Friday, 13 July 2018

Look to the skies

Thanks to Jamie Reid for his rendition of the Good Old Stars & Stripes. No more comment from me needed...

Fundación Casa Wabi x ArtReview Residency Award 2019...
...are pleased to announce an open-call residency prize for artists wishing to stay in Oaxaca for the month of July 2019. Applications must detail a project that engages with or benefits the local community in Puerto Escondido, Mexico.
Fundación Casa Wabi is an interdisciplinary project whose mission is to promote the exchange of ideas, fostering an open and constructive dialogue between national and international artists in a variety of practices and disciplines. The foundation is based in Puerto Escondido, on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, 800km south of Mexico City. Set between the mountains and the sea, the foundation and its grounds were designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Founded in 2014 by Mexican artist Bosco Sodi, its facilities include a multipurpose room, six studio-dorms and a 50-acre sculpture garden, as well as two recently opened pavilions: the Clay Pavilion by Alvaro Siza (Pritzker, 1995) and the Guayacan Pavilion by Mexican studio Ambrosi-Etchegaray. Click on the sky below for details.

Sylvia Pankhurst Public Art Commission 
Bruntwood has opened calls for entries for a UK-wide street art competition transform the landmark Trafford House building in Greater Manchester with a 38 metre high mural - in memory of Sylvia Pankhurst. More details HERE.

Could prisons unlock the creative industries talent pipeline problem?
Here’s an extract from an interesting blog by Sally Taylor and Jessica Plant on the Creative Industries Federation website.

'It goes without saying that the UK’s creative industries make a huge contribution to the UK’s economy. But is all the potential talent which could be working this booming sector being encouraged to do so, or is it just the usual suspects which make up the bulk of the new creative generation? Of course students graduating from our prestigious and well respected higher education institutions are much sought after, but how about trying something new – institutions which might attract a different world view, but whose ‘graduates’ might offer something a little different – like our prisons.' Read more HERE.

More news coming in from Texas!

A week in Vilnius and lots of photographs - but what to post? Simply the final image from my last day there. I met and had profound & liberating first conversations with people affected by suicide in Lithuania. Biggest thanks to Jurgita Jurkutė for her deep & poetic insight & Artūras Vasiliauskas from the British Council for his knowledge & companionship during the England defeat! (No I'm not the greatest footy fan, but context is everything). As always, warmest and deepest thanks to IP and SK for conversations and friendship.


Sunday, 1 July 2018

#NHS70 & more

The Manchester Institute for Arts, Health & Social Change
Just what is the Manchester Institute for Arts, Health & Social Change? Well for those of you with a keen eye, you may have picked up on an event I facilitated at the Manchester School of Art last week, with guest speaker and Chief Officer of Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, Jon Rouse. This marks the start of Arts for Health’s evolution into the Manchester Institute for Arts, Health & Social Change, which over the next six months will emerge as a new collective of people and organisations driven by a motivation to understand and address the factors that underpin inequalities. More than that - it’s about doing things differently. These are exciting times and a full picture of our aspirations and direction will be published on a new stand-alone website over the next two weeks. Thank you to everyone who came, for your commitment and vision.

So - it’s the NHS 70th anniversary - and here are a few delicious treats for you.

A Fortunate Man
Next Monday 2nd and Tuesday 3rd July, New Perspectives theatre company will be performing a new work based on the sublime and important book, A Fortunate Man by John Berger and Jean Mohr. I used this work as a stimulus to my exploration of the artist Vic McEwan’s residency at Alder Hey, to which there will be a brand new online resource later this month. To me, Berger’s work articulates some of the thoughts I attempt to corral in Critical Care, not least that we mustn't privilege understanding of the potency of the arts through the narrow and often pseudo-scientific lens of bio-medical science, particularly when work isn’t focused on clinical outcomes, but on the rather more richly textured and subtle languages of lived experience - and the arts themselves.

I’ve not seen this New Perspectives adaptation of the work yet, but I’m going along on Tuesday afternoon and can’t wait. The performances will be taking place at the Main Lecture Theatre in the Postgrad Centre at Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, down Oxford Road. Thanks to LIME Arts for enabling this to happen. Full details right below.



by John Berger and Jean Mohr
a stage exploration by Michael Pinchbeck

Fifty years ago, writer John Berger and photographer Jean Mohr followed the working life of a country doctor, for what went on to become one of the most important books about medical practice. Today, New Perspectives collaborates with theatre-maker Michael Pinchbeck to explore and expand on this fascinating work, setting it against verbatim interviews with doctors today. This striking mixed media performance takes the pulse of GP practice then and now, continuing the conversation in the 70th year of the NHS.

