Sunday, 25 January 2015


Each week through this blog, I try to bring you new opportunities for funding, events and some gentle social comment. This week’s sees a hideous car-crash of polemic and funding, as I caught sight of a new government fund for a pot of gold and a ridiculously short run-in time! Still, the monstrously titled: New Character Education Grant Fund has to have a mention, doesn’t it? I fear it may just be me, but it sounds like some bastard hybrid love child of the government’s Nudge Unit and Quack Psychiatry. It seems only a moment ago that simple religious conversion/treatment or behaviour modification techniques and a cocktail of prescribed meds, could cure you of being gay! Then of course, there are people who by their very nature, question the status quo - we can’t have that. 'New Character' - good grief! 

Still this agenda to change ‘character traits, attributes and behaviours’ is probably innocent stuff designed to give future generations more ‘perseverance, resilience and grit.’ Ahh - True Grit - I guess it’s what our children need battering into them by the state. I whole new generation of John Wayne’s, or else - heaven knows - John Wayne Gacy, Jr’s?

So artists and free-thinkers - be the instrument of the state - you have the power to be the next generation of behaviour-eugenicists. And we’ll have absolutely no discussion of the social determinants of health and well-being, let’s just focus on all the idiosyncrasies of being human, being different, having opinions and hearty dissenting voices. Let’s not question authority and instead, just focus on creating children who are wholesome, fresh-faced and utterly, utterly, compliant - the 'stupid athletes of capitalist productivity'.

Government Launches New Character Education Grant Fund 
The Department for Education has announced that schools, colleges, universities, local authorities and voluntary organisations can apply to a new £3.5 million character education grant fund to support projects in character education. The Department want to ensure that more children develop a set of character traits, attributes and behaviours that underpin success in education and work, such as perseverance, resilience and grit; confidence and optimism; motivation, drive and ambition; etc. The funding is available to encourage the expansion of existing projects that demonstrate effective character education. The funding will also support new and innovative projects to develop promising approaches in this area. Up to £3.5 million is available to grant fund projects in the 2015 to 2016 academic year. There is no predetermined level of grant award, but as a guide grant awards are expected to be in the region of £50,000 to £750,000. The closing date for applications is 12 noon on the 6th February 2015. Read more by clicking on those athletic, javelin-throwing, G.M.  women at the top of the page.

Making Mental Health Fashionable
Senior Lecturer in Psychology at University of the Arts London and friend of Arts for Health Dr Victoria Tischler writes, that outsider art can refashion how we think about mental illness. Read her article by clicking on the Adolf Wolfi drawing above. If you like what you read, why not check out an event that Victoria is planning called Making Mental Health Fashionable on 27 February. Find out more by clicking on the crowd of everyday people below.

BMA Patient Information Awards 2015
The British Medical Association has run a Patient Information Awards for the last twenty years in order to recognise excellence in the provision of information to patients and to support the valuable work which is done by many charities and agencies,   It is free to enter and shortlisted agencies are invited to an awards ceremony at BMA House in London in September. The closing date is the end of February 2015 but if you have resources you wish to enter then please do it as soon as possible.  You can find more information by clicking on this link.

Are you an artist in the Manchester area that has experienced mental health needs? If so, you may be eligible to take part in a limited number of mentoring sessions with Pool Arts. Our mentor, James Bloomfield offers one to one sessions where you can show your portfolio, discuss how to progress with your practice and explore opportunities that may be available to you. You will also find out more about Pool Arts and the benefits of becoming a member. 
We are offering up to two mentor sessions per person for a small fee (to cover admin costs) on a first come first served basis. Just e.mail us a short paragraph about yourself and why you would like a mentoring session and we will get back to you as soon as we can. Sessions take place in our central Manchester studio facility from February 2015. Cost £10 (for up to two sessions) Contact Alison Kershaw and put MENTORING in the subject bar. Alternatively call our office on 0161 273 1492 and leave a short message and we will ring you back as soon as we can. Find out more by following this link.

