Saturday, 22 February 2020

The Deepest Shade of Green

This weeks blog offers a bumper harvest of excellent things and personal piffle. Enjoy.

Performing Medicine have announced an Open Programme of courses, open to all healthcare professionals and students. The five courses, running from April-July, will draw on techniques from the arts to offer practical, positive techniques to manage the physical and emotional demands of working in healthcare. Each is delivered by an expert artist-facilitator and co-designed with those working in healthcare to ensure that the content is relevant and useful to their working lives. 
Book now: HERE  
Read more about the Open Programme in this blog piece from Performing Medicine Director Suzy Willson: HERE 

Outside In And Fabrica Announce Call Out For Summer Exhibition -
Look Closer, Think Bigger

Outside In and Fabrica gallery, Brighton, are excited to announce an opportunity for two Outside In artists to exhibit at Fabrica in July 2020. The theme of this exhibition ‘Look Closer, Think Bigger’ is large and miniature artworks and we are inviting artists to submit artworks that fit into either of these two categories.
The exhibition will explore extremes of scale by creating small intimate spaces to display miniature work, contrasted with large artworks that resonate with Fabrica’s unique setting, a former Regency church in the heart of Brighton. As well as challenging perceptions of what types and sizes of artwork should be displayed together, this exhibition will also highlight why and how artists choose to work with scale, including how the space that artists have access to  create work may influence the size of the work they are able to produce.The two selected artists will each receive £1000 for exhibiting their work in the exhibition. There will also be a travel budget to support artists to visit Fabrica.
Applications can be made and further info is available by clicking HERE or on the image below. 

For further information please contact Cornelia Marland on  01273 381311   or email

Saolta Arts and Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture in partnership with Galway University Hospitals and Saolta University Health Care Group presents…
The Deepest
Shade of Green
Inspired by a 2006 publication by patients of Merlin Park University Hospital, in which older people shared their knowledge of the Irish landscape and its customs, The Deepest Shade of Green explores the importance of connecting our hospitals with the natural world outside and of listening to and learning from those who use them. Nature and familiar landscapes of the West are brought into the wards, corridors, and waiting rooms of Saolta’s hospitals and used to imaginatively escape the clinical environment.

Newly commissioned works include a song cycle by Ceara Conway, shared as a series of intimate performances for patients and as an album incorporating recordings of hospital equipment, plants, and the tools of sound healers. Deirdre O’Mahony creates an online audio-based artwork using a scripted voiceover and ambient recordings made in Saolta’s catchment areas to evoke the particular character of the West of Ireland. Sarah Fuller and Manuela Corbari collaborate to lead young patients and their families through an enchanting garden of stories, combining puppetry, storytelling, and shadow theatre in a tour of Saolta’s paediatric settings.

Offering to transform the experience of hospital, The Deepest Shade of Green brings Galway 2020’s cultural programme to the people, and to the people who stand to gain most from it. Find out more on there website and see some of the participating projects HERE. 

Image: Viriditas – Ceara Conway, 2019
Bridging the Gap
Bridging the gap between Arts and Play for Health and Wellbeing in Research, Policy and Practice. 

Over the last decade there has been a burgeoning interest in the benefit of arts and play for our health and wellbeing. However, despite evidence that shows the arts and play to have close connections in how they contribute to and achieve health outcomes for children and adults, there has been a dearth of action to encourage knowledge-exchange between these fields or to understand how the processes across these interventions may be similar. This conference aims to address this gap, encouraging shared learning and asking critical questions that will support us to move forward in arts and play with new-found insight. 

Call for abstracts
This is a free and creative conference and we are open to creative modes of sharing your ideas. We are offering 20-60 minute slots which can be filled with spoken or poster presentations, workshops, or group activities

When is it taking place?
Wednesday 9th September (9.15am - 6pm) and Thursday 10th September 2020 (9.30am - 5.30pm)

Where is it being hosted?
Chrystal Macmillan Building, The University of Edinburgh, 15a George Square

For all the details you need click HERE. 

