During a brainstorming session between two friends about how to help those with mental illness in Delaware, Candy Fortney had a thought: “What if we had a music festival about mental health awareness?”
Fortney, 23, had long been sympathetic to the mentally ill and wanted to help, but her friend Jason Burlew was initially skeptical. He suggested she send out a tweet to gauge interest. Shortly thereafter, Jocelyn Faro, an Annapolis-based musician, responded with curiosity and sent them some material to approve. And with that, the Happiness Project Music Festival was founded in early 2015. After a year, there have been two large-scale festivals in Georgetown and Smyrna.
Fortney says the festival was born out of the pair’s personal connections to mental health and the struggles they have seen in themselves and in others.
“Our passion in mental health is so strong because of the negative stigma surrounding people with mental illness,” she says. “It is something that is very upsetting to us. We like to think that you are your own person and not your illness. I think that is where our passion comes from.”
Burlew, 35, agrees. “Anybody who is passionate about local music, being a part of the community and making sure that this is an event that is really positive is always welcome to join us,” he says.
Fortney says they settled on music to convey their message because it’s a universal language through which people can connect and forget about their negative issues.
“When we were first talking about wanting to do more regarding mental health, we wanted to pair it with something that was lighthearted and for everyone,” she says. “That’s when we decided music would be the perfect combination because it makes you feel things.”
The event has managed to strengthen its foothold through weekly concerts at the Young Bean Coffee Shop in Clayton as well as free monthly concerts at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington.
Burlew says they try to give exposure to as many area vendors and nonprofit organizations including frequent musical contributions from Faro, Hanna Paige of Newark and Grace Otley of Wilmington.
The festivals attracted over 1,200 people last year, and Burlew and Fortney are teaming up for a fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network this spring.
“Mental health awareness has always been important to me,” Fortney says. “I like to look around and see a few more smiles.”