebarometer (a study on corona conducted by the University of Ghent) and the Grote Coronastudie (a study on corona conducted by the University of Antwerp) are unanimous: out of all age groups, mental health of youngsters is pressured the most. Take into account that the emotional state of the youth wasn’t in the greatest condition even before the pandemic. The results of the first phase of the SIGMA-study, a large long-term study into the mental well-being and development of adolescents in Flanders, showed that out of all 1913 contestants, the majority reported to have (mild) psychological complaints. Almost 20% of the participants reported to have moderate to severe symptoms.

Enter Corona. A large Belgian study conducted in the period February-March 2021 pointed out that almost 2 in 3 students find themselves in a state of psychological distress. 80% feels tired and lacks motivation. An increased number of students consider dropping out. Youngsters indicate to have more anxiety and feelings of depression, compared to the same period a year earlier. No less than 1 in 5 express to suffer from suicidal thoughts and only 13% says to feel very happy.

In conversation with youngsters and scientists

Such results do not bring joy to anyone. And besides these results, our trajectory towards ASAP VI only confirmed that what these studies concluded as well. On- and offline, we held extensive conversations with students on this topic and listened to scientists and staff of the university who work on well-being. The elaborated testimonials and input from our own backyard strengthened our conviction to dedicate a festival to mental health. Because our struggles are sometimes too big and too heavy to carry alone.

The programme of Pilar ASAP – Your Current Mood edition mostly wants to create space for you to be who you truly are. A programme with lots of attention for caring and taking care of. For meeting and connecting.


When we listen to music, something happens to us. Music is emotion. The artists that perform at Pilar ASAP bring stories about vulnerability, but also strength. Sometimes melancholic, sometimes cheerful, soothing here and there. The songs of The Haunted Youth cover doubt, hope and how it feels to be a misfit. The perfect soundtrack for those who grow up in uncertain times. Camille Camille is wonderfully melancholic and calming. And abrahamblue and Stace give access to their own world and vulnerability through their songs. Dorian Dumont performs his project Aphexions solo on piano. Peaceful piano, but slightly different.

Fine arts

Our newest exhibition ‘Hello there, I just wanted to ask how you’re doing’, invites you into a warm and welcoming environment. A space where you can just ‘be’ for a while, catch your breathe or take a moment to reflect on how you feel. We create a space for you to literally take a seat. We chose to show art pieces that constructively open conversation on topics like mental health, selflove and the expression of emotions. With work from Sarah & Charles, Nina Van Denbempt, Laura Basterra Sanz, Batsheva Ross and Margot Van den Berghe, a.o.


The theatre programme also focusses on reflection and connection. Loving is Allowed, made by Collectief Elan(d), invites you to a dance theatre party wherein you will navigate between the collective and the individual. With the performance ★★★★☆ vier sterren, The extremely talented crew of collective herman presents a humorous and confrontational piece on the struggle and addictive handling with ego. The internationally acclaimed performance Zvizdal by Berlin is a wonderful and special portrait about loneliness, survival, poverty, hope and love.


Mental well-being and social media are the main themes of an investigative conversation in collaboration with deBuren and our Scherpsteller. During the earlier conversations that we had with students, we learned that they were either fully consumed by social media or that they banned it out of their lives because they cannot cope with its side effects. This debate will provide the opportunity to talk about how social media put pressure on the mental well-being through hate messages or not meeting ‘the standard’. However, it also enables online activism through influencers, which leads to empowerment.


For our literature programme, we linked up with verb(l)ind – a non-profit organization that enables connection and encounter. The section of our festival became an ode to words of gratitude. In an intimate setting and together with Rashif El Kauoi, Maaren Inghels, Rachida Lamrabet and Yousra Benfquih, we will read the letters of thanks that were written by writers, poets, and theatre makers… and exchange thoughts. And perhaps you will go home with the words you were looking for to thank someone yourself.

Will our festival brighten everyone’s day? Probably not. However, we hope it can bring light to some of us, enables warm encounters and helps to bring awareness to the topic of mental health. Because art and culture are the balm for our soul and supports our health and well-being. Therefore, be very welcome, whatever your current mood may be, at Pilar ASAP-Your Current Mood Edition between 03 and 31 March 2022.

Discover the full programme
Written by Gijs Ieven

Community Involvement & Communication

17 February 2022
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