Bill Drummond
Short Wave, Long Wave (or footnote #6)
As I recently slipped into the haze of technological explorations over my precarious health, one particular day really sticks in my mind, for somewhat obvious reasons. It was a day of full skeletal surveys and to round it off, an hour and a half in the MRI scanner. Now that’s quite something. Working with Vic McEwan at Alder Hey, I’d got within a reasonable distance of the outrageous honking and horn blasting of this particular machine, which he had so deftly transformed into a thrumming and worrying soundscape. The personal journey into one, however, with intravenous, silly kinky hospital gowns and all the paraphernalia of internalised fear, transforms that sound into a cacophony.

Prepared for this, I’d gone along in the understanding that a set of compliant headphones would be provided, and I could bring along CD’s to play. What - no vinyl? In truth, so much I have is now on a laptop, so taking a punt, I downloaded the Flaming Lips (to cover up any noise), Max Richter (to help me sleep - yeah right) and anything else that was on the USB. On arrival they told me it would be fine, so prepped and ready, I was slipped inside the white tube, loose fitting headphones ominously lolling from my head. I could hear tracks starting and stopping, skipping and then just before the first sonic blasts from the MRI began, and a voice announced - ‘don’t worry if you feel like your wetting yourself, it will pass’ - the tones of a long forgotten album by Prefab Sprout frontman, Paddy McAloon began to sparkle in my ears. An obscure little thing written when he was losing his sight (which I understand has been restored) and called I Trawl the Megahertz, spoken by Yvonne Connors and quite sublime. But then the waves of sound overwhelmed the song and I succumbed to the pounding noise, with odd words glimpsed in the pauses of technology: ‘all day her voice is balm’ - ‘carcinogenic threat’ - ‘so what if this is largely bravado?’ - ‘trains are late, doctors are breaking bad news, but I am living in a lullaby.’ You can hear this song by clicking on the photo of Paddy below.

But as I slip into this intermittent and almost violent soundscape, I am taken back to that time in the belly of a Scottish mountain, where Vic and I had indeed travelled with the precious cargo of another’s beating heart. Like pilgrims on some fantastic voyage, plunging into the inky depths of that great hidden chamber created to hide Britain’s oil resources for the Fleet between the wars. It was through that tunnel and into that black void I experienced more fear and euphoria than I can describe, as we shared the personal recordings of Elisha’s heart - a subterranean and ethereal thing that danced and flickered beyond what we understood of time and place. It will remain one of the most profound experiences of my life. Now, back in this white tube, I felt humbled and small in these shifting memories and let the foghorn mantra of the machine do its job. 

Watching the film Bait recently, I found some of the imagery utterly beautiful. A camera shot of a boy sorting out fishing nets on the beach, shot directly into the costal sunset; romantic and so hardwired into my own childhood - an unexpected rose-tinted mirror. It reminded me aesthetically of the high dive sequences from Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (1936), beautiful but poisoned by history, and imagery which I'm considering in my 'provocation' around inequalities for the forthcoming CHWA conference in March. Then in a break between the storms this last week, I was at a local place I love so much, hunkered down in a green lichen covered cove as the wind howled off the Irish Sea - the tide was high, and the cool winter sun hurt my eyes.

Somehow, it all gets tangled up in transience; hunkered down in a mountain, precious cargo's and the flickering filaments of scientific exploration - an intoxicating and enormous blur - delicate sub-atomic particles caught on an eternal breeze. 

Thursday, 6 February 2020



Other Transmissions: Conversations with Outsider Art
Preview | Thursday 13 February 2020, 6-8pm
Exhibition dates | 14 February – 14 June 2020
Venue | The Whitworth

This exhibition brings together the work of six artists – Joe Beedles, James Desser, Amy Ellison, Frances Heap, Andrew Johnstone and John Powell-Jones, initially responding to The Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collection (MKOAC), housed at the Whitworth. The MKOAC is the largest collection of ‘Outsider Art’ in a public gallery in the UK and features work by artists who are self-taught and have been historically marginalised from the art world. This year-long residency project was led by Venture Arts in collaboration with the Whitworth and Castlefield Gallery. Elements of the work and new pieces by Blackpool artists, will go on display at Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool (7-21 March 2020).