  Main Lecture Theatre
  Postgrad Centre
  Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9WL

One final thing - this is a PAY WHAT YOU DECIDE performance and attenders are encouraged to make a donation as they leave. There are numerous performances of this one hour work over the two days. Book online HERE. 

'It's nothing like a broken leg':
why I'm done with the mental health conversation

For a really personal and timely exploration of the lived experience of mental distress that doesn’t mess around with euphemism and platitudes, I recommend this article by my namesake, Hannah Jane Parkinson. Superb and perfectly written. Here’s a small extract.

“In the last few years I have observed a transformation in the way we talk about mental health, watched as depression and anxiety went from unspoken things to ubiquitous hashtags. It seems as though every week is now some kind of Mental Health Awareness Week, in which we should wear a specific colour (although this year no one could agree on which: half wore green, half yellow). In the last few years I have lost count of the times mental illness has been compared to a broken leg. Mental illness is nothing like a broken leg.” Read more by Hannah Jane Parkinson by clicking on the rather fetching image below.

Section 136 – partners and places needed

“What constitutes public display of mental illness which can harm people or those around them? Consumerism? No. Sexist ads making you feel inadequate? No. Compassion fatigue? No. Casual racism? No. Discrimination towards disabled people? No.” 
Find out more about what Dolly Sen* is attempting to explore by clicking HERE, or on the image below, or by emailing Dolly HERE.

*As a child, Dolly Sen was an alien in Empire Strikes Back. She knew then she would never know normal life. Her journey as an artist has taken her up a tree in Regents Park, to California’s Death Row, to the Barbican, Tower Bridge and the Royal Academy, Trafalgar Square, and up a ladder to screw a lightbulb into the sky, using words, art, film and performance. She is interested in non-consensual reality, outsidership, empathy, authenticity and absurdity. She has been labeled ‘mad’ by society. Her work aims to show she makes perfect sense. Basically, reality is a cheeky bastard, and she is putting him over her lap and slapping his naughty arse.”

Singing in the City is back. We are celebrating the NHS 70, join us!

Sunday 8 July 2018, 11am-4.30pm. Free, drop in, no need to book
the Whitworth Gallery will be filled with choirs and a free singing extravaganza to celebrate the NHS's 70th anniversary, in the city where the first National Health Service (NHS) hospital opened its doors. Want to know more? Click on the image below.

The Culture Capital Exchange
 (TCCE)... delighted to announce its summer symposium: Refresh, Reboot, Retool: new imaginaries for challenging times. Bringing together academics, artists, creatives, policy-makers and people from other sectors, Refresh Reboot, Retool: new imaginaries for challenging times sets out to create a space in which to encourage, debate, conversation, play, knowledge exchange and co-creation about some of our most important contemporary challenges including: politics, diversity, identity, place and environment.

 Click HERE.

Two new positions at ARC ARC are are seeking team members!
Arc is a creative arts organisation based in Stockport, UK, specialising in workshops, wellbeing and community development. We work in and around Stockport and the North West from our base at Arc Centre and Gallery. They are looking to recruit an Engagement Officer and a Finance Officer. Closing date is 15th July. Details are HERE.

42nd Street - job opportunities

New Opportunities to Join the 42nd Street Team

42nd Street’s Mission is:

To support young people aged 11-25 years with their emotional well-being and mental health, promoting choice and creativity. We champion young person centred approaches that demonstrate local impact and have national significance.
Counselling & Therapy – 1 full time role available
Community Mental Health – 2 full time roles available

Deadline is Monday 16th July at 10am, full details HERE.

NHS70 event - The Changing Face of Mental Health
This year the NHS celebrates its 70th birthday, and the Faculty of Health, Psychology and Social Care at Manchester Met will be commemorating this important milestone with a special one-off panel event on Wednesday 4th July, 4pm-6pm.

‘Celebrating 70 years of the NHS: The Changing Face of Mental Health’ will be hosted by our new Mental Health Professor, Joy Duxbury and will discuss the changing face of mental health, exploring revolution over the past 70 years and our panel's predictions for the future.

Panel members include:
Professor Joy Duxbury – Professor of Mental Health Nursing 
Dr Prathiba Chitsabesan – Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust
Malcom Rae – Sate of Mind
Rita Long – a Service User
Dr Alina Haines – Digital Apps

“The importance of finding new ways of working in these areas and the field of mental health more broadly, are required, particularly given hard to reach groups such as those in the criminal justice system for example.  Innovation including technology, participatory approaches and interdisciplinary working are integral to making a difference to people’s lives.” More details and booking HERE. 

