Sunday, 17 March 2019

A new post at Arts for Health...

First things first - I’m happy to be advertising a part-time 12 month early career researcher post with me at Arts for Health. We are looking for someone not only with the prerequisite skills and experience set out in the job description and person spec, but someone who really enjoys getting out and meeting people from all walks of life - and believes that culture and the arts in all their forms, can contribute to social change. All the details are HERE.

A short blog from me this week, and if you want a bit more of the personal filth and grit, I’ve contributed a small offer to Paintings in Hospital’s 60 Years, 60 Voices campaign. Find out more by clicking on the de Chirico image below.  

I have had the great pleasure of taking part in two very different and very exciting events this week: one in Rochdale Town Hall in an extraordinary event where I met some ace and really inspiring people. More on that soon. For anyone who asked to see my presentation online, you can find it HERE.

M6 Theatre Company blew me away with their short piece for one actor, 
written and directed by Rochdale artist Parvez Qadir and based on the urgent and critical theme of child criminal exploitation, which explores amongst other issues, gang culture and looks at what it means to feel trapped with no escape routes. The second event was in the Wallgate Chippy where I spent the day with people from Manchester and Wigan exploring a bold new collaboration called Home in Your Heart, facilitated by Tracie Daly. Great to take The Manchester Declaration on the road to both these two communities.

I have to say a big thank you to four of my MA Arts, Health & Wellbeing students who took a huge part in this event, and have been a treat to work with. Thank you. Big thanks too, to Dave and Pedro at ShortForm for going way beyond the call of duty.

If anyone around Greater Manchester wants me to come along and share The Manchester Declaration - just get in touch here.

I'm looking forward to meeting up with many of you over at the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance conference next week. 

Here's a sweet song for the week ahead. Small - but perfectly formed.


Saturday, 9 March 2019

The Manchester Declaration

That was the week that was...

...rounded off with an excellent conversation between Mark Prest and Melanie Manchot as part of Whitworth Thursday lates, this conversation explored the relationship between Recoverism and Manchot’s work Twelve (2015) commissioned by Portraits of Recovery. It seem’s fitting to top this blog posting with this extraordinary piece of work that really put’s a line down in the sand blurring the boundaries between contemporary art and recoverism. It’s a seminal piece of work in the field and marks a ten year evolution in Prest’s cultural reimagining of the lived experience of recovery from substance misuse.

But this was Thursday night.

I’d just spent the previous hour in an exhibition of Lucy Burscough in the same gallery, and was still processing the jewel-like beauty of her work exploring the lives of people who have undergone treatment for facial cancers. Her small portraits of Graeme who has undergone numerous procedures are a thing of troubling beauty. This man exudes dignity and warmth and his, like may other stories in this exhibition, unfold for us all, to slowly take in. Questions of identity and sense of self and a real humanity fit this room, and alongside image of people who have undergone facial surgery, the story of the surgeon is there too. It’s an important exhibition of work and further cements Burscough’s place in this important field which bridges medical humanities with something altogether very, very human. The exhibition, Facing Out runs until 2nd June.

Lucy Burscough, Graeme, 2017

On Wednesday how I wished I could be in multiple places all at once, and I missed the showing of Amanda Ravetz’s My Recoverist Family and This is My Face: What lies inside a journey with HIV, a film by Angelica Cabezas. I’m lucky to have seen both pieces of work, but here’s a taster of what it is all about.

This is My Face: What lies inside a journey with HIV. In Chile, people living with HIV fear stigma, and often conceal their condition and remain silent about what they are going through. This is My Face explores what happens when a range of men living with the virus open up about the illness that changed their life trajectories. It follows a creative process whereby they produce photographic portraits that represent their (often painful) memories and feelings, a process which helps them challenge years of silence, shame, and misrepresentation. A lesson in the power of collaborative storytelling. Directed by Angelica Cabezas.

Image: Angelica Cabezas

My Recoverist Family
. An LGBT+ group from Greater Manchester are on a non-linear journey through recovery from substance use. Presided over by performance artist and high wire avant-gardist David Hoyle with supporting artist Jackie Haynes, their trips around the north west culminate in a once – and only once – live arts performance at Manchester’s international arts venue HOME. Cutting between final performance and nomadic workshops, the film bears witness to these recoverists’ unique perspectives on addiction, the vitalising power of art and friendship and on what it is that they – and we – need to recover from. Commissioned by Portraits of Recovery. Directed by Amanda Ravetz and Huw Wahl, featuring Justin Freeman, Greg Thorpe, Jackie Haynes, Mark Prest, David Hoyle and Adele Fowles.

If you get the opportunity - these are both beautiful and affecting pieces of work.

