Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Reimagining Human and Planetary Flourishing

Guernica (1937) Picasso

Guernica is a visceral reaction to the Nazi's appalling bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, the painting was made by Picasso in its aftermath. Is it the most famous work associated with such brutality? My knowledge is limited and I think immediately of Otto Dix and Francisco Goya and all the horrors they depicted, or witnessed up close. Artist, Paula Rego has consistently produced difficult and beautiful work, more often than not, exploring trauma. War (2003) was motivated by a photograph from the war in Iraq and the aftermath of a bomb blast in Basra and the image Rego saw, of a small girl in a pretty dress.

War (2003), Paula Rego. Photo: © Tate, London; © Paula Rego
I have terrible feelings of impotence and fear when I see minute by minute updates of the unfolding horrors in Ukraine. Though there are ways we can actively help HERE. I send solidarity to unknown others and love to those people I know who are physically and existentially closer to Ukraine.

A pandemic, a war, climate catastrophe and all the while morally bankrupt men preside over the unequal masses, and through it all, there'll be politicians and profiteers on the make.

How on earth will this century be remembered?

. . .

The Creative Power of the Arts: Reimagining Human and Planetary Flourishing
This report looks at creative reforms in the target areas of climate, health, education, and justice. By sharing the thinking of this global, diverse, and engaged group of Fellows in this report, Salzburg Global Seminar invites others to engage in a similar process of constructive inquiry to reflect deeply on what is dividing us, what is keeping us from collaborating better, and how we can achieve transformative change together. Want to find out more and read the report? Click HERE or on the above image.

An Introduction to Social Prescribing on the 24th March
Please note that this event is targeted to people in Greater Manchester specifically. Have you heard the term ‘social prescribing’ but are unsure of how it applies to your role? Health and care workers can learn more about how it works and how you can link people up with activities in their local area, in our upcoming free webinar with Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership. Join either of the two live sessions on 24th March (1pm or 7pm) to learn about the two main delivery models for social prescribing in England, as well as how it can be accessed by communities, potential outcomes for people, and where your own professional practice fits into it. Sign up to hear from expert speakers Charlotte Leonhardsen and Julie McCarthy from @gmhsc-partnership and Dr Jaweeda Idoo by clicking HERE.      

From Surviving to Thriving: Building a model for sustainable practice in creativity and mental health
Here is the latest report from the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance, From Surviving to Thriving: Building a model for sustainable practice in creativity and mental health. It has been authored by Victoria Hume and Minoti Parikh, and developed with around 150 creative practitioners and organisations working in the field, many of whose practice is based on their own lived experience.

The report is the result of a six-month project funded by the Baring Foundation, to understand how we might help more people and organisations using creativity to support mental health to survive and thrive. At the heart of the report are a series of recommendations for five groups: practitioners, commissioning organisations (whether arts, health or care), funders, researchers and infrastructure organisations like the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance itself. Read the recommendations and the full report HERE or by clicking on the above image.

MA Arts Practice (Arts, Health and Wellbeing) at the University of South Wales
Places are available for the well-established MA Arts Practice (Arts, Health and Wellbeing) course in the heart of Cardiff. The duration of the MA is 18 months. Teaching begins in September each year and is delivered on campus, one weekend per month. Tutorials are scheduled at intervals between teaching weekends and are held online. The course reflects the breadth of practice within the field of arts, health and wellbeing in providing scope for multifarious forms of creativity, from participation and socially engaged practice, to site specific art works aimed at enhancing healthcare settings. The programme is designed to equip students with the tools and principles they need to succeed within this valued and expanding are of professional arts practice. Contact Carol Hiles for more information and take a look at our website which includes examples of recent projects completed by our students. Click HERE or on the image above. 

