Friday, 17 January 2020

a little ray of sunshine. . .

The Festival of Brexit.
As culture continues to be offered up as the answer to all life’s problems, it’s heart-warming to read that the great ape of little England politics has set out his plans for the £122m Festival 2022 - now widely described as the Festival of Brexit. Its director (or is it PR man?) Martin Green comments: “On a very basic level, we are probably due a bit of joy and hope and happiness, and art is really good at that.” OK - we get the gist - art’s really good on a basic level, feeding the masses their quick hit doses of happiness and subduing any potential social disarray.  Yes - “let’s celebrate our insular nationalism as institutions fall apart around us, because the wealthy love art and need more of it to spend their undeserved wealth on*.” Let’s remind ourselves too that the 2012 Olympics cost over £11billion and to which the tax payer contributed over £3billion! As funding cuts to our schools continue and hospitals and social care continue to be in disarray, (despite all those sound bite electioneering promises) we just carry on masking systemic inequalities. You can bet your bottom dollar that there’ll be a significant ‘wellbeing’ quota in this festival - and there’ll be a bun fight over funding, but isn’t it more important than ever to really get to grips with those austerity induced factors that undermine people’s health - and whatever ‘wellbeing' might be?

Lime Arts event
Monday 20th January at 4:00pm

Lime is excited to be presenting for public display artworks produced during our 2019 ground breaking Artist in Residency Programme at the Central Manchester Hospitals, which included printmaking workshops, ward based printmaking activities, music, film, animation and drawing to engage, support and increase the well-being of NHS staff and patients. NHS staff have enjoying using Lime Art’s new on-site hospital print making studio and also benefited from ward-based workshops with artist/ printmakers in Residence Jacqui Symons, Lisa Clare, Louise Wilde and Collette Whittington and collaborating guest artists and musicians. The programme has involved using the process of printmaking to explore; the nurses experience, reduction of associated stress in patients prior to elective Caesarean, and storytelling to access the imagination for young people accessing long term mental health services.

The exhibition + pop up gallery will be officially opened by Manchester Universities NHS Foundation Trust Chairman Kathy Cowell on  Monday 20th January 2020 at 4pm in St Mary’s Hospital Atrium

Please join us to celebrate and view for the first-time artworks created by Lime resident artist/printmakers along with NHS staff and patients. The exhibition launch and POP UP event will include performance and live art, acoustic music and some very special big knickers …EVERYONE IS WELCOME! Please RSVP to

Masters in Arts, Health & Social Change
For those of you who may have missed the earlier posting about this, this is the new masters that I have established at Manchester School of Art (MMU) alongside my colleague Helen Felcey. You can find full details HERE. You can watch the very brief film above to give you a taste!

Dementia & Imagination Impact Questionnaire - we need your help (but no pressure)
We would like to find out what impact the Dementia & Imagination (D&I) project has had on people's understanding of arts for dementia and on their practices in this area. One of the outputs from the project was the 'Yellow Book' (aka "Dementia & Imagination: Research Informed Approaches to Visual Arts Programmes"). We are using this survey to help us find out more about what (if anything) people took away from reading it. If you have read it but not for a while and would like to refresh your memory, please click HERE to remind yourself before returning to this survey. Likewise, if you have not read it but are interested in doing so, please follow the same LINK and read the book before returning to our survey. (If this is the case, you might have to respond to some of our questions more speculatively.) This is the SURVEY LINK.

That little ray of sunshine
(or footnote #3)
Over the last month or so I have found myself unexpectedly inhabiting what Susan Sontag described as the kingdom of the sick. Here's her quote in full - it's still spot on by my thinking: 

“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”

So as your blogger becomes 'a patient' for some time - these pages may offer an outlet of sorts: please bear with me - as it could cause offence! My first observation from the GP's, clinics and hospitals of my dear little city, is the foul and lazy wallpaper covering of local 'artist' Chas Jacobs. Good god - it's everywhere this stuff. Sentimental idealised fictions of the places I know and which bear no relevance to anything, yet these childish pastiches are consumed hook line and sinker. Does it really offer salve in the waiting rooms of our most worrying moments? I wrote about it some years ago under the pithy title, In Praise of the Ugly Bastard. Subtle eh? You can find it HERE and by scrolling down the page!

More soon(ish).

*Correspondence with an unnamed rogue.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Just breathe...