As this work shimmered and danced for those lucky enough to be in Islington Mill, I spent a little time with Darren Henley the CEO of Arts Council England, who not only had spent the day at the World Healthcare Congress (more of which in a minute) but was now spending time soaking up something of the rich cultural offer of Greater Manchester. We kick-started the evening with an event curated by Venture Arts at the Manchester Gallery and it’s guest speaker the artist Tony Heaton, initiator of the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive. This VA Collective event is part of a series of discussions and events organised by Venture Arts for people who have an interest in the work of learning disabled artists in context with contemporary art and society. Tony shared rich, poignant and deeply relevant images that resonate.

Great Britain from a Wheelchair: Tony Heaton
At the Museum of Science and Industry the whole place seemed fit to burst with a young and fully engaged crowd. The late-event called Culture Cures brought science and the arts together beautifully and in exceptionally powerful ways. Lots of participatory stalls, music, film and energy and at the centre of it all, performers taking to a small stage to bast us with dance and spoken word. Company Chameleon particularly drilled inside me. Kevin Edward Turner was emotive, refreshing and dynamic in his revelations around bi-polar. Utterly beautiful.

Then there was the World Healthcare Congress (Europe)
When I began to explore what an arts, health and social change element of the World Healthcare Congress might look like, two years ago with Esme Ward, I never imagined for a moment that Greater Manchester would be pulsating with all those cultural happenings in the days surrounding the congress. With the IMPACT conference still on the horizon in Rochdale this coming week, and the activist/artist Tracie Daly kicking off a new period of intensive work in Wigan on Wednesday - this fortnight is positively dizzying!

But how can I objectively unpick a conference in which I’ve been so deeply involved? Hmmm. That’s a tricky one. For me, the session entirely devoted to people who, for what ever reason, have been patients in the healthcare system - and who shared their experiences - was profound and crackled with electricity. What is it to be human? What is it to be at the mercy of the system, as opposed to being the centre of it, creating it, respected, heard and valued. I learnt many new things this week and was inspired by people I knew and those who have been off my radar. I’ll take some time to distil it all. I’ve been so worried about the uncertainty around all things European, I was completely thrilled that 24 countries were represented. Yet still it feels as though the disarray in politics is like some hell-fire brass band marching its way towards Beachy Head.*

The things that surrounded the conference and the people that attended and took part are what made it for me. Biggest thanks to all the presenters and keynotes. There’ll be much more thought on this over the next month. I'm thrilled that the British Council commissioned ShortForm to capture some of the conference to disseminate more widely. I'll look forward to sharing this in due course which will tell multiple stories of the conference, of Age Friendly Culture and of course our arts, health and social change direction.

The Manchester Declaration
For those of you who regularly come to this blog (or stumble inside its murky corners by mistake), you’ll know that whilst I try and cover North West Regional things, I am developing some really interesting work in Greater Manchester - but I do believe it’s all relevant to our national agenda, not just in terms of research and practice - but also strategy and policy and the values that should underpin them.

Last year I launched the Manchester Institute for Arts, Health & Social Change (MIAHSC) as a collective of people interested and committed to developing this agenda across Greater Manchester - while connecting with, responding to and influencing the national and international field. Between the launch of the institute and the World Healthcare Congress, I’ve facilitated some events, held some workshops and had some amazing conversations around shared aspirations. I’ve weaved these into a shared statement of values and am encouraging anyone around GM or further afield to sign up and put their name to it. It ties in a wider exploration of values being developed as part of the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance and like the Manifesto that was collectively created here in the North West back in 2011, it’s all about galvanising and our collective strengths and leading this agenda through thinking and action. The time has never felt more right to advance this work.  

So, I launched it at the congress as it seemed a suitable event to air this thinking and direction. The Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham was keen to support it - and yes, the photo of us together is cheesy! But it's more than just a photo, and this advocacy, alongside Lord Howarth of Newport, who was here to deliver a keynote and from the CEO Arts Council England, Darren Henley OBE, is critical when held up alongside the advocacy of the people who contributed to it - and who make up our community. Think activists and artists - strategists and citizens. It’s early days yet, but I’m really hoping that more and more of you who have been involved will embrace the declaration and sign up. Send a mug shot and a link - and I’ll look forward to those next steps. Things are evolving - so let's pursue a vision. You can get a taste of it all on the MIAHSC website by clicking HERE. At Manchester Met I am indebted to the very real help of Georgina Burns, Lucy Burke, Helen Felcey and more distantly, Wills.

Now I could be accused of being a tad premature, as they are not online yet - but I will be recruiting for two job opportunities shortly. One will be a post-doc to work with us on The Manchester Institute for Arts, Health & Social Change and undertake some very interesting research across Greater Manchester. We are still discussing the second role and you’ll see them both here first and via our twitter and facebook accounts. Keep your eyes peeled. Gale force imminent! 