Sunday, 23 January 2022

“You set an example … you live by that example” - Tracey Emin

It’s an overcast grey day today and I’m ruminating on the man who was overwhelming elected as prime minister in 2019 and whose name I can barely write - a contrived comedy act who is consistently referred to by his first name, so as to make him ‘one of the people’, some daft, bumbling showman, worse still, someone who apparently has presided over some miraculous action plan to deal with the ongoing pandemic. Yes, apparently it’s over and life will go on just like before. Throw your masks in the bin and crack on with life, let’s get the economy back on target. 
Stefan Tiburcio,* Stay At Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives, 2020,
Woodcut on plywood, © the artist
As of today, Sunday 23rd January at 11:42 am, 154,297 people in the UK have died of covid. Let’s not kid ourselves, the roll-out of the vaccination programme has been successful because of the incredible work of the NHS and the invisible swathes of people who volunteered their time to do the work. The pandemic isn’t over! We’re told glibly, that it’s become endemic, yet the virus is rampant in many countries, many of which have little access to vaccinations yet! This isn’t what success looks like to me. While superhero pharmaceutical companies pull in mind-boggling profits.

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (let’s not forget who this man-of-the-people-cum-bloated-Machiavellian-twerp is) advises us that the British public will show common sense when all the safety measures are thrown out of the window this week. What? Common sense and decency as modelled by him? Through his own arrogant behaviour, he has illustrated one rule for himself and his cronies, which others will inevitably emulate. If the Grey report lets him simply get away sacking a few minions, lessons will be learnt by the many, rippling out and elevating self-entered individualism to dizzying heights that we could never have previously imagined. At least the campaign against the government’s anti-protest laws this week, shows that people still have the passionate appetite to demonstrate, and the Lords stopped the bill in its tracks.

Emin neon© Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2022.
Photo credit: Government Art Collection
Tracey Emin’s timely intervention to get her 2010 neon work, More Passion, removed from 10 Downing Street while its current incumbent is still is situ, couldn’t have been more timely. Here Here! Responding to the most recent revelations about Johnson and Downing Street parties on Woman’s Hour, Tracey Emin comments - “Their behaviour is pretty shameful…people had to watch their loved ones buried on their telephone…people are really angry…this government need more compassion, not passion…you set an example, and you live by that example.”

Yet, what we consistently get from Johnson is faux attrition and apologies - but for what? - the action or simply being caught out? He did a grand job of genuflexion and public hand-wringing following the publication of those images of the Queen sitting alone at the funeral of her husband. For his televised downcast eyes, I well imaging under his face mask, there's still that smug smirk.

On this blog, I’ve spoken about my own experiences of living with cancer in parallel to the pandemic this last couple of years. I've spared many of the details for fearing being seen as too self-indulgent, but these last few weeks have proved so politically unpalatable, I need to throw a few appalling details from my own life into the mix - which I don’t offer up glibly, or seeking words of solace. Like many other people, this timetable of arrogance and partying sit uncomfortably with my own experiences. While masks are thrown into bins and the hoards laugh and jape on the underground, do spare a thought for the terrified people with blood cancers who may sit there triple masked, or more probably will exile themselves from planes and trains indefinitely.

Having begun chemotherapy in January 2020, the stem-cell treatment needed to hold my cancer at bay, from May that year was variously delayed, postponed and canceled leaving the disease to return, and the stem-cell transplant eventually given in May 2021. Throughout all of this, the individuals behind the NHS that worked with me, were flawless. But, for all the personal turmoil of diagnosis, uncertainty and brutal treatment, it was the unfolding death of my partner’s father Peter; my children's grandad - through covid - that was unbearable. Tracey Emin reminds us of people not being able to attend funerals, for my family it was the untimely death (regardless of his age) of Peter over WhatsApp. This kind of trauma is unbearable. Not to be able to be with, to hold, to kiss. 

Peter died in May. He wasn’t a statistic, he was one of those individual humans who died while party season flourished at the heart of UK government. We should be so fu**i*g angry. If Johnson is able to continue in office following the publication of the Gray Report, we will know that democracy and any sense of common decency have failed.

. . . 

* You can see more of the incredible woodcuts and drawings of Coronavirus: Lockdown by Stefan Tiburcio HERE. 
. . . 

Here's an exciting opportunity for someone to get a foothold in the arts and health community in vibrant Greater Manchester.