(...or footnote #2)
What does the apocalypse look like? Watching the unfolding crisis sweeping through Australia and imagining individuals and communities losing all their possessions - losing life - and innumerable animals that share our world - destroyed. It’s a terrible reality - perhaps a consequence - of our industrial times. In Sydney, Mark Mordue describes perfectly, how "our dead future is here". I think about all the flora and fauna - those fragrant eucalyptus and the microscopic life systems of lichen - some will regrow remarkably quickly. But beyond the heat, flame and smoke, those invisible particles that contribute to that even larger global threat, hangs like a heavy pall in my mind.  

High in the damp hills of the north though, I’m embraced by the dank, enveloped by it, the cold sinking deep into my bones, yet even here, I remember not so very long ago, the hills of dry bracken, gorse and heather were ignited over similar moorland on Saddleworth Moor and by an arsonist on Winter Hill. Ninety-six fires in all across our island’s hills last year. They pail into insignificance as I think of Australia and today, fire seems impossible to imagine as the mist sinks lower and I rest-up on a limestone outcrop and soak it all in - the global and individual apocalypse.

For some time I’ve had a taste for soil - not for eating it - but digging around in its mossy, mulch at the base of trees, amongst the roots, skeletal leaves, plump fungi and their seemingly infinite rhizome. My nails get filthy, my hands cold and scratched - but I breathe in the fragrant earth and relish its gritty history - its stories in my hands. I roll an owl pellet between my fingers and undertake a spontaneous autopsy on the tiny fragments of jaw and fur that bind it all together. Tiny, mutual lives. I hold a heavy branch that has been long fallen and its core is darkly hollow, inhabited by multiple things that crawl and grow and all the while, the ruddy faced hunters I’d seen earlier, are firing off shots in the woods, regular cracks punctuating the almost still moment. 

Today, in his reflections on New Year, Stewart Lee writes pithily about stars, satellites, politicians and fox faeces. It’s almost perfect.  

Monday, 30 December 2019

Almost another year...

First things first. I hope 2020 is a grand year for you and regardless of the impending political discontent and unfolding climate catastrophe, that you find some peace and love in your corner of this world. This dear old blog will be going through changes very shortly, but in the tradition of postings to date, here are some events, opportunities and thoughts for the new year.

Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance
This little old blog began as the mouthpiece of the North West Arts & Health Network in 2007 and with some modest funding from Arts Council England, enabled me to work with communities around the region to facilitate small and large events. Following an event called North West Frontier in 2009, which I hosted with Richard Parrish, then CEO of the Royal Society of Public Health, we began to work collectively. It was at this event that we crafted the first iteration of the Manifesto for Arts & Health, which in 2011 we published with passion and which in part, influenced the National Alliance for Arts, Health & Wellbeing’s’ National Charter (though both things were distinctly different). As the regional representative for the new Culture Health & Wellbeing Alliance, I’m really keen to nurture and support new blood in the arts and health field, and as someone who wants to transition slowly out of the role, I’d really like to mentor someone living/working in the north west, who is committed to this fast developing agenda, particularly somebody from an under-represented group or community. The key is - passion - and a belief that the arts (in all their forms) have the potential to influence the factors that underpin health and social change. The Alliance don’t pay a wage for this, but expenses are paid. More very soon – but good to mull over.

Bud Petal - "Sydney" from Bud Petal on Vimeo.

A Master’s in Arts, Health & Social Change
I’m very thrilled to have a brand-spanking-new master’s programme (full and part time) accredited and due to commence in autumn 2020. Big thanks to HF for your work on this with me. Please note that this course puts people at its heart – as artists, citizens and activists. We very much hope this will be a counter-blast to some of the more turgid and prescriptive courses on offer, equipping participants for the real world – placing both social determinants of health and the global climate catastrophe at its core. As a starting point, we acknowledge that individual and environmental health are inextricably connected – and that culture is a force for social change. You can see me speaking very briefly about it by clicking on the bizarre image below and the programme draft outline is available HERE. The course brochure is at the publishers and will be online too very shortly.

As recoverism continues to thrive across the arts, health and voluntary sector, Professor of Social Research at UCLAN, Ali Roy, will deliver his inaugural lecture on 22nd January at 4:00pm in Preston. His lecture is intitled, Recovery Stories in Art and Social Research. He comments: “In this lecture I begin by exploring the relatively recent move to a recovery orientation in drug policy in England, setting it in the context of a longer history of policy. I explore the idea that recovery is a ‘policy story-line’ which privileges particular ideas about solutions to drug problems and I argue that this policy move has created new troubles for some of those who use drugs (Needham, 2011).” 