During the residency, a group of learning disabled and non-learning disabled artists came together, on equal terms, to explore the themes of ‘Outsider Art’: labelling, categorisation and art world power dynamics. The artists spent time with the MKOAC, researching collection pieces and having conversations on how artists are labelled, and how this can sometimes define their work and themselves as ‘different’. They spent three months in a shared studio space at Venture Arts producing diverse pieces of work spanning sound, film, live art, digital artwork, drawings and sculpture, as well as costume.

The artists selected artworks from the MKOAC, which they co-curated into a display alongside their own work. Collection artists featured include Madge Gill, Albert Louden and Michel Nedjar. The exhibition has originated from a 2018-19 project, Conversation Series II, which was a project led by Venture Arts in partnership with the Whitworth and Castlefield Gallery. Conversation Series II was the second part of a four-part programme, conceived by Venture Arts, and a wider network of national organisations including Castlefield Gallery. Castlefield Gallery’s role throughout the Conversations Series has been to act as a critical friend, and they provided the artists with mentoring to encourage reflection at key stages. The programme extends across multiple years, curated as a discursive and art making journey designed to enable and empower learning disabled artists.

As Extinction Rebellion and others become criminalised and under increased police surveillance, quick-thinking artists and activists are foiling the tools of the state! Here's an extract from an article in the Observer recently. Click on the photograph by Cocoa Laney below to read the whole thing.

"Wearing makeup has long been seen as an act of defiance, from teenagers to New Romantics. Now that defiance has taken on a harder edge, as growing numbers of people use it to try to trick facial recognition systems.

Interest in so-called dazzle camouflage appears to have grown substantially since the Metropolitan police announced last week that officers will be using live facial recognition cameras on London’s streets – a move described by privacy campaigners and political activists as “dangerous”, “oppressive” and “a huge threat to human rights”.

Unlike fingerprinting and DNA testing, there are few restrictions on how police can use the new technology. And some of those who are concerned have decided to assert their right not to be put under surveillance with the perhaps unlikely weapon of makeup. Members of the Dazzle Club have been conducting silent walks through London while wearing asymmetric makeup in patterns intended to prevent their faces from being matched on any database."

Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance 2020 Awards

We are excited to announce our first ever annual awards for the CHWA 2020 Conference taking place in Derby on 19-20th March 2020. Working with our award partners, we aim to showcase good practice and people who are leading the way in creating a culture of care for each other, their communities and the world. The award categories are linked to the core themes of the conference: climate change, partnerships (caring economies) and practitioner wellbeing. The three awards are:

. Collective Power Award 
. The Practising Well Award
. Climate Award

Submission deadline is 5pm, Friday 21st February 2020 and all details can be found by clicking HERE.

Picture books on prescription
A nice little article in the Guardian this week highlighted the place of fiction in the lives of younger people - emphasising the role that stories in all their forms - can play in understanding and maybe addressing a broad range of mental health issues. There's a sad and lovely quote from Michael Rosen whose own book depicts his grief at the death of his son Eddie from meningitis at the age of 18.

“These books will start conversations with children about how they’re feeling and show them that others have felt the same way,” he says. “Public libraries have long been places where people have sought answers and comfort; this scheme combines the safe space of the library with inspiring children and families to read for pleasure and wellbeing.”

Read the whole article by clicking HERE.

3–22 March

If They Spend the Time to Get to Know Me is an interactive installation from artist Vic McEwan focusing on facial nerve paralysis. These conditions can affect facial expression, speech and vision and they can significantly change a person’s appearance. This means that people experiencing facial nerve paralysis often face stigma and discrimination. McEwan explores these experiences through an audio-visual installation. 3D scanning and printing will allow visitors to interact and contribute to the project by adding their own face. The project has been developed by McEwan in creative partnership with healthcare professionals and patients from the Sydney Facial Nerve Clinic, Australia. It is a first stage outcome as part of McEwan's Practice Led PHD at the University of Sydney. Click on the image below for more details. 