A couple of conferences
Exciting to see that Dr Daisy Fancourt is keynote speaker at the almost Old Testament sounding NOAH conference in Texas, where she'll be in good company amongst some long-standing arts and health folk, ’reimagining the future of arts & health.’ Check the conference details HERE. 
Over in Australia, great to see regulars Gary Glazner and The Hon Dame Marie Bashir back again at the 10th Art of Good Health and Wellbeing International Arts and Health Conference, and its all taking place in the Sails Hotel up in Port Macquarie. Singer-songwriter and campaigner for Indigenous people Archie Roach AM will be at the Conference Dinner, (separate ticketed event). Click on the image below for full details.

'...there’s always the fear of tokenism'
The Native American novelist Tommy Orange teaches creative writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts and his debut novel is There There. In an interview with the Observer he shares his thinking behind this new and important work. 


Saturday, 16 June 2018

That was then...

...and this is now!

To celebrate Learning Disability Week 2018, the always superb Venture Arts 'are sharing artist Amy's colouring book illustration ‘Colour in Corrie’ a layered composition of characters, past and present, from Coronation Street, the famous ITV soap that inspires many of our artists and their creative practice everyday.’ To help raise awareness of Learning Disability Week 2018 and to tie in with Mencap’s theme ‘Health’, we are inviting you to join us to take a few mindful minutes of your day to relax and refocus and colour in Corrie.'  Amy Ellison comments: "I am so happy to be sharing my artwork with you for Learning Disability Week. Make sure you colour it in neatly! First I drew Coronation Street characters on paper then I traced it. I traced it on paper in different ways. I made patterns, heart shapes, triangles and waves to go inside." Print off your own colouring sheet by clicking on the image below.

Venture Arts support and nurture some prodigious talent, and amongst some of the artists they work with  Barry Finan and Rosanne Robertson are exhibiting their collaborative installation YES LAD YES LASS in a group exhibition curated by gallery director Zavier Ellis and artist Hugh Mendes at Charlie Smith London. The exhibition - Transcript - runs until 23 June and includes Mark Wallinger, Fiona Banner amongst a wealth of contemporary artists. The image below is courtesy of the artists.

For those of you who are interested in rich contemporary art that embraces diversity, LAND Gallery in Brooklyn offers some of the most exciting established and emerging artists, space to create and showcase their work. I've had the great opportunity of spending time with some of the artists there and hear something of the ethos of the non-profit organisations curator, Matthew Bede Murphy. For more information about LAND click on the portrait of Frank Sinatra by Carlo Daleo.

In their dance project, 'Šokio laboratorija' the Lithuanian NPO Socialiniai meno projektai worked with over 300 people in Kaunas and Klaipėda exploring dance with wide ranging groups and artists and you can watch some of their filmed pieces HERE.  Then there's DaDAA over in Western Australia who have been ploughing the furrow for years, and the superb LEVEL Centre over in Derbyshire who have been developing profound work with people with learning disabilities for over 25 years
 - I can't recommend these organisations enough. I know there are lots of projects out there, but I share these as part of Learning Disability Week, because they are all in some way, organisations I've been lucky enough to connect with, and that have stood the test of time - and who work in transformative, strident and beautiful ways. Superb.

For many years I worked as what I suppose you’d describe as a Hospital Arts Co-ordinator, but this was a long time ago, and in reality I’d gone through all manner of pay-scales and job titles ranging from a nursing assistant to a technical training instructor, but my forward thinking line manager (Bill Hockey) let me define my own position, and by and large, I have him to thank for the direction I’ve gone in over the years. Even before I was taken under his wing, I’d been involved in one of those Community Enterprise Programmes that saw me working with the psychology team undertaking adult education assessments on all the people who lived in the hospital - adults with learning disabilities. 

This was the Royal Albert Hospital in Lancaster, and at the time when I began working there in the 1980’s, there were around 800 men and women living there. It closed down in 1996 and I had the odd privilege of being there when the keys were handed over to its new owners - its residents ‘resettled’ and ‘normalised’ in line with government policy of the time. (what horrific terms - what connotations!)

So now as Learning Disability Week kicks off, I am reminded of all those people I met, and the stories I was privy too - and part of. I co-curated a number of public exhibitions in and around Lancaster when I worked at the Royal Albert Hospital and struck up collaborations with TATE Liverpool in its early days, through its Mobile Arts Programme - with Naomi H and Vinnie. With the Dukes Theatre and the amazing Theatre in Education team, we co-created a public performance with residents who were coming to terms with being ‘resettled’ - it was a wonderful collaboration with Lancaster Lit Fest.

Now I’m getting whimsical - but collaborating with these inspiring and diverse people certainly made me who I am today. 

So it was, that last week I scrabbled about in the loft and pulled out a fat portfolio of paintings and drawings from the Royal Albert Hospital, created by people all long dead, but whose names I remembered instantly when I see the work. Outsiders? Well I don’t think so - the people I knew were rightly proud of their work. Raw? Well certainly free of over-cooked art school pretensions, that’s for sure. You can see a few images from this portfolio scattered across the blog today, with a 1981 portrait of a certain doomed royal couple below!