De Profundis – From the depths
“I was diagnosed with Cyclothymia (considered to be a milder form of Bipolar Disorder) in my early twenties. It was a dark point in my life. I was struggling, spending months in bed without leaving the house, completely isolated from society. Thankfully from the depths of depression, I was given a camera. The camera has over the years transformed my life. In this project I explore how the arts can help people who are suffering, as I was. Beauty can be found in the smallest of things and I attribute the camera for seeing beauty and purpose in life again…” Pete Regan. An exhibition starting Saturday 7 Feb 2015 - Saturday 2 May 2015. More details by clicking on the flyer above.

Artist, illustrator and nurse Anna Magnowska is developing a new web resource and magazine making connections between art, medicine, culture, science, technology and history whilst also focusing on the practical elements of nursing. Anna says: “we aim to create something beautiful that explores what it is be human, and what it is to be a nurse in the 21st century.” We say - this looks superb. Click on the logo above for more.

A brief footnote from history 
The US-based Arts and Health Alliance, formally The Global Alliance for Arts and Health, formally The Society for the Arts in Healthcare, has currently ‘...has ceased functioning as a going entity due to management and financial issues.” More soon


Saturday, 17 January 2015

…the little things in life

Unexpected Outcomes
A number of you will be aware that I’m involved in a piece of research called Dementia and Imagination, (D & I) which is going from strength to strength. As part of that work I am exploring what I’m calling the Unexpected Outcomes of the research engagement with people affected by dementia. In other words, what are all the things that happen around a visual arts intervention, but that aren’t necessarily what the research is formally investigating; things like small moments of disinhibition, revelatory and sometimes poetic reflections - negative and positive moments in people’s lives, and the moments often swept under the carpet - irritation, dissent and ‘inappropriate’ behaviours  Whilst my primary focus is on people participating in D & I, I would be very interested to hear more widely from artists, health/care professionals, researchers and people affected by dementia who may have personal perspectives and stories about their engagement with the arts more broadly than the visual arts (of which D & I is focused). Please feel free to email at

I’m rather chuffed to say that the Chaos and Comfort event here at MMU on the 12th February is now sold out, but as someone who’s organised free events before, I know there’s a chance that people may drop-out at the last minute, so please feel free to join our waiting list by clicking on the black, red and white image above. And if you can't make it, please cancel your ticket on the eventbrite page. Thank you to everyone who has asked to share their practice/research at the event. I’ll be emailing you all next Monday to respond.
It will of course be a full day and inevitably chaotic, but I hope - absorbing and stimulating. Next week’s blog will have a run down of what you can expect!

Lead Artist(s) required for Early Years Outreach 
Co-commission for Big Imaginations in the NW
Contract: up to £8000
Closes Monday 26 January 2015 
Contact: Zoe on 01612261912 or email
Big Imaginations is a network of 16 venues working together to bring brilliant children's theatre to the North West. Big Imaginations are recruiting for an energetic and creative lead-artist(s) based in the North of England to research, develop and perform a brand-new piece of interactive performance for early years (0 to 4) children that can be performed in community and non-theatre settings such as libraries, nurseries and village halls. Alongside the performance will be an outreach programme to engage hard to reach and non-engaged children and families in each of the community settings. The outreach programme could be delivered by the lead artist, or the lead artist could guide the delivery by workshop leaders if appropriate. The successful artist will be provided with a budget of up to £8000 to cover research and develop and to make the performance, including 14 performances (1 at each community venue). For all the details and how to apply, click on the ancient tree, by Beth Moon above. the application deadline is short and is Monday 26th January 12noon.

The Birth Rites Collection is the first and only collection of contemporary artwork dedicated to the subject of childbirth. The collection currently comprises of photography, sculpture, painting, wallpaper, drawing, new media, documentary and experimental film. It is housed between the Royal College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians in London and Salford University Midwifery Department. 