A BREATH OF FRESH AIR (or, footnote #5)
In the face of unbridled hysteria at my local Boots - as large numbers of masked university students run around purchasing every hand sanitising product - I cart my carry-out of toxic medicines back home to dutifully down the things that while keeping the hitcher in order, may just in fact hamper my own immunity. I wonder to myself, how effective really, are those face masks? They look pretty flimsy - but along with the sanitiser, I supposed it provides a sense of control. 

My stomach gurgles.

So in the calm before the burgeoning corona storm, I take time out and visit Tate Liverpool. Wrapped up, medicated and aroused by the promise of spring, it's a real treat to be outside the world of clinics and patient-hood.

Tate is always a pleasure and before I dive into the Theaster Gates show, I pop into the free exhibition of work from its collection. I like this space and there are always surprises in store. It's a quiet weekday morning and with the exception of one or two people are taking selfies, it's a lovely calming place to be. As I walk in, directly in front of me is a large mirrored box/slab of some kind, with a few apertures cut into it. A shiny thing. On the other side of it and invisible to me, there are a small group of people studying the work (sorry I don't know the artist), and from my side I stoop down to have a peek through one of the holes in the glass. It's quite a pretty, instagram-able thing and as my eyes search through its refractions and shadows, I see that another face is looking back at me from the other side. Well - I see two smiling eyes peering at me from behind a face mask. Then it happened, as I peered at this happy little face, my body involuntarily succumbed to one of the less sinister side effects of 21st century medicine - the longest and most gloriously rude - but thankfully non-fragrant - fart!

To say that I am rather retentive and hung up, would be a gross understatement, but rather oddly - I felt a mischievous liberation - and for some extended moments, stood paralysed and smiling at the horrified masked young thing, for an unbearable amount of time. 'Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me.'

When I returned from this fleeting reverie (or was it a rapture?) I straightened myself up, stretched and turned around to face the near hush of the gallery and the wide eyed horror of its assistants and now multiple static masked visitors, who all seemingly had their eyes and ears trained on my delicate rump and its harmonic distortion. Giggling like some solvent addled schoolboy, I teetered off to the next gallery space to compose myself.

Clinging on to the first vitrine that I saw in an attempt to control myself anally and acoustically, I tempered my giddiness until, with a slow and marvellous dawning, I saw the art work sitting squatly in this little plexiglass display! Piero Manzoni! Piero Manzoni's very own 1961 tinned Merde d'Artiste! K√ľnstlerscheisse! Dear old Manzoni and Arte Povera - well not so old - poor Manzoni died 57 years ago today at the tragically young age of 29.

I was done for. Like a bleary eyed tittering loon, I fled the gallery in a fit of pique, a final uncontrollable bat squeak of pleasure and social pain signalling my departure and the unexpected joy in such a memento mori.

To useless face masks, hand sanitiser, art and to unexpected pleasures...

Saturday, 25 January 2020

The Medical Gaze...


A Culture of Care: Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance national conference

The 2020 Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance (CHWA) conference will be held on Thursday 19 and Friday 20 March 2020 at Derby Museum. Our theme will be Care: care for one another (participants, practitioners, commissioners); care for the environment; and caring economies. Click HERE for details or on the lovely image of the Crummock Valley by Peter Brook (above).

This year the alliance are also hosting its first CHWA awards.
The awards will focus on Climate, Collective Power and Practising Well. Working with our award partners, we aim to showcase good practice and people who are leading the way in creating a culture of care for each other, their communities and the world. Winners will be announced at an evening event on day one of the conference (Thursday 19 March) and further promoted on the CHWA websites and networks. To find out more about the CHWA 2020 Awards and apply, please click HERE.  Conference early-bird tickets end on 31 January! I'm honoured to be asked to provide a provocation around inequalities on Friday 20 - and fragile health aside - will be there in person!

On to the wider theme of inequalities, some very interesting research for the Arts and Humanities Research Council is underway and it is very well worth completing this short survey.