Sunday, 3 June 2018

Short, Sweet & Important New Publications in Arts, Health & Mental Wellbeing


I am very excited to recommend to you, the full report of Churchill Fellow, Dr Katherine Taylor. Thanks to the generous and insightful investment of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, Kat has spent time in Finland and the USA exploring the potential more of moving towards the creative devolution of mental health across Greater Manchester. Kat is a charismatic public speaker and an emerging leader in the filed of arts and mental health. With her knowledge as a clinical psychologist, her close connection to the cultural sector, and her lived experience she presents us with a rich and forensic work comprising a comparative study of practices in Finland and the USA, using a psychological perspective. Written in the context of the Devolution deal of 2014, she explores the myriad roles the arts could, and do, play in the service of mental health in Greater Manchester. Click on the report cover at the top of this page.


Art & Well-Being: Toward A Culture of Health
The second report this week comes is the U.S.Department of Arts and Culture’s latest publication: Art & Well-Being: Toward A Culture of Health. The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture is a people-powered department — a grassroots action network inciting creativity to shape a culture of empathy, equity, and belonging. It is a network of artists, activists, and allies inciting creativity and social imagination to shape a culture of equity, empathy, and belonging. The report offers a road-map and conjoins some important global ideas and practice:

'CLOSING THE GAP IN UNDERSTANDING between a “prevailing world view” that privileges what can be quantified and discounts or dismisses evidence conveyed in other ways.'

'ENLARGING UNDERSTANDING FROM ART AS AN EXTRA FLOURISH FOR INDIVIDUAL TREATMENT— an accompaniment to allopathic medicine—for those suffering from health challenges, instead encompassing art as a means of illuminating and engaging collective risks and opportunities, touching the larger community.' 

'BROADENING THE DEFINITION OF HEALTH CHALLENGES to include not only individual susceptibilities to infectious and autoimmune diseases, but also environmental hazards and the differential ways they affect people depending on economic status, race and ethnicity, gender and orientation, geographic location and other such factors. Simple, but not necessarily easy.'

Superb work from kindred spirits in the US.

To communicate directly with USDAC and the reports author Arlene Goldbard, or the wider team, email

Creativity & Wellbeing Week
2nd - 10th June

This week sees Creativity & Wellbeing Week burst out across London with some amazing opportunities for wider participation in arts and health and the opportunities for knowledge exchange. Good luck to all of those involved and particularly LAHF. To find out what's on this week. Click HERE.  


Sunday, 27 May 2018

Das Wesentliche

Following my mail out to people asking if they wanted to opt out or remain on the North West Arts & Health Network database, I can confirm only 4 fell by the wayside. Thank you remainers!!

I would like to quote my friend JC Ashton: "REPEAL THE 8TH securing the YES vote in Ireland is fu*k*ng HUGE for women's rights and women's campaigning in face of religious and cultural oppression. Let's keep going..." 

What a heady few weeks - Dementia & Imagination hit the road and the wonderful Chris Lewis-Jones has been sharing practical training stemming from the Yellow Book in Wales and in London. I’m pleased that he and Sian Hughes will be working with me again in mid July as part of Engage Cymru training events in South Wales. If you’re an artist who wants to explore working in contexts around dementia, and are based in or near Swansea or Carmarthen, check HERE. But a right old treat for me personally has been taking part in A Life More Ordinary Festival at the Dukes Theatre in Lancaster. As well as giving me the opportunity to reconnect with arts and health pioneer Alison Clough, I got to make a revolutionary racket with Leo Nolan them and their collaborators as part if Cognitive Shift. I met a local councillor who was sporting a God Speed You Black Emperor t-shirt - things were damn good! Superb people and well planned and nuanced events - thanks for asking me Gil and Alex and thanks for the company KMD. Very inspired particularly by a session led by the artist Dr. Louise Ann Wilson - more of which to follow.* 


#LiveWellMakeArt burst into life last week at Leigh’s Turnpike Gallery. Great to hear Dr Kat Taylor beginning to share her work from Finland as part of her time with a Churchill Fellowship. When she publishes her report in June, I’ll make sure to post it online. I have to say the Royal Exchange’s Tracie Daley completely blew me away with her collaboration with isolated people living in tower blocks in Manchester. Who needs Ted Talks when we have such brilliant, driven and compelling people right here - doing profound stuff. Thanks Gerri for making it happen.

One of the speakers at the LWMA event was Lois Blackburn and as half of arthur+martha (alongside Phillip Davenport) they will be sharing more of their work with people who for whatever reason, find themselves on the fringes of society. Click on the image below for more details of this work and launch.