Submissions for our Bi-annual award are now open!
Artwork can be submitted in any medium. 
DEADLINE 7th February 2015. Entrance fee £10
The winner will receive a residency at the Women’s Art Library, Goldsmiths University, London plus a stipend and winning work to be included in the Birth Rites Collection, Salford University. Shortlisted artists will have their work screened digitally at Media CityUK in the Egg Suite in March 2015. Judges: Helen Knowles BRC Curator & Althea Greenan, Women's Art Library, Goldsmiths University, London.
All the details can be found by clicking on the photograph above by Dominika Dzikowska, part of her Warm Wet Velvet series of images from the Birth Rites Collection.

Applications Invited for 2015/15 Clore Fellowships
Are you an exceptional individual with the potential and desire to lead within culture? The Clore Fellowship brings together some of the most creative and dynamic cultural leaders in the UK and beyond for a life-changing adventure - it is a personal and professional learning experience unlike any other. The Fellowship will support you to be the leader you have the potential to be, through in-depth learning tailored to your individual needs, aspirations and circumstances. For more information simply tap your cursor over the cosmos above - maybe, just maybe you are that exceptional individual that they're after! Deadline for applications is 12 noon, 2nd February 2015.

Reassembling the Self  

The Lauriston Gallery
Saturday 7 February - Saturday 30 May
Monday - Saturday 10am - 5pm (8pm on performance nights)

To think of schizophrenia as a fragmented mind and then to focus on isolated fragments – the altered visual perceptions, heard voices, paranoid delusions – is to miss the whole experience… All of the work [in this exhibition] is at heart about human identity, the sense of self and how it holds itself together.
    Professor Anya Hurlbert 
    Institute of Neuroscience
    Newcastle University

Reassembling the Self is an exhibition centred on a study of the condition of schizophrenia, which weaves together art, science, psychiatry and individual histories in an extraordinary exploration of self, perception and the fragility of human identity. Find out more by clicking on the image, Reassembling the Self 1 by Susan Aldworth, above.

Postcode Community Trust Community Grants Scheme 
(North of England, Scotland & Wales)
The Postcode Community Trust has announced that its new Community Grants Scheme is open for applications. Funding of between £500 and £20,000 is available for innovative and engaging projects (lasting for up to one year) in the north of England, Scotland and Wales that bring a positive impact to local communities. Charities and community groups that support environmental protection, community development, engagement in sport, advancement of health, promotion of human rights and prevention of poverty, can apply. The deadline for applications is Friday 30th January 2015. Read more at: 

BBC Children in Need Small Grants Programme
The next deadline for applications to the BBC Children in Need Small Grants programme is the 1st March 2014. Through the Small Grants programme, funding up to £10,000 is available for projects that combat disadvantage and improve children and young people's lives. In particular, grants are available for projects that help children and young people experiencing:
Illness, distress, abuse or neglect
Any kind of disability
Behavioural or psychological difficulties
And / or living in situations of deprivation


Sunday, 11 January 2015

Happy for Life?

Awful week - and I’ve nothing of import to add to what you already know about attacks on cartoonists. We all know art and popular culture are powerful. From my very limited life experience, I can only reflect on my own community, and living on a very ethnically diverse street, I feel yet again, the mortification of neighbours affected by prejudice. The very real horrors of this last week might best be considered alongside a thousand other atrocities carried out by suited and booted others. Hideous - the whole bloody thing.

So too - and I guess because it’s the new year, and everyone builds up their temporary delusion of fame - I notice that the Guardian, alongside all its smug celebrity columnists, (who now don’t just have huge byline photos, but more often than not, are the paper's cover stars) is increasingly selling its delusional brand, through its UEA-Guardian Masterclasses’. They’re now ‘accepting’ applications for their February courses ranging from ‘How to tell a story’ to ‘How to finish a work of fiction’. If you want the honour of taking part in one of these courses and having a taste of fame by proxy, you’ll only have to pay between £1,500 and £4,000 for your one night a week course. Bargain bucket and obviously open to the masses. 

