About a year ago, Montclairians and longtime “partners in crime” Elly Meeks and Anne Mernin began brainstorming on ideas for addressing mental health in the community. Meeks, a writer and documentary filmmaker, and Mernin, the executive director of Toni’s Kitchen, were aware of Montclair’s many resources for mental health needs, and thought they needed to be highlighted and celebrated in a larger way. The result? The Montclair Bounce Festival, a weeklong, town-wide event designed to explore “ways to brighten our days and strengthen our spirit.”
The festival, a collaboration between Toni’s Kitchen and the Montclair YMCA that runs from May 31-June 7, will include creative events and learning experiences to help people discover practices and connections that can enrich their lives – such as interactive art spaces, talks, art and improvisation workshops, film screenings and dance parties. Most of them will be free, sponsored by a range of local partners.
“Things like acting with empathy, confronting fears, learning something new, caring for yourself, and practicing altruism support good mental health,” said Meeks. “These are the things that keep us going as we inevitably face challenges in life. Bounce creates all kinds of opportunities that have these principals embedded in them.”
Some of the signature events include an outdoor community meal on the first night of the festival, May 31, on Church St.; Bounce@theSanctuary, an interactive art space at St. Luke’s curated by Rachel Grochowski of RHG Architecture + Design; and a family improv with therapist Neal King. You can find the full list of signature events here.
Other events include a mapping project, which will chart the various places that make Montclairians happy, dance lessons, nondenominational prayer sessions and yoga. Advice tables – manned by adults to give “been there and back” stories to younger people – will be set up throughout the festival, including at Free First Thursdays at MAM.
Meeks, who has lived in Montclair for 20 years, says part of her desire to create Bounce was driven by mental health issues in her own family. “It’s almost karmic that we came upon this when we did,” she said. “It resonated with me.”
She thinks that Bounce will do the same. “I hope the festival is an opportunity for my neighbors and friends, whether I’ve met them or not, to fortify themselves, appreciate themselves, and help others,” she said. “We are a festival of optimism and resilience.”
She adds playfully, “Pessimists are welcome, too.”