The National Alliance for Musicians in Healthcare conference is taking place at Alder Hey Hospital on the 4th June. I’ll be sharing something personal, something political and something poetic. Want to know more? Well you’ll have to come along. Click HERE for those ever important details.

On Tuesday 5th June Professor Jill Bennett will be sharing all manner of things from the Big Anxiety festival in Sydney, and if you want to come along, pleased. All the details are HERE. Failing that and if you’re in London, I can heartily recommend my friends and colleagues from Lithuania who will be sharing some of their systemic work under the title: Accessible Museums: Research and Practice in Lithuania. This is all part of London Creativity and Wellbeing week, and you can find out much more about it by clicking HERE.

Today is the feast day of Saint Melangell, patron saint of hares and rabbits. Prince Brochwel Ysgithrog was hunting near Pennant in the year 604 when his hounds chased a hare into a thicket, where they found a beautiful maiden at prayer. The hare sheltered under the hem of her garment, and the dogs fled. The Prince, discovering that the lady was Melangell, a king’s daughter who had fled Ireland to escape a forced marriage, gave her the valley as a place of sanctuary. Artwork by Kay Leverton and more details on Melangell, here. 

Indigenous Men’s Conference and 2018 Indigenous Women’s Wellbeing Conference in Cairns QLD Australia.

I know it’s a bit late off the press, but here’s something of real interest in Australia. The stage is set to accommodate all delegations of the 2018 Indigenous Men’s Conference and 2018 Indigenous Women’s Wellbeing Conference scheduled on the 13th – 15th of June 2018 at the Pullman Cairns International Hotel. The convenor of the 2018 Indigenous Men’s and Indigenous Women’s Wellbeing Conferences has now finalised the conference proceedings with a kaleidoscope of First Nations speakers sharing stories and great opportunities for delegates to participate in events which are devoted to the sharing of Culture, Empowerment, Education & Networking. Details HERE.

After witnessing some astonishing levels of racism around First Nations people in Australia back in 2016 from someone who should know better, events like this seem more important than the usual insipid and self congratulatory guff. 

*A Morecambe Hauntology #1
I was part of a small group that explored maps of places special to us. I took it seriously, and in the limited time we had - went deep. Too deep perhaps. The scratchy little map I prepared by the end of the session was peppered with spectres from my childhood. I didn’t share with the group - well not in any depth - but left an out-of-scale map with Louise including the West End Pier, Stone Jetty zoo, two paddling/boating pools and some clues to some sticky jigsaw pieces. I suppose because I had written dis/ordered for the Big Anxiety last year, I’d already dipped my feet back into the muddy waters of Morecambe Bay, but Louise’s session left me wanting more.

So spending the bank holiday weekend alone, I took myself on two walks: one - from the front door of my childhood home, along the promenade of Morecambe to its centre, then back along the labyrinthine alleyways and side streets of the West End and walk two: - to the top of Clougha Pike and a rural landscape devoid of humans, my company for this second journey mainly curlews, disconcerted and warning me away from their grounds. So two very different, but emotionally connected walks. So taken was I, by the methodology of the session, that Louise Ann led that I’m going to write up the walk in full - both walks - connected. (not here you'll be relieved to know)

She’d introduced her work as therapeutic walking, and for my part I certainly delved deeply - but there’s something teetering on experiment for me here. Perhaps psycho-geography, though who am I to attach such a label. 

No, for me there was some kind of haunting - the death of people and the death of places. When people talk about the treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay, quite naturally minds go straight to the exploited Chinese cockle-pickers who died en-masse in 2004. Twenty four people. Horrible. But such a terrible thing blinds us to the small scale tragedies of the suicides and drownings that have happened in these waters over the last century. My mind goes back to three lads my age, school friends of sorts, who drown together in 1981: that, and the decline and change of all the things I knew and did - the shops - the cinemas and the lives, all mixed up - a daytime haunting. A Black Bear shot dead.

I stood on Sandylands prom and looked down at the outline of the saltwater paddling pool. Sand had encroached it, leaving just the faint outline of the place where every year, we competed to catch the biggest red-eaters in the deepest corner. I stood on West-end prom and looked down at the outline of the saltwater boating pool. No faint outline. No trace of those boats. Sandgrownuns and just a little despair.


Sunday, 13 May 2018

"All is Not Lost"

There’s a line in the opening credits of the long-running 1970’s TV series MASH, that tells us that: “suicide is painless, it brings on many changes, and I can take or leave it if I please…” It’s a melancholic song, a little whimsical and something that when I was a lad - troubled me deeply. Having experienced the aftermath of suicide, thoughts of painlessness and choice seemed very far removed from reality (though I appreciate the irony and context in MASH). This week has seen three suicides make the headlines of the UK press, for very different reasons. You may or may not know the names; three men, three individuals, and all, no doubt with loving people around them in some way - sons, fathers, grandfathers, lovers. Individuals - Ben Murray, Scott Hutchison and David Goodall.