Workshop - Health and Arts together
Exploring ideas for Wellbeing at Work....

by Nicky Duirs and Shanali Perera

Make space and Breathe. Arts and Health together - Wellbeing at work. What can we learn from each Other? A catalyst workshop for both Arts and Health sector professionals, to come together and explore way to "support ourselves to sustain our work with others." Full details of this event on the afternoon of April 17th HERE.
Part of the Live Well Make Art micro-grant scheme 

Manchester Centre for Youth Studies and Community Arts North West present:
The Politics of Provocation: A conversation about the ethics of community arts practice with refugee-background young people

Tuesday March 26th, 5-7pmDr Dave Kelman, Western Edge Youth Arts; Victoria University, Australia
Drawing on recent research that examined a community theatre project in an Australian regional city, this presentation interrogates the ethical dilemmas that confront an external arts practitioner when working with refugee-background communities. It considers ethno-theatre, pedagogy, questions of authorship and ventriloquism and the tension between art and authenticity. A practitioner working in such contexts faces a myriad of dilemmas about how far a theatre work should go in challenging mainstream narratives and what the consequences may be for the participants and the practitioner if the challenge goes too far (and whose decision is it to make?). Full details HERE.

*One delegate - (Geoff I think) left me ruminating on the behaviour of politicians and ministers who bray from the privileged pit of the House of Commons modelling behaviour that would be abhorrent in any other walk of life. Yet they carry on with their act, all shrouded in history and free speech. Bullies and self aggrandisement in the name of some pseudo-shakespearian amateur dramatics. 


Saturday, 16 February 2019

. . . - - - . . .

Another week, another blog and this week has seen the death of Bruno Ganz, who I have to make passing reference too, not least because he features in my recent film/presentation in an extract from Wim Wenders, Wings of Desire. Sublime. An angel, a ghost. Here’s that opening scene from the film.

We are three weeks away from the World Healthcare Congress (Europe), and while I realise that a big thing like this is out of the financial reach of people not involved in medicine with generous conference budgets, it’s critical that we influence the thinking of that sororal/fraternity! So bringing together artists/academics who can drive home the arts/cultural agenda in the context of health - has never felt more opportune, particularly making the most of Creative Health and the diverse practice being represented. Let’s hope that we get some significant funded places for artists for the second iteration of this event in 2020. For those of you still interested in attending this years event, there are still places HERE and other events on the horizon include Live Well Make Art on the 5th March, IMPACT: Reaching Out in Rochdale on March 13th and the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance conference on 21/22 Match, all of which I plan to take participate in. Of course, the elephant in the room with all these things, is the spectre of 29th March 2019. It will have an impact on all we do. In a recent interview with Chris Sharratt for FRIEZE I touch on some of the above. You can read his feature HERE. Hey ho.

Dementia on a Stick...

Last week I read another deeply insightful book written by Leo Nolan and Alison Clough and has the odd name of Dementia on a Stick! Come on - you just have to know more about a book with a name like that! Last year I had the good fortune of meeting Leo and Alison in Lancaster, where they were performing a collaborative piece of work with Sue Gilmartin, Anna Clough and Ro Morton at the Dukes Theatre. Anyone who knows me, will know I’m kind-of really uptight about audience participation, and their work under the banner of Cognitive Shift was part of a full-on immersive ‘jamboree’ as part of A Life More Ordinary Festival. Well - you can guess it - I was blown away. Yes it was participatory, but devoid of pretension, gentle and inclusive. The centrepiece of it all, was a pice of shadow play exploring the musician Leo Nolan’s experience of living with dementia.

The book is an exploration of process, experience and celebration and because the multi-talented artist Ali Clough is involved - it has real integrity. (Ali has been central to numerous arts/community/health projects and action for years. Think: Welfare State International, Pioneer Projects et al). The book presents us with an unfolding process and day-to-day uncertainties - both for Leo and for Ali and her collaborators - and it plots some very real and wonderfully considered approaches to creativity.

For me, the exploration of BINGO - and not what you imagine - is very revealing and helps the reader understand with far more depth, the texture of life with insecurities with a diagnosis of dementia, alongside the joyous liberation that the arts sometimes offer. This book is a refreshing read amongst the prescriptive approaches to arts/health doled out to many people living with dementia and is neither evangelical in its approach, or in the slightest bit deferential to bio-medical understandings of any of its process and outcomes. It’s about being human and thriving and working collectively. For details of where you can buy this book email 


Sunday, 10 February 2019

Time Moves Slow

Last week I made a small footnote on the work of artist Greg Gilbert who had an exhibition opening in Southampton alongside the publication of a new book of poetry. I want to dwell on footnotes and the evolving nature of this blog, if I may. This is motivated by a number of things - not least I bought a copy of this book of poetry and find in it something far more than a footnote - but back to this in just a moment.
 A song for those of you who are lucky to be in love on the horror that is valentines day.

Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance
You’ll probably be aware (but no worries if not) that the National Alliance for Arts, Health & Wellbeing has merged with the similar museums organisation and is now the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance which is intrinsically wrapped up in the national picture, particularly stemming from the APPG report Creative Health. I had a role on the original alliance and similarly now on the newer alliance alongside my colleague in Liverpool Museums, Carol Rogers - both of us supporting our North West region in any ways that we can. The alliance will be launching a new website very soon - and it will have some dedicated regional pages, which I very much hope might absorb some of the regular jobs/grants/conferences input I’ve regularly updated here. This will give your blogger more opportunities to think about the alleys and ginnels of our arts, health and social change world and perhaps offer a more critical eye on it all - with music and oddities thrown in for good measure!

So while I’m thinking about the alliance, it is worth noting the conference date again, which is on 21/22 March over in Newcastle. Full details HERE. I’ll look forward to seeing any of you who can make it there. 

Love Makes a Mess of Dying
When someone gets a diagnosis of cancer, it fundamentally changes the world for them and those people who inhabit their intimate sphere. Different cancers, different diagnoses and different prognoses too. Siddhartha Mukherjee wrote an extraordinary ‘biography’ of cancer in his book, Emperor of All Maladies, but all those individual and universal experiences of people living with a diagnosis, are really very complex. Into that complex emotional space its inevitable that people are drawn to making sense of everything - thank god for all those imaginations and dormant skills that are unleashed by illness. It’s quite remarkable. Mike White came and gave a talk at Arts for Health when his health was really undermined by cancer - yet he came and shared his key thinking - and (I know I’ve mentioned it before) - his one Prima Donna caveat for sharing, was that I played Psycho Killer by the Talking Heads when I introduced him. Superb man. I’ve waxed lyrical too about the place of Maggie’s Centres in the lives of people living with cancer - but more than that - the exquisite vision and drive of Maggie Keswick-Jenks who believed that things can be different. Superb woman.

Then I read and reread the article about Greg Gilbert, which I’d posted as a footnote last week and ordered his book Love Makes a Mess of Dying, and today collapsed into reading and rereading his poems and prose. Yes, he sings in a band and went to art school, but there’s something here that runs deeper than just his arts education and pedigree. It’s somehow inevitable that given his diagnosis of cancer, the work he is creating is blossoming into something imbued with a clarity and depth of beauty that his own personal experience brings. He’s clearly a very accomplished artist - but his diagnosis somehow fills his new work with urgency and a shimmering beauty. For any of us interested in this relationship between the arts and human creativity Greg Gilbert’s writing reveals something way beyond our sometimes narrow and evangelical thinking, (and in my own case, always thinking around bigger societal factors) and brings us up close to the intimate fragility of our existence. From the troubling opening prose of Blue Draped Cube to his exquisite closing poem, Tree Envy (The Field Again) this is an incredible collection. His drawings are quite sublime - his words are beguiling. I’d love to share some of his poems here, but for now, I really recommend buying this book, and you can find out how to HERE. To see more of his drawings, click on his Biro Miniature below, Affinities 1. Incredible work. 

World Healthcare Congress (Europe) 
Amongst a raft of great speakers and workshops taking place as part of the World Healthcare Congress, I’m thrilled we have Lord Howarth back in Manchester to share further thinking around Creative Health and update us as to the progress being made on the recommendations set out in the report. We’ll have CEO of Arts Council England, Darren Henley OBE sharing his perspectives on the cultural landscape and the ACE ten-year strategic plan, which is under development.We’ll be exploring how we address health inequalities through cultural participation and civic action and how might we bridge the ingenuity gap in health provision, practice and policy? To register for one day or the full event click HERE. I'm so thrilled to be a part of this, and of course, next years 'post-brexit' version too! 

Still Ill OK… 
…has existed online as a blog and arts service for a while, but they have organised the first collective group meet up for people who have long term health conditions and/or disabilities and would like to become part of a group making art and making change. This is a great opportunity for people to get together who are passionate about the benefits of art as a coping strategy and who often feel left out of other art and political groups. The Still Ill OK Craftivist Group will be taking place on 19th Feb at Head Bar in Stretford. You can find all the details of this event on their facebook page or HERE.

A Recipe for Home
The images above relate to a community workshop facilitated by the MA Arts, Health & Wellbeing group last week. Cast members from the recent performance of Can You Here Me From Up Here? - alongside the arts activist Tracie Daly, came and gave critical feedback to the next stage of this work which will unfold in Wigan as part of a long-term exploration of life lived out in tower blocks. My personal thanks for so many of you taking part, and to the students who developed and delivered this - superb.


Tuesday 5th March 2019, 1 – 4.45pm
Event Space, HOME, 2 Tony Wilson Place, Manchester, M15 4FNOn Tuesday 5th March, at HOME, we will be holding the last Live Well Make Art event in the popular series funded through Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Great Places initiative and will explore how the arts can raise awareness, campaign, provoke, inspire and collaborate with all those who care about health, to help make change happen. To get more details about the line of of speakers, or to book a place, click HERE.