“I introduce a series of arts and social research projects which in different ways have sought to explore recovery, considering the potential of these different approaches for generating detailed and contextualised understandings of the subject. I conclude by arguing that understandings of recovery benefit from careful consideration of people’s everyday lives, hopes and struggles and that there are serious tensions between the policy story-line and the everyday stories of people who have problems with drugs.” For full details and registration, click HERE. 

Footnote #1 - That crescent moon has been a beautiful presence in the winter sky over these frigid nights, its shimmering mass just present. Last night it hung fast under spectacular flouncy, orangey crimson clouds - a beacon through dark days. Then in the cold grey of a fresh day - flying north, high wild geese fill my eyes with warm salt tears.

Friday, 13 December 2019

What does a leader look like?

A quiet, considered and ethically driven person?
A belligerent, posturing and vain liar?

. . . 

More of that towards the bottom of the page, but here and now, Manchester museum is hosting one of the most exciting jobs I've seen in a very long time.
I want it, I want it!

Director, Sector Support Agency for Age and Culture
Salary : £52,559 to £62,727 pro rata per annum (Depending on experience)
Employment Type : Fixed Term
Contract Duration : Starting as soon as possible for 3 Years fixed term
Hours Per week : 0.5 FTE 
Closing Date: 10/01/2020

Are you committed to challenging ageism and excited about the potential of creativity, arts and culture to change lives? Manchester Museum and partners in collaboration with the Greater Manchester Ageing Hub and Greater Manchester Combined Authority have secured funding from The Baring Foundation to establish The Agency, a sector support organisation for age and culture in England and are looking to appoint a Director.

The role of Director will lead on the development of The Agency. The Agency will investigate the profound shifts needed to tackle ageism and create sustainable age friendly culture and communities. By leading The Agency, you will enable it to act as an advocate to funders and policy makers and be able to connect people and organisations leading age friendly culture across England and beyond. In its first year, the agency will initiate a major investigation into diversity, age and the cultural sector. This is your opportunity to design, lead and develop a programme that will advocate for creative ageing. You are someone that can inspire artists, cultural organisations and the public to lead activities across the country and persuade the media, policy makers and funders to get involved.

For full details click HITHER.

People of the Abyss*

Just the sight of Weinstein last week, tottering into court pushing his mobility aid makes me feel sick. This gelatinous man symbolises everything wrong in these days that herald the death knell of old capitalism and the dawn of a new super-aggressive popular capitalism. His insurance company will settle out of court and as he heads into further criminal charges, he has the audacity to play-act the helpless, frail old man. Pathetic. The big guy with the cigar and a penchant for violation - Mr Hollywood - Mr Free-Market-belives-he-buy-anything-he-bloody-wants. You’ve got the cash - just buy it! Like Green - Mr Tippity-Tappity-I’m-so-attractive-to-young-models - yeah right - money eh? Morally bankrupt. Buy my films, buy my clothes - just keep on buying you mugs.

* Apologies to Jack London, whose work of the same title feels less historical and very prescient. 

This week Johnson, (not ‘Boris’) - at every opportunity - this self aggrandising, privileged and arrogant man has chosen to continue his popular diatribe on getting brexit done - oven ready - all the one liners he’s capable of, while not for one second having a decent discussion, just lambasting everyone else and never giving a coherent response. A simple mantra for the masses. And the people lap it up unable to cope with anything more than a soundbite. Please don’t worry that he has a history of racist, homophobic rhetoric - all good humoured of course - or that he acted ‘unlawfully’ - or that he laughs and talks over everyone who speaks to him and lies and lies and lies.

Like that ape in the Whitehouse - that ranting mass of excreta - volatile - impeachable - not impeachable - teflon. Macho bravado, money and arrogance. This is what we get. Capitalism comes of age. All consuming, hyper-fast, vain and destructive, modelling behaviour for the masses to replicate. So many people said that Jeremy (not ‘Mr Corbyn’) was boring, uninteresting - just because he wasn’t the posturing and macho politician that we’ve all been indoctrinated to believe is what we want. He’s not all soundbites, he’s capable of nuanced and deeply considered conversations. He’s not a one trick pony and he was our option for politics that weren’t predicated on aggression and hyperbole, but long-term social change. And so, our little island begins its sad descent into the extremes of poverty, division and privatisation on a scale previously unimaginable.