Another full-page ad in the same rag this week advertises a new Guardian app. - Happy for Life - sponsored by a life insurance company! Under the banner: Find Happiness in the Everyday - here are some of the highlights from Sunday 11th January, and a reminder that apparently their app. gives ‘simple activities to make you happier, every day.’ Simple? Puerile? Deluded?
  • Will juggling satsumas really make me happier?
  • Are you happy with your partner?
  • Take the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire.
  • Life getting you down? Learn to bounce back.
  • 10 ways to get more exercise - without really trying.
  • The shocking history of life insurance.
  • The 11 best films about life insurance.

OK - enough already and on with the show. If you were still living the good life last week, and missed the blog, it was a short essay called Fiction-Non-Fiction.

Arts and Health Event February 12th
Whilst others may charge ludicrous amounts for training and conferences, our event on the 12th of February is free, free, free to those working in, or interested in the people’s republic of arts and health! Whilst - CHAOS & COMFORT - the ARTS - from LONG-TERM IMPACT to SOCIAL CHANGE - might explore fleeting moments of happiness, it will also allow time for some disquiet. Over half the tickets went last week, so if you want to attend, please register by clicking on the glittering dream below.

Judging by peoples responses and offers of sharing their work, we’ll be hearing about arts/health research/practice that explore:
  • Drama
  • Reading
  • Dementia
  • Substance Misuse
  • Dance
  • Children and Young People’s Mental Health
  • International Perspectives
Of course the whole thing is framed in Dr Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt’s new report on long-term influences of arts participation on health and wellbeing. There’ll be fee copies of the report and MA students from the School of Art will be responding to the agenda. OK, more next week.

Young People and Mental Health:Training for People Working in the Creative Industries
Monday, February 9, 2015  and Monday, March 16, 2015
42nd Street is a Manchester based charity, nationally recognised for its work with young people experiencing mental health issues.
We are offering a two day training course aimed at people working in the Creative Industries who would benefit from a greater awareness and understanding of the mental health issues facing young people and how to most effectively support them. This opportunity is free of charge for people working in the Creative Industries. We are particularly keen to offer places to work in the Heritage Sector. 

City Health Care Partnership Foundation Small Grants Programme 
The City Health Care Partnership Foundation has announced that the next deadline for its small grant programme is the 1st March 2015. The programme provides grants or donations of up to £1,000 to local voluntary and community organisations, schools and/or other not-for-profit organisations to carry out activities, projects or one-off events that contribute towards the health and wellbeing of people throughout the UK. To be eligible, groups and organisations needs to have been in existence for at least one year, have an annual income of less than £30K, and work for the benefit of the local community in which CHCP CIC operates. Click on the unhappy sunflower for more details.

Austin & Hope Pilkington Trust
The Austin and Hope Pilkington Trust which awards grants to registered charities in the United Kingdom has announced that the next closing date for applications is the 1st June 2015. During 2015, the Trust is seeking to fund projects that promote Community development and Medical - Research and non-research. Grants are usually between £1,000 and £3,000 and are awarded for one year.

Clore Poetry & Literature Awards 
The Clore Duffield Foundation has announced that the seventh funding round under its £1 million programme to fund poetry and literature initiatives for children and young people across the UK is now open for applications. Through the programme, schools, FE colleges, community groups, libraries and other arts/cultural organisations can apply for grants of between £1,000 and £10,000 to support participatory learning projects and programmes focused on literature, poetry and creative writing for under 19s.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Fiction-Non-Fiction (revisited)