Thursday Lates: Melanie Manchot: Twelve
7 March, 6pm. Free
 - Whitworth
Portraits of Recovery and the Whitworth present a screening of Twelve by Melanie Manchot and post in-conversation with the artist, curator Mark Prest of Portraits of Recovery, and Professor Amanda Ravetz from MMU.
 Twelve is Manchot’s major multi channel video installation work exploring the intimate stories, rituals, repetitions and ruptures of lives spent in addiction and recovery. Inspired by the visual acuity of renowned contemporary filmmakers, the work connects and collapses individual recollections in which everyday situations, events and activities are rendered dramatic or abstract and infused with tragedy, pathos and humour.
 Over two years Manchot worked in dialogue with twelve people in recent recovery from substance misuse. TWELVE is directly informed by their personal written and oral testimonies, creative conceptions, and performances within the final works. To find out more, or book a place, click HERE.

And finally, but most certainly not a footnote...
Facing Out: Life after treatment for facial cancer 

An exhibition of portraits of people who have experienced facial cancers together with their choice of artworks from the Whitworth collections.22 February – 2 June 2019

The portraits have been created in public by Lucy Burscough during her residency at Maggie’s Cancer Support Centre at The Christie Hospital. Centre visitors were welcome to chat to Lucy about her work as they watched the paintings develop.

As someone who looks at faces for her job, Burscough is interested in what happens when someone experiences cancer which alters their appearance. If the face changes, how does that affect one’s sense of self? Her subjects speak of being acutely aware of the gaze of others, in the street or at their work, and they recognise that people’s eyes can naturally be drawn to people whose faces are unusual. Becoming the subject of a portrait under these circumstances is an empowering act of defiance and welcoming people to look at one’s face, scars and all, is an invitation to acknowledge a shared humanity and triumph over this indiscriminate illness. 

When one takes on the role of ‘patient’ or ‘cancer survivor’, and facets of our identity that we hold dear: jobs, hobbies or social activities, may fade into the background, our sense of who we are can take a knock. The artworks chosen from the Whitworth’s collection by the subjects to be displayed alongside their portraits, have been selected to reflect their wider identities and illustrate cherished aspects of who they are. For much more information, click on Lucy's site HERE, or the exhibition site HERE. I cannot wait to see this exhibition and find out more about the sitter's and the artists experiences. 

Next week - some thoughts on Dementia on a Stick! - and an update on The Manchester Declaration.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

What’s that coming over the hill... it a monster?
No silly, it’s the (released without fanfare in a time of Brexit) NHS ‘Social Prescribing and Community-based Support Summary Guide’ including its Common Outcomes Framework, alongside a template for ‘Link Workers’ and more insight into this agenda as part of the governments ‘Personalised Care’ agenda. Now, you’ll know I’ve already expressed a little concern over the offer of artists being ‘free social cures’! - but if this agenda is rolling out, it’s one we’ll need to not just engage with - but influence. There are a couple of brief references to the arts in this 30 page document, and at least it cites Creative Health as a point of reference. I can’t help thinking of the deeply grounded work that START in Salford have been delivering for decades, and to when I first really heard mention of Arts on Prescription in Stockport in the early 1990’s. So yes, let’s embrace it - but let’s look to where the public (not just the patients) alongside arts/cultural organisations drive the health and social change agenda. And let’s make sure the arts aren’t used as a smoke screen to hide the incremental funding cut
s and privatisation of the NHS! There are a raft of really interesting observations emerging around this agenda and Helen Salisbury writing on the BMJ and a response to her writing, are insightful. 

(a pause for Elisabeth Moss and Max Richter)

Another survey suggests that galleries are great for reducing this Global Plague of Anxiety (my words, not theirs). The Arts Fund suggest that young people who are stressed out of their minds are going in droves to galleries, to improve their mental health! Distressingly they also suggest in their survey, Calm and Collected, that: '40% of adults feel anxious some of the time.’ Good grief - 40%! You’ll forgive me for being a little in awe of the other 60% of adults, who we can assume, don’t feel anxious some of the time - ever! It must be amazing not to feel anxious/stressed/depressed when someone we love dies, we lose a job, we’re ill - or in fact - we’re dying ourselves. God - I love robust statistics. 

Of course, I think galleries and museums have a critical part to play in a healthy society, but I’m beginning to have serious worries about the contagion of anxiety. It seems that every single stress or anxiety has become a sickness to be cured, not just a normal part of life. I know just how much anxiety can be crippling, so if we’re all being told we’re anxious, it just becomes the way we understand ourselves - our defining characteristic, and therein lies the path to something more extreme, driven by shame and worthlessness.

No One's Coming to Save You
To find out more about the work of Smith & Genever and work that they explored with young people in a residential mental health unit, click HERE.

But back to galleries and museums and this influx of young people - I have a slightly cynical perspective framed by observation - the cult of the selfie. More and more I see people wielding their smart phones in an attempt to document their connection to culture, so we need to understand pseudo interaction with the arts beyond the easily instagram-able, to the collective - and this might involve thinking beyond simplistic ideas around happiness and anxiety, and rather, how the arts in all their forms ask difficult questions and hold all our thinking up to account.