For those of you dewey eyed and excited to work on the Government's social prescribing agenda - be very cautious - you could be part of its cost effective  art-washing of all societies problems, never getting to grips with the factors that create social and mental unrest. Get me a one way ticket* to Finland, Iceland, New Zealand - somewhere where I can hunker down for this decade long winter of consumption and social collapse.

* OK - to be honest, I’d readily accept Scottish or Irish citizenship tomorrow.     

Friday, 22 November 2019

a fragile art

At a low ebb, I went on a journey with a group of strangers, down a sprawling green misty morning valley. Like a band of medieval courtiers high on spirits, the sort of which I can not imagine. I’d read two books - no - drank them up in a reverie of my own, transporting me back to a different time - black death and ritual and language - so beguiling and ‘other’, it took time to let them both (different/similar), sink in. Slumped and inward looking, the Kiasma wasn’t doing it for me. I’d found a chair - the attendants chair in fact - and faced the screen of something large and contemporary, all the while looking backwards into myself - Bassackwards. Then an almost stranger, almost friend stopped, all smiles and full of life. “The fifth floor - you have to go to the fifth floor,” she told me with urgency. A smooth Finnish corridor carried me up and I wandered - stupefied - until it hit me and I sat for over an hour - like many others - trapped by a beguiling piece of work. That’s where my reverie became something communal and dissipated - turning into some foggy group trip. 

When an art thing - whatever that thing is - works for you, it transforms the atoms momentarily. A friend, not so very long ago, described taking ecstasy at a rave, and feeling all those other hundreds of people connected by a communal bliss. Zadie Smith described something similar as joy. A retentive man in many ways, I’ve never taken ecstasy, but here I was emotionally changed by small fragments of poetry by Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir beautifully transformed aurally and cinematically in slow-time by Icelander Ragnar Kjartansson. A simple haiku-like line threaded through time over and over: Once again, I fall into my feminine ways. I can’t describe the artists’ tricks here, as it would do no justice. The piece is called The Visitors (2012). It lasts just over an hour - way longer than 280 ill-conceived characters. There is so much about this I shouldn't have liked - but it was completely intoxicating.

Those books: the unlikely titled Nobber and more prosaic To Calais in Ordinary Time by Oisín Fagan and James Meek respectively, are quite something - dark and hallucinogenic, both. But this reading is a solitary thing and the propensity to tears of a little bliss, in such a public space as a gallery is quite a powerful communal thing.

The sky remained a constant flat grey in Helsinki, a chill wind promising something harsh not too soon. Following the flurry of interest in the recent launch of the WHO synthesis on arts and health a couple of weeks ago, I followed in the echos of that great evidential fanfare as guest of Arts Promotion Centre Finland (Taike); someone to gently challenge the evidence we know we have in rubles and tonnes. My presentation was to celebrate the evolving real time work unfolding across Finland these last five years and more - all work enabled by Taike and I wanted to assert the voices of people in this great research frenzy. The artists and the people - whoever those wonderful, different and vital people are who lead and take part and create new things and thinking - those people who will define what value is beyond the new reductivists. 

There are too many people to thank, too many new friends and allies - but to my hosts Johanna M. Vuolasto and Kirsi Lajunen the warmest thanks for your generous hospitality and your remarkable vision. There are strong synergies between Greater Manchester and Helsinki and wider Finland and I look forward to nurturing these possibilities further. It was wonderful to see Dawn Prescott and her remarkable colleagues creating profound work with young women/girls experiencing the extremes of mental anguish and feel the recent echoes of Kat Taylor and further back in recent history, Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt in all this Manchester/Helsinki mix. In my presentation I'd mourned the loss of libraries and librarians in the UK - with around 500 libraries and 9,000 librarians having been 'lost' in the UK since 2010. In a taxi in Helsinki however, my taxi driver pointed to the extraordinary and giant beautiful library in the heart of the city, and said - "you see that, it is our library, but we call it Helsinki's living room". Perfect.

Just in time for a general election.
'John Pilger's new documentary, THE DIRTY WAR ON THE NHS, "goes to the heart of the struggle for democracy today", he says. Britain's National Health Service, the NHS, was the world's first universal public health service. Designed to give millions of people "freedom from fear", the NHS today is under threat of being sold off and converted to a free market model inspired by America's disastrous health insurance system, which results in the death every year of an estimated 45,000 people. Now President Trump says the NHS is "on the table" in any future trade deal with America. Filmed in Britain and the United States, this timely, compelling documentary touches us all and reveals what may be the last battle to preserve the most fundamental human right.'