Only one of these men was known to me - the singer Scott Hutchison - from the Scottish band, Frightened Rabbit. Beautiful lyrics - beautiful sounds - beautiful voice and songs peppered with a deeper meaning that needs no analysis from me. You can read a tribute HERE. The song State Hospital has been posted on this blog before, from the album Pedestrian Verse. There are more poignant and brutally relevant songs by the band, if you choose to look further. In an interview for Noisey just a few weeks ago, Scott Hutchison spoke with Josh Modell about how he was doing.

“Pretty fine. Middling. On a day-to-day basis, I’m a solid six out of ten. I don’t know how often I can hope for much more than that. I’m drawn to negatives in life, and I dwell on them, and they consume me. I don’t think I’m unique in that sense. I’m all right with a six. If I get a couple of days a week at a seven, fuck, it’s great.”

Hutchison’s mental anguish and depression had been addressed consistently through his songwriting, but his death, however seemingly inevitable, is so deeply sad.

The second of the three men is Ben Murray and by all rights, he should be an anonymous lad whose name I’d never know, pursuing his studies in English at Bristol University, no doubt a well deserved place in a high ranking university. But last week, he became another name associated with a spate of suicides at Bristol University. Troublingly he’s the third student to die at the university this year and the 10th since 2016. As Netflix releases the second season of their blockbuster series focused on suicide, and targeted at young people - 13 Reasons Why - exam season looms large in the minds of many young people embarking on school and university exams, and inevitably anxiety increases in the lives of students. Might ideation and copying the example of others, lead to more attempts at suicide? Evidence from the open access journal PLOS ONE points to the 32 percent increase in death by suffocation following Robin Williams suicide and significantly they suggest that suicides in men aged 30-44 rose by 12.9 percent. Whilst a definitive link wasn’t proven, there appeared to be an unavoidable connection. The ways in which suicide is reported and portrayed in the media has an impact.

The third and last but by no means least, of these men, is the very moving story of Australian scientist David Goodall who at 104 years of age, had to travel all the way to Switzerland to end his life, which he felt had become unenjoyable 5 to 10 years ago. “What I would like,” Goodall said, “is for other countries to follow Switzerland’s lead and make these facilities available to all clients, if they meet the requirements, and the requirements not just of age, but of mental capacity.” What strength of character, to fly from Australia to Europe - but how sad he couldn’t have had support in his own country. You can watch the very articulate Goodall talk a little bit about his dying, the day before his assisted suicide - and singing a little Beethoven - by watching the film below.

I have written before about the scene in the film Soylent Green where Edward G Robinson’s character Sol, chooses to end his life in a clinic listening to a heady mix of Tchaikovsky, Grieg and Beethoven whilst watching film of beautiful landscapes (from a not too distant dystopian position). Watch the film to dig deeper into the themes of poverty, state control, choice and state sponsored murder. It’s always enthralled me to know that Robinson was living with terminal cancer when he shot that scene. When Goodall died, he was listening to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. 

What very different stories these three men offer us, and some important refections on the terrible depths of human despair, alongside thoughts on sentience and complex issues of choice. It seems the time for having meaningful and nuanced conversations about the right to die, and the depths of mental despair more generally, has never been more urgent. With the plight of David Goodall in mind, perhaps its its more relevant to think about those difficult but critical break-point conversations around how we live well, and die well too. Conversations that you might find by connecting with Dying Matters, who this week, begin their awareness raising week. Click on their logo for details.

It’s difficult to imagine the pressures that Hutchison or Murray were under, and throughout Hutchison’s life, we know he experienced significant anxiety and depression, (and not just everyday melancholia) because he sang and spoke about his life experiences very candidly. I think we owe him a debt of thanks for his honesty, and if we listen to his voice, we also owe it to ourselves never to glamorise or mythologise suicide. 

Perhaps too, where people are predisposed to the extremes of mental anguish, we should take note of the external factors around their lives, which might play a significant part. In an earlier interview, Hutchison describes the pressure to create and to produce to record company deadlines:

“…we completed a two-year tour, got back in January of 2009, and were told that we needed to book studio time in June, to make this record that we hadn’t written a note of. So we get back off tour, which had broken us all down—it was extremely long and gruelling. And then I had three months to write and demo a whole album…”

Society contributes to our anxieties - compounding the fractured sense of who we are - student debt, abject poverty, oppressive systems, bigotry and prejudice and a thousand day-to-day influences, have the power to undermine our mental health. Insidious levels of inequalities contribute to a deeper social poison and if people experience severe mental distress, these poisonous social factors inevitably have a part to play in a climate of despair. As Mark Fisher warned us: "Mental illness has been depoliticised, so that we blithely accept a situation in which depression is now the malady most treated by the NHS.
Loneliness and the belief that we have a thousand or more close friends, feeds our divided and deluded society, where another royal wedding is offered up as some anaesthetic from grinding poverty, and we reassure ourselves by uploading a billion airbrushed moments, to our careful constructed virtual version of ourselves.