Why are we fixating on calming the stressed masses and not exploring and fixing the factors that push people into serious mental stress? All the evidence shows that the most unequal people feel anxiety much more of the time, but perhaps are still less likely to visit galleries.

This is why the place of galleries in working with marginalised communities is a really interesting and bigger story - and one that whilst not offering 'solutions' to societies ills, might just ask the right questions and provoke deeper thinking. Gallery/arts participation has the potential to offer a real sense of community too and Dementia & Imagination research found that of 37% of the 271 people living with dementia, or caring for people with dementia in this research project - had never previously engaged with the arts. In other words, it was the condition of dementia that brought them to the arts for the very first time. This is powerful and significant. It would be very easy to believe that we somehow need to evidence the impact of the arts in the language of bio-medical science, but the arts do something more nuanced and subtle than that, and it's this blogger’s belief, that it’s the language of the arts in all their forms, which offer multiple means to explore the most complex of existential conversations - what it is to be human, to have finite life and to affect change. Not just in ourselves - but collectively.

Nou Ra
The work that I was lucky to be involved in with Portraits of Recovery around substance misuse and recovery, and which gave birth to the concept of recoverism moving away from passivity to cultural activism is an interesting case of point. This work has gathered momentum and spun off in a million directions, predominantly in work instigated by Mark Prest. This week he sent me one of those small golden moments in my week, which the artist Nou Ra has kindly agreed to me posting. Nou is one of a group of people behind the sold-out forthcoming performance of The Washing Up in Manchester. Directed by Kate Lodge, "The Washing Up is performed and created by people in addiction recovery. With original songs and stories, it takes an absurd look at the politics and practice of this every day act”. More details of the performance can be found HERE. So a big thanks for sharing this poetic piece of work with us Nou. It's a short and profound spoken word piece on anxiety and everyday life - it's raw and affecting. Click on this image/soundcloud above.

Love Makes A Mess Of Dying

Here’s a very readable article about the artist Greg Gilbert who used to be in the band The Delays, and who since a cancer diagnosis has created a superb body of work; both poems and visual art. He currently has an exhibition at the Southampton City Art Gallery until 6th May, and a new book of poetry -  Love Makes A Mess Of Dying. Full details HERE to the Tim Jonze feature. Profound & beautiful Greg and I've got my order in for this book and more on this blog very soon. Photograph: Zachary Culpin/Solent News. 

A Recipe for Home...I'm proud to be supporting my optional Masters in Arts, Health & Wellbeing students in a participatory exhibition they have created exploring concepts of, and ingredients to making a home. It all takes place on the first floor of the Righton building on Cavendish Street on the 7th of February from 11.00-16.00, with two facilitated workshops at 13:30 and 14:00.

Two footnotes:

#1. Jeremy Hardy: intelligent/wicked - forensic/warm - political/integrity 

#2. Bob Mortimer: just wonderful on Desert Island Discs.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Wir Schaffen Das!


This old blog features the occasional poem - ok - your blogger may be a miserablist stuck-in-the-mud with his Philip Larkin, but it’s heartening to read that more and more younger people are gobbling up poems. In a widely reported analysis of the stats, Donna Ferguson comments: “Statistics from UK book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan show that sales grew by just over 12% last year, for the second year in a row. In total, 1.3m volumes of poetry were sold in 2018, adding up to £12.3m in sales, a rise of £1.3m on 2017. Two-thirds of buyers were younger than 34 and 41% were aged 13 to 22, with teenage girls and young women identified as the biggest consumers last year.”

Although the same article reports, sales are “…booming because in times of political upheaval and uncertainty, people turn to poems to make sense of the world” - which seems inevitable to me, and I guess the use of social media to share spoken word artists, and the generally ‘short form’ of poetry, makes it something accessible. Let’s hope its not just all about sales for the publishers eh? And what about some of the poets who create longer and more penetrating work? Let’s hope that work longer than a haiku makes it into the mind-sets of new readers, because as Simon Armitage reminds us, poetry is “oppositional and a form of dissent” Plus it requires just a little concentration!

The Nine Pure Gifts
All sorts of things tumble into my inbox each week and this week, a new piece of work by musician Holly Marland piqued my interest! Holly worked for many years at the RNCM leading on Music & Health there and more recently, is deeply embedded with LIME Music for Health. So it’s exciting to see she is premiering new body of work for Kora and voice at Stoller Hall on 16th March. Details are all on the poster below, or by clicking HERE.