Lime Arts + Health Project Assistant
Established in 1973, Lime is an internationally acclaimed Arts and Health organisation based at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT). Due to programme expansion, and the recent launch of a pioneering arts + wellbeing centre to support NHS staff, we have a new and exciting opportunity for a project assistant. This is a great entry-level opportunity for anyone wishing to gain specialist skills knowledge and experience of working in the arts + healthcare sector.
The position requires a reliable individual with a professional manner who has good numerical skills. Attention to detail and excellent interpersonal and communication skills are essential. For an ambitious and hardworking graduate/professional, Lime is the perfect place to start your career in a broad role - there will be opportunity to learn new skills and eventually progress to handling more complex projects on your own. As the remit of the role will be varied, it would suit someone with a flexible ‘can-do’ attitude and eagerness to learn. This post is fixed term; however it will be reviewed for continuation in March 2023.  Click HERE to complete the online application form or find out more details. The application closing date is 2nd February 2022. For more information please contact Lime Administrative Manager Rosemary Howes on 0161 276 5839 or email

Fallen Angels Dance Theatre
Transfiguration is a trio of 10-minute dance films, focusing on a series of defining moments in the journey from addiction to recovery. The trailer for the trilogy can be viewed above

I Fall, I Need and We Rise explore key moments in the life of a person who experiences addiction, exploring craving, relapse, recovery, using dance theatre, text and digital technology. I Fall, the first film in the Transfiguration trilogy, explores the carnage and chaos of addiction. Focusing on the twisted love story between two addicts – how they can’t live with or without each other – and their unbearable compulsion to use. But through the despair, we see that recovery can be possible. The Transfiguration works are available freely HERE.

Driving along recently, I heard a piece of work by Meredith Monk, who I have to confess to not knowing a great deal about. I know even less about the intention behind this work which is called Memory Song. I'm sure that it has absolutely no connection to the kind of dementia field that some of us navigate, but it sure feels like a brilliant stimulus I'd use if I were still in the field. Some of you may find sections of it irritating, but in the round, it's a lovely thing.

If you have anything you'd like to share with the North West Arts, Health & Social Change community, please email me HERE and I'll do my best to share it on this blog and via social media. For where to send any details of events that you are planning for Creativity and Wellbeing Week (16 - 22nd May 2022) you can send HERE, but do remember to upload the details what it is that you are doing that week to the official website HERE.

Keep safe and thank you for passing by...

Saturday, 1 January 2022

the transient bliss of being alive


I really hope this year is a good one for you and those you love and that maybe, just maybe, those that are profiteering in the billions from the manufacturing of covid vaccines, get their act together and distribute their products (or their magical blueprints) to the vast numbers of people around the world who as yet, have no access to their gold dust. Good old Pfizer.

"According to CNN, vaccine sales alone were responsible for 60 percent of the profits as vaccine revenue rose to $14.6 billion from only $1.7 billion a year earlier."

The market continues to ensure the seamless transformation of a pandemic into some permanent endemic state, where new variants will undoubtedly flourish and the coffers of the rich will fill to the brim as the poor, marginalised and vulnerable conveniently disintegrate. Sounds like a win-win situation for those with their eyes on the dollar. A market-driven disposal of those dependent on the state. Then there’s our arrogant and seemingly untouchable political elite…
The CHWA at the Herbert. Image Jenny Harper
Thoughts on lived experience
A couple of months ago, and for the first time since November 2019, I found myself taking part in a group event inside a building! Imagine - no more than close family and friends (or clinicians) near me for two years! Well, I know you can imagine it, but if you’ll indulge me, my diagnosis of multiple myeloma - just a couple of months before the emerging pandemic was beginning to be taken seriously - plunged me into a new kind of social isolation.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am completely happy romping around the coastline and up the hills in complete solitude, but isolation initiated by cancer and cemented further by all the societal impacts of the pandemic, really does take the biscuit. If life has been limited by disease, to have the possibility of wider human connection taken away, is really appalling. So it was, that, double jabbed and double masked, I took part in one of the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance’s (CHWA) meet-ups in Coventry. I’m not quite sure if my lovely colleagues old and new, quite grasped how delightful the whole experience was for me, what with being hidden behind a mask and all!