As the arts become an add-on in the school curriculum relegated to some 4th academic division, the creative and emotional intelligence of future generations will be seriously undermined. I regularly see an advert on TV aimed at recruiting people into teacher training to the STEM subjects, with the handsome offer of a bursary. My heart goes out to our future artists and cultural leaders, who have no such offer. I see that a Cultural Learning Alliance has been formed which offers a New evidence Briefing: The Arts, Health and Wellbeing, ahead of this weeks
Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May). They have launched a new briefing written in partnership with the children’s mental health charity a Place2Be. This includes a foreword from a Place2Be's President and Founder Dame Benita Refson, the briefing sets out why the arts make us happier and healthier and are key to supporting children’s good mental health.

Writing anything about mental health issues, it seems incumbent on us all to be aware of ‘triggers’ and whilst I see the importance of not writing anything that sensationalises, mythologises or in any way feeds suicide ideation, I do worry that in part, we may inhibit some conversation by over censoring ourselves. As I am about to welcome Professor Jill Bennett to the Manchester School of Art to discuss the Big Anxiety Festival, I remember preparing for my performance of dis/ordered last year in Sydney. My work explicitly explored obsessive and compulsive personality alongside suicide and of course, it was the festival’s responsibility to advise people attending on any potential triggers. Can you imagine? Where do you begin! So in advance of the free event on 5 June 2018 between 14:00 to 16:00, we will be discussing many of the issues that surround the differences in all our mental health, and the troubling nature of suicide, but we will do it in a safe and mature way. These are important conversations and it’s my conviction that in some way, the arts in all their forms, might contribute to serious long-term debate, and just maybe, affect positive change.

In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123.

I'll be sharing an extract from dis/ordered at the National Alliance of Music in Healthcare conference at Alder Hey on Monday 14th June as part of my keynote there. It's probably the only time I'll share this in the UK, so if you want to come along and say hello, you can get tickets HERE. Similarly I'll be at the Menier Gallery on Monday and Tuesday this week for the second wave of the Imagination Cafe session, which expand and demonstrate research informed learning from Dementia & Imagination, so again, say hello if you're around. Details HERE. And finally - talking about dementia - I'll be speaking at A Life More Ordinary alongside some amazing contributors at the Dukes Theatre in Lancaster on Friday, so book a place and come and say hello.

The Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance is a free membership organisation and will provide monthly updates on policy and developments in the field, access to resources and research, as well as deliver training, conferences and events. It will advocate for the importance of cultural engagement for the health and wellbeing of everyone in society. It will work closely with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing to bring about a step change in policy and delivery, and will focus on a strong regional infrastructure to support development and progress in the field.

What does this mean for the North West Arts & Health Network? Well in the very least more infrastructure support and a closer connection to partners in museums and galleries and a collective voice. You will continue to get regular blog postings like this one, and a more access to an overarching national perspective. 
To become a member sign up by clicking on the logo above.

Manchester’s first Mindful Art Centre is launching in Levenshulme Old Library on 27 April, 4pm-9pm. Local social enterprise The Owl and The Coconut are behind the centre, which opens with a community crowd-sourced exhibition and offers of free places on their Mindfulness and Mindful Art courses.

Doctors move closer to unified plan for arts on prescription
27 National Health Service (NHS) organisations across Cheshire and Merseyside have committed to developing a social prescription plan, which one NHS official promises will be implemented across the region within one year. Read this  excellent article by Christy Romer in Arts Professional by clicking HERE.

Affecting space: an interdisciplinary ethnography at Manchester Art Gallery: 
A Funded PhD Scholarship
This doctorate will explore how babies and young children’s encounters with space, the visual and aural, movements and materials at Manchester Art Gallery (MAG) invent new ways for artists, health and educational practitioners to learn transversally about the emerging development of the under twos.
More details HERE.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

This, That & the Other

The Imagination Cafe events began last week in Llandudno at the beautiful Mostyn Gallery and a big thanks to Alfredo Cramerotti and his team for making everyone so welcome. These events are a mix of awareness raising and artists development which stems from the Dementia & Imagination research project, and builds on the principles in the Yellow Book. More are planned for London and Edinburgh this year. Personal thanks to Chris Lewis-Jones for facilitating the artists workshops. Looking forward to the next workshops at the Menier Gallery 14 - 19th May. And if you are an emerging artists who would like to take part in the training event at the Menier, please click HERE to book a place.