Creative and Innovative Approaches to involving older people with Orchestras
Orchestra’s Live have just published a new online publication, From Bingo to Bartok: Creative and Innovative Approaches to involving older people with Orchestras. Commissioned by the Baring Foundation, the publication spotlights some of the best examples of orchestral work supporting older people living better lives and meeting the challenges of health and loneliness. Introduced by the Rt Hon. The Lord Howarth of Newport CBE, Co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing, the publication features Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, City of London Sinfonia, Manchester Camerata, Orchestras Live, Philharmonia and Sinfonia Viva and emerging practice from abroad. It also contains a comprehensive list of current UK initiatives and an academic review of research and evaluation.
Read the full report HERE. 

Jonas Mekas 1922 - 2019
National Alliance of Musicians in Healthcare Conference 2019
This year's NAMIH conference will be held at the Friends' Meeting House in Brighton on 10th June and will be hosted by Rhythmix, with support from the National Foundation of Youth Music.  Times, schedule and content for the day will all be confirmed in due course, but for now please do save the date! We'd also like to put a call-out to anyone who'd be interested in joining our Conference Steering Group.  We are looking for a small team of volunteers for this and would like to stress that this won't be a huge commitment!  We'd ask that you are available for a 2 or 3 Skype calls for no more than an hour each, to help set the theme and focus for this year's event. No admin tasks will be delegated to you between calls - we promise! Click HERE for more!
A Treasury of Arts Activities for Older People
Over the last year Small Things have been delighted to work with The Baring Foundation to create a treasury of arts activities for older people. This consists of 50 activities to be used in any setting with older people and includes contributions from some of the leading artists and organisations creating work with, by and for older people in the UK.
 Click HERE.  

“Wir schaffen das”
Arts Professional have an excellent article by Julia Grime looking at how German theatre has been welcoming the cultural initiatives and political messages of its growing refugee population. Read more by clicking on the image above.

Image: Ya Kebir by Collective Ma’Louba. 
Photo: © G Bresadola


Monday, 21 January 2019

Perfect future versions of our current flawed selves...

A Cumbria Arts in Health Conversation
What a treat - a real and genuine treat - it was to travel to Carlisle and spend time with people pushing this arts and health agenda up in Cumbria. My thanks to Susie Tate for the invitation and all friends and colleagues, old and new. This collaboration between the people, artists, the University of Cumbria and Healing Arts of North Cumbria University Hospital Trust has so much potential, particularly given that the social prescribing agenda is on the ascendance. Some profound and deeply moving moments too! Our community of interest is expanding and as well as something a large-scale event being on the cards in Lancaster, (keep your eyes peeled) there’s an event happening in Rochdale.

IMPACT: Reaching Out
Weds 13th March
Rochdale Town Hall

IMPACT: Reaching Out conference focuses on using creativity to achieve meaningful engagement and positive mental wellbeing outcomes. Aimed at health professionals, arts organisations, third sector partners and the education sector, delegates will take part in inspirational workshops and presentations for a unique and immersive experience. More details and tickets HERE.  

Soothing the Mind and Keeping the UK Solvent
Vanessa Thorpe writing in the prohibitively expensive Guardian this week, reports that: "Art-loving young people in Britain use museums and galleries to combat the stress of modern life, a study for a national charity has found."
"While art fans of all ages feel that looking at paintings and sculptures is a good way to unwind, new figures analysed by the Art Fund show that those under 30 are twice as likely to visit a museum or gallery at least once a month specifically to “de-stress”." It's all very interesting, positive stuff and good to read Vanessa, but let's not forget that the arts might also be offering provocation and a little disequilibrium too! Read

I read too, that the Creative Industries Federation have undertaken a study that a no-deal Brexit would cause 21 per cent of the UK's creative companies to consider moving their businesses abroad. Also, it would make it harder for 40 per cent of the UK's creative businesses to export. The creative industries are the fastest growing part of the UK’s economy, contributing to over £100 billion in GVA per year. Read more on that HERE.

Literary Administrator
Part Time, Fixed Term (3 days per week, 12 month contract)
This is a perfect job for someone with an interest in seeing the work of D/deaf and disabled writers better represented on stage. You will be supporting Graeae’s lauded, highly-connected training programme, Write to Play, and will be the first point of contact for writers wishing to submit scripts for consideration. The deadline for receipt of applications is 10am, Monday 4 February 2019 and we will be recruiting someone to start on or by the 1 April 2019. Full details HERE.
The Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance Annual Conference
The Alliance’s first annual conference will be held in Newcastle on 21 and 22 March 2019. The conference is aimed at those working with the arts/heritage/creativity and health/wellbeing - or interested in learning more about this work. We hope it will be an opportunity to explore the particular challenges and opportunities presented by a time of unprecedented growth and public interest. Full details HERE.