In November 2013 I gave a presentation called Fiction-Non-Fiction at the 5th International Artsof Good Health and Wellbeing International Conference in Sydney. In July 2014 I revisited the same train of thought for a conference aimed at Public Health colleagues at Loughborough University organised by Creative Health. At this Collaborating in Quality Arts in Public Health for the Future event, I had in the back of my mind some ideas, not only about quality – but authenticity – in arts/health. In part, this was as a response to many of the pompous and grandiose claims made by some in the field who seem more like marketeers hitching a ride on the well-being bandwagon and seeing arts/health as a useful vehicle to sell their philosophies. It was equally a clarion call to those of us who are deeply embedded in this work, not to be suckered into a reductivist mindset, and perhaps take note of Mike White’s many illuminating blog-postings, which to me, offer the epitome of authenticity and offer polar opposites to the quick-fix pseudo-scientists. Having had a number of requests for Fiction-Non-Fiction as an essay, I offer it up here in all its grizzly glory, warts and all. So make what you will of it, typos, grammatical errors and my use of other people’s brilliance!

When Charles-Edward Winslow defined public health in 1920, he referred to the science and art of preventing disease; of education; of social machinery and realising birth rights: all things that require knowledge, political advocacy and imagination. I’d like to develop some of those ideas and think about this arts and public health agenda in terms of Winslow’s definition.

In 1966 an album called Symposium in Blues, produced by the pharmaceutical giant Merk, was distributed to tens of thousands of general practitioners in the USA, marketing their new anti-depressant, Elavil. That an album of predominantly black musicians was being used to sell an anti-depressant was a cynical piece of marketing, considering that African Americans accounted for high numbers of patients detained in mental health units and prisons across the US. At that same time, the largest epidemiological study of mental illness ever conducted in the United States, the National Institute of Mental Health’s Epidemiologic Catchment Area (ECA) Study, evidenced striking racial differences in anxiety disorders.

With inequalities in mind and much of our lives mediated by marketing, I want to think about evidence in arts/health, and ask, just what is the evidence we are after, who is it for, and who controls it?

Austin Bradford Hill was the statistician on the Medical Research Council’s, Streptomycin in Tuberculosis Trials in 1948 and their study, is generally accepted as the first randomised clinical trial. GP Ben Goldacre in his book Bad Pharma, mischievously reminds us however, that the first recorded control trial was in fact reported in the apocalyptic Book of Daniel.

Daniel rejects the royal feasts of invading King Nebuchadnezzar, preferring to eat with the servants, suggesting that they are given nothing but vegetables and water for 10 days, after which they looked healthier and better nourished than those who ate the royal food. Of course the fine food and wine is taken away, and the nobility are given the Old Testament version of five-a-day. For a religious parable, this is a million miles away from parting seas and miracle cures.

I’d argue that what we consider to be authentic and true is so deeply influenced by the pull of science and religion that it often blinds us to the truth in the name of a higher power - that higher power might be supernatural, it might be scientific - and in both cases, it is sophisticatedly marketed, making it near impossible for us to separate fiction from non-fiction.

As early as 500 B.C., Pythagoras was accepting or rejecting his students based on how gifted they looked. Aristotle wrote that large-headed people were mean, those with small faces were steadfast, broad faces reflected stupidity, and round faces signalled courage. This very classical notion of Physiognomy and assessing character and morality from outer appearance would now be described as a pseudoscience, but for centuries, as scientists searched for tangible, external clues to internal temperaments, appearance has been studied ‘robustly’.

Whilst the term physiognomy no longer resonates, physical appearance as moral indicator lives on, though our consumer-driven world has increasingly substituted clothing and material possessions as signifiers of character and we continue to label people. Your skin colour, or trappings of faith, can still get you stopped on the street for looking suspicious.

Physiognomy is a pseudo-science and is ugly and often racist, but perhaps we can understand its roots - the urge to classify and make sense of the world. In its time and place, it seemed to be the cutting edge of thinking.

2013 saw the fifth edition of the Diagnosticand Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published. This informs the way psychiatrists prescribe drugs and classifies those rich differences in our interior landscape.