There are number of exciting events happening across the North West and further afield over the next couple of months and as promised last week, here are just a few of them. Please feel free to send in more from your locality! I’ve listed them in terms of dates. Please send events, opportunities, conferences and work opportunities to for inclusion on this blog.

A Life More Ordinary Festival
17 and 18th May

The Dukes - Lancaster
This festival is billed as a unique two day exploration of how the arts are touching the lives of people living with dementia in wonderful and remarkable ways. 
‘A Life More Ordinary’ at The Dukes in Lancaster, invites people living with dementia, family  friends, health and care professionals, artists, researchers and, clinical commissioning teams, to share and discover some of the ground-breaking ways that the arts help us understand dementia better and play an invaluable part in how we journey through life together. You can find all the details by clicking on the image above. It looks great, and I'm excited to be speaking at this festival.

‘Loneliness is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day’ Holt-Lundstadt - 2015
Building Social Connections Through The Arts

A Live Well, Make Art event, Tuesday 22nd May 2018, 10am - 3pmThe Turnpike, Civic Square, Leigh WN7 1EB
Live Well Make Art (LWMA) is an informal network of arts professionals and activists, health professionals and activists, academics and people who care passionately about the health of Greater Manchester. We have been working together for two years as a social movement. We want a healthier Greater Manchester where all its people can share the benefits of engaging in and enjoying the arts and creative activities with each other, and we want to make our streets, neighbourhoods and communities better places to live. On 22nd May, at the Turnpike Art Gallery in Leigh, we will be holding the first Live Well Make Art event to happen as part of a programme funded through Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s 'Great Places' initiative. It will explore ways in which the arts can address the challenges of social isolation and loneliness through building stronger social connections. Want to come along? Click HERE for details.

Towards a Cultural Democracy
A short and lovely film from the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures at Manchester University. 

The National Alliance Of Musicians In Healthcare Conference
The second annual NAMIH conference, will be held at Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool on Monday June 4th, 11AM - 6PM. There'll be more on this very soon, but for now you can get details and tickets by clicking HERE.

What's with the Big Anxiety? 
Following on from the personal research project - dis/ordered  for Big Anxiety Festival which I embarked on over 2016/17 resulting in my perforative presentation at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, I’m developing some work exploring suicide. At the moment it’s being scoped out with allies in the UK, Lithuania, Japan and Australia. It's essentially about humanising people who are affected by suicide in some way - and exploring a shared voice - of difference and similarity, and of what it is to be a fragile human being in extremis. 

On that note, I am thrilled to be welcoming Professor Jill Bennett - the director of The Big Anxiety Festival - to Manchester School of Art on the afternoon of the 5th June to share this huge event which saw 75 events across Sydney, with 140,000 visitors and 16 major commissions including large-scale collaborations like Parragirls, a ground-breaking 3D immersive experience created by survivors of institutional abuse at former Parramatta Girls Home. As someone who was fortunate to be commissioned by the festival, I can say it was a profound and exhilarating event to be part of - the most dynamic of its kind. You can read an interview between Jill and myself in the Artlink Journal HERE. On the 5th Jill will be sharing work from that first festival and exploring new research and collaborations, which includes key areas of action such as suicide. She’ll also be sharing her work with a new research lab using immersive technology to investigate experience and empathy in relation to ageing, neurodiversity and mental health. It will be part presentation, part an exploratory workshop - and with limited places - so book HERE now to find out more about our shared thinking and new work and explore T
he Big Anxiety - festival of arts + science + people. MMU 5th June - 2:00pm - 4:00pm. 

National Lottery Awards for All offers funding from £300 to £10,000 to support what matters to people and communities

National Lottery Awards for All has three funding priorities. Tell us in your application how you meet at least one of them. 
Our priorities are:

•bringing people together and building strong relationships in and across communities
•improving the places and spaces that matter to communities
•enabling more people to fulfil their potential by working to address issues at the earliest possible stage.

We encourage you to watch this short video as it may be helpful in explaining how to involve your community in the design, development and delivery of the activities you are planning. Click HERE.

Funding for LGBT projects run by young people 

vInspired, the Volunteering Charity, (England only) has announced that its Cashpoint grants scheme is has announced that its Loud and Proud grants programme is open for applications. These grants are accepting applications for LGBT+ projects. The Cashpoint grants scheme offers grants of up to £500 to give young people (aged 14-25) the opportunity to bring their ideas to life. The funding is available to individual young people (or small groups) who have developed a project idea and will run the project themselves. Projects must be run on a volunteer only basis and funded projects must create at least 2 new volunteering opportunities for 14-30 year olds (in addition to the applicant). vInspired cashpoint must be the only funder for the project.
There are no closing dates for applications and grants will be awarded on a continuous basis until all available monies are exhausted. Read more HERE.