Knowing that a significant proportion of the great (independently minded) unwashed masses, were piling on to trains without masks, I decided that a public transport wasn’t for me on this foray into the outside world, so I drove (I know, I know - but bear with me) down to the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum smack-bang in the centre of Coventry and next to the extraordinary bombed out cathedral and its modernist replacement. What a treat.

Inevitable anxieties aside, the meeting was a complete joy tempered only by my frustrations at not to be able to throw my arms around unpixilated friends. Sitting by an open window, the door to the large room thrown open, I was far more relaxed than I thought I’d be, and I quickly found myself part of a community again. I was more apprehensive about the prospect of looking around the Turner Prize exhibition and rubbing shoulders with the wider public, but the galleries were reasonably quiet and our hosts had gone to great effort to organise this visit, so wander around the exhibitions I did.
Though I found all the nominees thrilling, (you might disagree, but a mixture of the collective nature of the work and not being in a gallery for years, really do pique the senses) the one that got to me was the work of artists associated with Project Arts Works from Hastings. Nominated for their ‘practice which celebrates and raises awareness of the dynamic and extraordinary contribution neurodiverse communities make to art and culture’, Project Art Works resonated deeply with me. It still does. I’ve been so fortunate over the last couple of decades to connect with incredible people in similar/different communities. In New York, the extraordinary work of neurodivergent artists working with Carrie McGee at MoMA; in Brooklyn at LAND Studio & Gallery; in Manchester the wonderful Venture Arts and over in Australia, DADAA. There’s always complexity surrounding the language of different groups and projects where people have been traditionally labeled up as differing from the ‘norm’ - whatever that is - so it’s great to see these people and organisations flourishing. Language however, is something I always mess up with, attempting to get it right.

I guess that now I’m ruminating on my own mortality, I’ve got to thinking over some of the people, places and things I’ve been involved in (back to mortality in a moment) and the things that define us, and like the organisations above, in all honesty, my work hasn’t been focused explicitly on health, but rather ‘doing’ art and being creative. My own career (of sorts) began in a long closed Victorian hospital for people with learning disabilities through the 1980’s and 90’s, has been creeping back through my blood these last few months. As a young but inexperienced participatory artist in the making, I really had none of the sophistication of these contemporary organisations, but what I did have, was a fire in my belly, a large studio space and people who with a burning desire to create - and others who hadn’t ever had the opportunity to explore these elements of themselves! Words that spring to mind when I think of these people labelled ‘challenging’ are frustration, anger, desire and joy.
Lived experience is something that’s been explored by some wonderful guest bloggers here over several posting in 2021 - my big thanks to them - and I guess I’m rounding off the year with my own fractured lived experiences, which professionally and passionately have all been defined by other people’s frustrations at not being able to access opportunities for self expression (or rather they had, but it was expressed through frustration, boredom and in less constructive ways). I've constantly been inspired by the personal and collective passion that emerges when people find ways of turning ideas into something tangible - or gloriously incomprehensible!. I remember when cynical people at the Royal Albert Hospital where I was working, described the studio environment we'd created as messy and child-like, I resorted to whipping out images of Francis Bacon’s studio which quickly frustrated them and shut them up. It was about mess and exploration and visceral sensation.