Ruminations #2
I’m still exceptionally narked by politicians and continuing to ponder Galton, Kraepelin and the cronies of our descent into all this madness - and don’t get me wrong - I’m not anti science! On the contrary, last weeks blog was merely about quantifying the unquantifiable and reducing people to meat. I consume all those developments that science offer with gusto, (well, perhaps consume is the wrong word in this context - I certainly can’t stand having a phone ‘upgrade’ and come to think of it, I even resist software upgrades on my laptop). Every generation must feel that they are on the brink of profound scientific developments. We didn’t have a landline in the family home until I was a teenager - and now - phew, all those gizmo’s. When I was making a film as part of my dis/ordered performance, mentioned last week, I was trawling through the web, trying to find good footage of people obsessing over their phones, and taking selfies. I ended up using some footage of one of those synthetic human ready-meals, advertising themselves under the name of Kardashian. In this sneaky peak below, this 'celebrity' teaches us how to take a perfect ‘selfie’…

So - "make sure the lighting is amazing" - check! "You want to highlight all the good things" - double check! “chin down - and just pose away and take about 300 photos till I get the perfect selfie." 21st Century perfection defined by pixilated celebrity and collagen. 

Today I read about superb developments in gene editing, and the offer of both designing treatments for people living with debilitating conditions, and pre-emptive strikes at ‘screening’ for a myriad of things that might go wrong in our very human make-up. Over the last decade genetics has made huge strides, decoding the information in our genes, and our ability to modify them and genetic testing offers parents the opportunities of screening out children who might be born with certain diseases, conditions and disorders! From Alzheimer's to alcoholism, we’ll be able to identify our chances of succumbing to ill health and eradicate human frailties at a genetic level - some hybrid of Galton and Kraepelin's eugenic vision! Yes - the potential is enormous, we’ll no longer need to perfect our self-portraits through digital enhancement or physical augmentation, we’ll be able to invest in our ‘perfect’ children. And 30% of US citizens surveyed, by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, don’t think it’s wrong to edit genes for physical features! Perfect future versions of our current flawed selves.

Of course, if you can’t wait to iron out your future children’s ‘faults’, you can purchase a range of home-testing kits, and check out your own potential futures. Whether you’re health-conscious or a narcissist, or anything in between - it’s all possible here and now, and all at a price.

In a stinging analysis of DNA testing Barbara Ellen offers us much food for thought. At the benign end of the home testing spectrum Thriva offer a “…convenient and affordable way to manage your internal health.” Their baseline subscription offers vitamin D, iron, cholesterol and liver function tests, at £49 per test, with a recommendation of one test per month! Its co-founder Hamish Grierson describes Thriva as “a lifestyle brand with medical-grade testing at the back end”, enabling “people to see themselves as consumers rather than patients.” OK - consumers not patients! (Yes - CONSUMERS) Lucky for us we have sage people keeping their eyes on these offers, and author of The Patient Paradox, Dr Margaret McCartney, describes the way slick marketing plays a part in persuading people they need to take tests because it could save their lives. 
The results of home testing are of low value, and after people have taken their test, they are often “…told to go to see their GP…swallowing up the time of NHS staff and the money of healthy people who pay thousands to private companies for tests they don't need. The companies make their profits and walk away, letting the NHS sort out all the fallout. {…} Meanwhile, the truly sick are left to wrestle with disjointed services and confusing options. This worsens health inequalities and drains professionalism, harming both those who need treatment and those who don’t.”

McCartney warns us that there’s no evidence that shows doing these tests makes people become healthier, warning that In the world of sexed-up medicine pharmaceutical companies gloss over research they don't like and charities often use dubious science and dodgy PR to 'raise awareness' of their disease, leaving a legacy of misinformation and fear, in their wake. 
And all the time, we are being manipulated by slick advertising, to look inwards.

This gold-rush around gene editing, and the aspiration to perfection, does open up an ethical Pandora’s box, which in the context of Galton and Kraepelin, taken to its extremes, has already been justified by the Nazis in their mass murder of those deemed to be ‘genetically defective’. That said, it’s easy to believe it was only the extremes of fascist ideology that saw judgments around ‘purity’ used to control populations. Coerced sterilisation has been used as a means of controlling “undesirable” populations – including immigrants; people of colour, poor people, unmarried mothers, the disabled, the mentally ill – federally-funded sterilisation programs took place in 32 states in the US throughout the 20th century! Read a deeply deeply troubling work by Independent Lens on this.
So will our rosy genetically enhanced future be something we have any control over. Will community and patient groups be involved in its governance, and will it stop at remedial action to mitigate against disease, or move towards the seemingly inevitable ultimate market choice of not just physical, but mental enhancement? 

I promise that my rumination will subside as the year goes on (possibly, maybe) and here and now, I end with an image of Trump getting his tiny little hands around his filthy phone and tweeting. Urgh. Does he take selfies, I wonder. I know I go on, but he’s the president (small p) of the ‘free world’. I still can’t believe the US elected a CEO, but then I can - in these late stages of what neoliberalism has evolved into, isn’t he the perfect ‘leader' to take us into this fractured future of the perfect self?

To paraphrase both Will Storr and Chris Frith, morality has been replaced by feeling, our feelings are increasingly mediated by social media and we all feel like "the invisible actor at the centre of the world."

Hey Ho...