I really do think it's time to vote...

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Super Fast Augmented Anxiety

Your blogger is away at the moment and on a retreat with colleagues from the University of Sydney exploring collaborative research and new thinking around performance, the arts, health & social change for the journal About Performance #18: Perform | Health | Care. I've been very honoured to be the international guest of the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies and speaker at the Sydney Ideas event on Monday alongside my collaborator Vic McEwan and Dr Claire Hooker,  Indigenous mental health clinician Akeshia Dart and perinatal mental health specialist Dr Nicole Reilly, both from the University of Newcastle. Thanks to Prof Paul Dwyer for this invitation.  For those of you interested in my quick fire presentation, you can find it by clicking on the film below, or listening to the podcast HERE. 

RECOVERISM Reimagining LGBTQ+ Mental Health and Wellbeing
Meanwhile back in Manchester a free event called Reimagining LGBTQ+ Mental Health and Wellbeing is taking place on the 8th November. You can find all the details by clicking on the imahge below.

“We need to feel and be felt by other feeling people”,
Will Self – Recoverist Manifesto 2015.

This event will contribute to conversations about LGBT+ mental health and wellbeing, and promote dialogue between local communities, social scientists and artists who have worked in that specific field. The event is part of the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences. The programme comprises the screening of two films made by researchers exploring intersections between Arts and Anthropology: "My Recoverist Family" by Amanda Ravetz (2017) and "This is My Face" by Angélica Cabezas Pino (2019). The films will be accompanied by Photo-Loo, a hands-on experience led by recovery activist, artist and curator, Mark Prest. Full details HERE.

Masters in Arts, Health & Social Change
Just to flag up that Arts for Health and Manchester Metropolitan University will be launching its new Masters commencing in autumn 2020! Want to know more? Of course you do - click HERE.

                              t h i s   i s   i n v i s i b l e 

Sunday, 6 October 2019

About Face & Figuring Out Mental Health

Framing the face: history, emotion, transplantation
● How do you feel about your face?
● Who would you be, without it?
● Would you donate your face, or that of your loved one?
● If not, why not?
Join us for a discussion of the social, cultural, emotional and medical meanings and associations of faces, facial transplants, and identity, followed by a drinks-reception at the launch of AboutFace, a new interdisciplinary project funded by a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship based in History at the University of York.

Cultural historian Fay Bound Alberti will be joined Manchester’s leading portrait artists Lucy Burscough and a panel of experts.
 This is an event I really wish I was taking part in. Click HERE to register.

Then - another event in Manchester that is so dear to my heart.

Figure Out what mental wellbeing means to you at the People’s History Museum. 
Visitors will be able to ‘figure out’ what mental wellbeing means to them when the People’s History Museum hosts an exhibition of artwork by service users from Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (GMMH). 
Service users and staff from the Trust’s Recovery Pathways service will be launching the exhibition on October 8 during Mental Health Week 2019 to showcase the work of the creative wellbeing service, which offers sessions across the city for a wide range of people experiencing difficulties with their mental health. Recovery Pathways Lead, Charlotte Brown, said: “We’re delighted the People’s History Museum has agreed to host the ‘Let’s Figure it Out’ exhibition.

“During the week a variety of artwork will be on display from painting and photography to ceramics and textiles. 
Our service harnesses the power of creative activity to help people maintain or improve their mental wellbeing. Sometimes being in a group with others is enough to start building resilience and our service can be a vital step to adjust after a stay in hospital or a period of enduring mental ill health. We think everyone can benefit their mental wellbeing by taking part in creative activities, that’s why we’re offering creative sessions for people to try throughout the week. They are completely free and there’s no need to book – just drop in and try one of our activities for yourself.”

The exhibition will run from Tuesday October 8th to Friday October 11th with public taster sessions running throughout the week. Click HERE for details and HERE to read an article by one of the artists, Peter Broome in Big Issue.

I put this appalling picture at the foot of the blog as I can't abide their presence at the top of the page. One had just found out that his actions were unlawful by the highest court in the land, the other that attempts were being made to impeach him.
Models of behaviour.

Words fail me.