What I often did was ‘curate’ public exhibitions and events with collaborators: Lancaster Litfest; the Dukes (theatre); Ludus Dance; TATE Liverpool and Lancaster Museum amongst others. In terms of the visual arts I recently unearthed a portfolio of hundreds of drawing and paintings from the days when the hospital closed down, largely dating from the 80’s. Inevitably my walls are now festooned with rather smartly framed images, the artists all of which I remember well, though all of them are now long dead. Woe betide anyone who thinks they are created by my children! Some of these paintings, now resplendent on my walls,
 are peppered all over today's blog. Of course, I am uncertain about sharing the full names of the artists. In truth, the people I worked alongside back then, have informed everything I have done in the name of arts and ‘health’, though at no time then did health come into it, and only now reflecting on those years, can I really see the liberating force of what we were doing and how those studio sessions really opened up all our lives in different ways. Those determinants of health are complex and messy and quite probably, immeasurable things. Lived experiences too, are myriad and inspiring in their differences. 
A personal call out to share lived experiences around our fleeting here and now's 
So, back to mortality, and I should advise you, there's nothing at all clinical or miserable here, just a call out from me to find some potential collaborators. Go on - read on and I promise not to give you the willies or make you depressed - seriously. I am developing a piece of work that hopes to explore the experience of living with a life limiting illness. Hold your horses - it’s beginning to sound grim - but I’m not in the slightest bit interested in doom and gloom (though of course, ill health is a pisser on multiple levels) - I’m interested in moments of crystalline clarity, of unexpected euphoria in the moment. I don’t want to focus on grief or the inevitable rollercoaster of frustration or anger, but shimmering clarity of fleeting here and now’s. What might I mean?

One of the best examples I can give is when the playwright Dennis Potter was being interviewed by Melvyn Bragg. Poor old Potter was in his last months of life and swigging away on champagne and morphine and all the while puffing away on cigarettes. It was a bravura performance and while lambasting Rupert Murdoch (he called his cancer Rupert) he described that feeling of being alive in the here and now so lucidly - in fact, he described it as ‘nowness’. To illustrate this he talked about a white plumb blossom tree in his garden, which he’d seen for years, but only now, with his impending mortality, could he really see it for what it was. It was a profound moment - and one that has stayed with me.
Jackie B
Experiencing profound feelings of love is something that Tracey Emin has recently talked about in relationship to her treatment for cancer. She spoke beautifully on the BBC’s This Cultural Life, and it’s this kind of overpowering experience that I’m looking to explore with people who regardless of their diagnosis, have found themselves unexpectedly experiencing that feeling of nowness, or an enhanced perception of beauty - and of course - the transient bliss of being alive.

So if you, or someone you know, is, or has experienced, this kind of heightened perception, I’d really like to have a conversation, which will influence a new film and sound work this year. This is something being developed alongside my scrutiny of anonymous super 8 home movies from the 60’s/70’s which I’m exploring as reimagined domestic narratives. 

Get directly in touch with me HERE.  

William R
Get Creative, Get Outdoors
Creativity and Wellbeing week 16 - 22nd May 2022
Creativity and Wellbeing week is run by London Arts in Health and the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance. The festival started as a small event based in London in 2012 , to coincide with the Olympics. In 2019 the week went national for the first time – allowing thousands more people across the UK to participate in culture and creative activities. The festival creates core partnership events, while encouraging and supporting organisations and individuals to organise their own activities. Events can take any art form and can be held in clinical settings, cultural buildings or in the community – as long as they  involve either accessing or participating in cultural activities that improve health or wellbeing.
HERE for details.

Commemorative Project
Swansea Bay University Health Board is calling for applications from experienced and suitably qualified artist/s to design and realise unique, external interventions on a number of hospital sites. These are to commemorate the extraordinary experience of staff and local communities during Covid 19, to honour and remember those who lost their lives, to recognise front line workers who put patients’ lives first, and to capture the social solidarity and support our community gave to us.
 The successful artists will respond creatively to the aspirations, recommendations and themes arising from Finding Words, a recent consultation report. It recommended creating external spaces on three sites and a number of echoes elsewhere. Key comments include: ‘A place for quiet contemplation’, ‘A focus on growth and hope’ and an interest in engaging the senses, nature, seasonality. It is anticipated that the successful artist will include an element of creative consultation as an aspect of the commission and work strategically to meet the project aims across sites.

Tender publication date – Tuesday, 04th January

Deadline application– 12.00 noon, Monday, January 17th 
Anticipated start date – Wednesday, February 16th
Project completion date – Monday, October 31st

The deadline for applications is date midday on Monday January 17th, 2022. 
Applications will only be accepted through the eTender Wales system. If you do not have an eTender Wales account, the Health Board strongly advises that you register as soon as possible.