Inequalities in the UK: Future Research Priorities
We are conducting research on behalf of the Arts and Humanities Research Council regarding future research priorities about inequalities across the UK to understand more about regional disparities*. We would like to collect your views by inviting you to take part in a short survey which should take no longer than c.15 minutes to complete. If at any point you would like to modify your responses, then you can scroll up or down. For further information please contact: Click HERE for the survey.
[*to include: Arts, culture, health, outdoors and other community-based research, Social Prescribing and other areas of public health research]

The Medical Gaze or (footnote #4)
Dear old Dennis Potter - god I admired him. I know he wasn't everyone's cup of tea, politically or in his sexual imagery. But what the hell - he had superb social comment to make and was one of the last great political playwrights of a certain generation. Alas, licensing doesn't allow me to embed the scene from the Singing Detective on the blog, but by clicking on the image above, you should be able to view it in its wonderful glory. SUPERB 

Potter featured prominently in an essay I wrote for the exhibition, Mortality: Death & the Imagination back in 2013, curated by Dr Steven Gartside. For the publication of the same name, I wrote Present Tense, which if you're interested in, you can find in the full publication HERE. In it I describe the prescience and bewitching presence of Potter when close to the end of his life and fuelled by morphine, he undertook the most extraordinary interview with Melvyn Bragg. It was and still is the most profound interview, which you can see in full HERE. I can't recommend it enough. 

It was in activities surrounding the exhibition, that Mike White very kindly came and gave one his two very powerful presentations at my university - a power house and visionary even while confronting his own cancer diagnosis. I've written about this briefly on this blog and you can find it HERE. While a completely different character to Potter, Mike nevertheless did something quite profound and not dissimilar - he shared his personal experiences without being cloying and I'd argue, was propelled by his condition- to shoot from the hip. You can still read his extensive 'Chalkie's Demon Diary' which he kept up online till shortly before his death in 2015. This rare old magnum opus is available HERE. 

A real sublime dignity was something I experienced in the presence of Elisha Carter and her mum Emma, who featured in my extended essay Critical Care in 2017 following an arts-led exploration with Vic McEwan at Alder Hey Hospital. Elisha pursued her artistic endeavours regardless of her cancer diagnosis, and alongside Vic has contributed to my deeper understanding of what we sometimes glibly refer to as 'lived experience.' 

I have to admit that I am rather apprehensive in discussing my own health online. On one hand I feel an urgency and compulsion to do so, but at the same time, the last thing I want to do is bang out another cancer diary, with one inevitable outcome. But that's the thing - life is finite for us all and the likelihood of cancer, coronary heart disease, dementia and stroke are (amongst others) unwelcome, but nevertheless our partners through this giddying transience.

Without the dignity of White or the poetic power of Potter, I am simply one of the infinite numbers who have navigated and will navigate, this strange but very normal terrain - with anxiety and natural fear - but also with something akin to curiosity and perhaps a naive optimism. So that's that. I have a cancer called myeloma and I'm having 'treatment' for it - and we'll see where we go from there. Always a starling thing for the individual in question, I'm sure - but in the context of our unfolding climate catastrophe - it's an anxiety that needs weighing against forces bigger than the individual. So I'll try not to drone on about it too much, but just so you know, my blog postings may have a different edge or flavour to them - albeit obliquely so. 

While taking time out of the day-to-day work and soaking up chemicals of monumental proportions, I'll take on the role of impatient and not patient, person and not victim and accept that I have to live with an uninvited guest*. I'm not interested in battles and winning wars - but rather understanding and making the most of the situation (but maybe there's that naivety again). So - occasional footnotes that will inevitably peter out at some point. But that's the nature of living.

*In future postings there is a high likelihood that I will refer to this uninvited guest as variously - the hitcher or sitting tenant. Bear with me.

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 Pop-Up Expo
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 was officially opened by Manchester Universities NHS Foundation Trust Chairman Kathy Cowell on Monday 20th January 2020 in St Mary’s Hospital Atrium. If you need any more details, just email:

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.