Excessive eating will become 'binge eating disorder'
If you are too keen on checking emails, perhaps you have maybe suffering from 'internet addiction'
Is your house to messy? You may have ‘Hoarding Disorder’

Whilst being gay is still seen as a moral sin in some parts of the world, punishable by execution, at least psychiatry has loosened its grip on classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder, treatable by medication and aversion therapy.

Former chair of the DSM task force, Dr. Allen Frances, has said that he believes in the power of psychiatric treatment, but he’s concerned that: “Drug companies take marketing advantage of the loose DSM definitions by promoting the misleading idea that everyday life problems are actually undiagnosed psychiatric illness caused by a chemical imbalance and requiring a solution in pill form,”

And through this classification of our interior landscape, we are inevitably open to new and increasingly sophisticated technology, and nowhere is this more prevalent than the burgeoning field of neuroscience and the exploration of the human psyche.

There are 85bn neurons in the average 3lb human brain. Typically, each neuron forms 10,000 connections, through synapses with other nerve cells. Jeff Lichtman's laboratory at Harvard University has an automatedtape-collecting lathe ultramicrotome (Atlum) which over 6 days, transforms a 1mm thick slice of brain into around 30,000 slices. He estimates there are between 100tn and 1,000tn connections between neurons. Lichtman has calculated how long it might take to image every slice of a 1cm mouse brain. The answer is 7,000 years! This is big data indeed.

Our current obsession with neurology might be tempered by lessons on authenticity from earlier experiments. Following Lenin’s death, his brain was dissected into 31,000 pieces, with researchers concluding that it showed an ‘extraordinary degree of organisation,’ when compared to an ‘ordinary brain’.        

Phil Hanlon et al in Perspectives in Public Health argues that, “faith in science has morphed into an ideology best called ‘scientism’. Under scientism, what really matters is that which can be supported by evidence, can be counted or measured and, above all, can be shown to be value for money. Concerns about evidence and value for money are important, but can cause problems when taken too far,” particularly, he notes, “if metrics are used as the sole measure of success.”

What a powerful tool this big data would be in the hands of people with vested commercial interests, or even worse those who have the desire to manipulate who we are.

This arts and health movement that we are part of is growing exponentially and as a consequence, it attracts not only those of us actively involved in the field, but free-marketers’ with their eye on either a quick-buck, or perhaps a standardised tool-kit where all the nuance and complexity of culture and the arts can be packaged into a small, instrumental, do-it-yourself kit. A one size-fits-all panacea that can be branded and sold on.

It’s frequently asserted, that the only way we can prove our efficacy is through robust Randomised Controlled Trials (RCT) more often than not, holding up the pharmaceutical model as gold standard. I want to think about this conflation for a moment. Thanks to the forensic work of the GP Ben Goldacre, I’ll share some of the reasons why I feel a little unrest at the assertion that the arts/health movement somehow adopts the clinical objectivity of the pharmaceutical industry.

In 2013 GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) were found guilty of promoting two drugs for unapproved uses and failing to report safety data to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and fined $3bn - the largest healthcare fraud settlement in US history.  Amongst other things, GSK has admitted to promoting antidepressants for unapproved uses, including treatment of children and adolescents, until a ban in 2003, over concerns it triggered suicides.

A bribery investigation is underway in China, alleging that GSK, has orchestrated payments - said to total £321million - offering amongst other things, prostitutes to doctors to persuade them to prescribe its medicines, allegedly pushing up the prices Chinese patients pay for GSK drugs by as much as 30%.

Goldacre asserts that the pharmaceutical industry spends around twice as much on marketing and promotion as it does on research and development, much of it paid to high-esteem academic ghostwriters for pharmaceutical driven scientific journals. He suggests that this kind of fraud and deception isn’t limited to GSK - far from it, it is endemic across the pharmaceutical industry, with “66% of fraud cases in the US involving the pharmaceutical industry.”

At the moment, in the UK, even the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence who make judgements based on evidence, have no access, and no legal right to any withheld clinical data.

Thomas Carlyle described economics as the dismal science, and a narrow focus solely on the arts saving the health sector money, neglects a nuanced understanding of cultural value across society. Health and wellbeing are best promoted and protected in the very communities we live and breathe in, not necessarily the places we go to when we’re sick. And there is a danger inherent in our field of work, through the conflation of art and public good, we run the risk of reducing creativity to an economic unit - a crude commodity -nothing more.

For a twisted understanding of the fiscal value of the arts, we could perhaps look to the spiralling prison population in the US, where the government have developed a simple algorithm to calculate how many new prison cells are they going to need in 15 years time - find out what percentage of children aged 10 - 11 can read today. In fact, female literacy is a significant determinant of health, and Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon has stressed the transformative effect on both a family and the wider community when a woman is literate. He comments, “By acquiring literacy, women become more economically self-reliant and more actively engaged in their country’s social, political and cultural life. All evidence shows that investment in literacy for women yields high development dividends.”

Albert Einstein, when asked how we could make our children more intelligent replied, "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." He understood the value of both reading, and the imagination. Author Neil Gaiman reminds us, “It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing, but the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.”

And boy, do we need to change the system. The UK has witnessed the exposure of abuse in health and social care, evidenced most harrowingly in systemic neglect within the NHS.

The Francis Report identified a target obsessed culture, that   “focused on doing the system’s business - and not that of the patients,’ {…} ‘an institutional culture which ascribed more weight to {…} methods of measuring compliance (and) which did not focus on the effect of a service on patients”.
It seems that our obsession with targets within health and social care, has blinded us to the very people we should be caring for and the all-prevailing ‘management culture’ that dominates this sector is mirrored in the arts and cultural sector too.

The Artist David Pledger, in his recent paper for Currency House - Re-evaluating the artist in the new world order, provides us with a compelling critique of the systems that have seen more money put into marketing and management that into artists, with the artist being at the very bottom of the food chain.

Yet shouldn’t the artist be at the heart of public debate? Scrutinizing, curious and enabling - questioning dominant ideologies and giving voice to those most marginalised by those in power? Pledger astutely suggests that ‘managerialism sees itself as the antidote to chaos, irrationality, disorder, and incompleteness,’ - but aren’t these the essential elements that are central to the arts?

The research of Gary Andsell of Nordoff Robbins, shares the intimacy of what Goethe described as gentle empiricism, stressing that ‘our research should always strive to “save the phenomenon”, never reducing, or replacing it with an explanation that omits human experience and its involvement in any understanding.’

Evaluation potentially confers power to justify big decisions, and RayPawson, Professor of Social Research Methodology at the University of Leeds, playfully suggests that, “mainstream science does not use RCTs. What proper scientists do is marshal theories and come up with all manner of ingenious empirical tests of those theories, which go on to refine the original ideas. Other groups add further tests to develop the explanation.”

I like this and I like Pawson’s assertion that “interventions are not ‘treatments’. Interventions are complex process introduced into complex environments attempting to deal with complex problems. It is impossible to control for every contingency as the trialists urge”. 
We are constantly told what constitutes robust evidence and more often than not, the model the RCT is held up as the Gold Standard. I don’t doubt its place at all in science and medicine, but I have grave concerns for our understanding of RCT’s when conflated with profit-driven and dishonest industry.

Perhaps the richest example of distorted evidence held up as unequivocal fact, is the UK Governments briefing report to Tony Blair in 2003. Now known as the Dodgy Dossier, we know, that much of the intelligence material was plagiarised from the graduate student, Ibrahim al-Marashi, only plagiarised with dangerous amendments designed to justify war.

From physiognomy to big pharma and political spin - what constitutes evidence, has never felt more contested. In terms of GDP, Philosopher, Vandana Shiva reflects that “a living forest does not contribute to growth, but when trees are cut down and sold as timber, we have growth. Healthy societies and communities do not contribute to growth, but disease creates growth through the sale of patented medicines”. This is a distorted understanding of progress.

She warns us that “the privatisation of health and education generates growth through profits, but it also generates poverty by forcing people to spend large amounts of money on what was previously available at affordable costs, as a common good. When every aspect of life is commercialised and commoditised,” she suggests, “living becomes more costly, and people become poorer”.

The challenge for us now, is to confidently theorise - to explore where we believe the potency of the arts lies - but in the current financial climate, do we want to be part of what Vandana Shiva describes as anti-life economics? In the face of unethical offers from bad-sponsors, can we assert ourselves with integrity? I’m thinking here of GSK’s annual ‘Impact Awards”, cynically marketed to an impoverished arts/health sector.                                

Whilst imaging our brains might offer up tantalising glimpses of how the essence of human can be nurtured, enhanced and manipulated - the true complexity of what we are, and how we engage with each other and our environment - is far more nuanced.

If we galvanise our imaginations, and envisaged our work beyond the confines of the neatly categorised sick individual, we could truly be a powerful force for social change and justice. And there’s something of a punk sensibility to the arts, from Pussy-Riot performing in Moscow, to the 2013 12th Youth Performing Arts Festival in Lahor, that despite being bombed in 2008, continues to encourage girls to take part in contemporary theatre.

Tim Lang and Geof Rayner in their article on Ecological Public Health in the British Medical Journal, ask how can we “reframe thinking about mental health, social exclusion, and inequalities in health”, without placing democracy at the heart of our thinking, where people have “a sense of - and actual engagement in shaping society and life, particularly when, we live in a “world in which so many people are excluded from control.” 

Isaac Newton in his book, The Principia wrote what is still considered to be one of the most important scientific books ever written. And not just because it set out revolutionary hypotheses about physical laws, but because it set the ‘gold standard’ in scientific writing. Interestingly, the post war economist and first chair of Arts Council England, John Maynard Keynes, described Newton, as ‘Not the first of the age of Reason. He was the last of the magicians’. I do like this economist’s reflection on the revolutionary magic of Newton’s scientific imagination.

I’d like to conclude my presentation, not with answers to questions around the value of our work, but with some points to consider:

1: SCIENTISM: NancyCartwright for the LSE suggests that “...there is no gold standard; no universally best method. Gold methods however, are whatever methods will provide the information you need, reliably, from what you can do, and from what you can know on the occasion.”

2: ECONOMICS: Hasan Bakhshi notes in his essay Beauty: valuebeyond measure? even- “...the Treasury’s Green Book guidelines for cost-benefit analysis...recommends that a range of techniques be used to elicit non-market values, even if these are subjective. Methods like Social Return On Investment may offer compelling economic proxies.

3: CULTURAL VALUE: Dr Samuel Ladkin: in Against Value in the Arts - suggests, “It is often the staunchest defenders of art who do it the most harm, by suppressing or mollifying its dissenting voice, by neutralizing its painful truths, and by instrumentalising its potentiality, so that rather than expanding the autonomy of thought and feeling of the artist and the audience, it makes art self-satisfied…”

I began with Charles-Edward Winslow’s assertion that public health is dependent on KNOWLEDGE, POLITICAL ADVOCACY and critically, IMAGINATION.

To Winslow’s definition, I would like to add AUTHENTICITY. I think we have some fundamental questions to explore, and central to this is why we do, what we do, and believe in what we believe? In our unequal and market-driven world, can we learn from the past to influence our futures - and is there a danger that if we understand impacts of the arts in terms of deficit and disease and not assets and potential, we may just become another pseudo-science? The arts have the power to change mindsets and challenge outrageous inequalities - and just how we evidence this reach, might best be understood through the very practice itself.