More details on the Wales Arts, Health and Wellbeing Network website: HERE.   

Sunday, 31 October 2021

Art with a purpose...

Value All, Equality, Diversity, Stay Safe, Cleaner Air, Pull yourself Up’.
Danielle Chappell Aspinwall
For the fourth instalment of blog postings by artists with rich lived experience of different but connected natures, todays is by Danielle Chappell Aspinwall, who is a Fine Art and Social Practitioner, with these two roles interconnecting through people, place, nature and wellbeing. Originally from Blackpool, and now living in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, her socially engaged practice explores being neurodivergent as something that positively influences her art practice. Danielle has provided us with links to three short films. Check out her website HERE and take a look at her MA degree show work HERE.

Donkey Fest, Drawing with stitch (close up)
Art With Purpose: Reconnection, Motherhood,Resilience
Artist and Community
A Neurodivergent and Autoethnographical Approach
Fine Art and Social Practitioner, Danielle Chappell Aspinwall, interconnects people and art through, place, nature, and wellbeing. Advocating for positive change, unity, and accessibility, she opens up conversations around mental health awareness, hidden disability and subtle ways to preserve our planet with reuse, recycle, remake and relove.
Focusing on proactive ways to promote sustainability, reducing landfill towards climate emergency. Using autoethnography in her approaches, she reaches antidotes and systems that art, conversation and reflective practice can empower individuals and communities. Being neuro-divergent, her energy and personable welcome shines in the creative practices and roles she undertakes. She says:

"Art has purpose, to connect, give voice, bring unity, lift spirits and raise awareness for the greater good, not only art can improve social connections, ignite conversations, reduce loneliness. Art within humanity can reconnect people to nature, without the two, we wouldn't live in harmony. Why not take action to make a different no matter how smaller the act, all acts can equate to positive change, inclusion, unity and a hopeful future.”

Danielle's 'Art for Purpose' ethos, fuses her passion of advocacy to share unity, inclusion and awareness to remove barriers within the workplace and education systems, to benefit the neurodivergent community and disability groups, giving voice to make a difference, to reduce future suffering of discrimination and exclusion, as well as sharing open deeper understandings of disability within society, highlighting the positive attributes that being #Neurodivergent offers into society, the community and the workplace. Exploring positively through social dialogue, socially engaged practice, projects, public art, social media, as well as community workshops, Danielle aims to lift connections through welcomed imperfections within her bubbly personality and humour.

The importance to remove the stigma attached to hidden disability, reducing the exclusions for inclusive adjustments, enabling access to an opened inclusive wider world, will offer new norms of hope and more opportunities within an inclusive society from a disabled perspective, making a difference for future generations to come to reach further aspirations, higher confidences from deeper inclusion and resulting in healthier mental health and wellbeing. 

In 2020-2021 Danielle was a mentee at Signal Films and Media working on the #SourceProject, #WestCoastPhotoFestival and her #HatsOffRunFreeOurFavouritePlace project on juggling motherhood and being a creative artist with and around the children, letting go of anxiety and postnatal depression. See the website HERE and click on the film above, to find out more.

My biggest thanks to Danielle and to Sue Flowers, Shanali Perera and Ruth Flanagan for sharing their unique lived experiences these last few weeks. I'm sure that their stories will inevitably resonate with many of us.

Monday, 25 October 2021


In the third of our four guest postings around lived experience, today sees the candid personal story of Ruth Flanagan, who shares her experience of cancer and of the liberating nature of arts in her life. As ever, I can't thank Ruth enough for sharing her experience. 

Ruth Flanagan
Illness has always been a large part of my life. I have early childhood memories of sitting bored for hours on end in the doctors waiting room whilst my mum had her monthly injection. My one and only grandparent, a single memory of her lying sick on the sofa dying from lung cancer. My Mum, again; heart attack, angioplasty, sepsis, dementia, Covid, broken pelvis, the exhausting privilege it is to care for her. 

My own illness came at the age of 15, after a year of chronic pain and misdiagnosis. Cancer. The late effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy present me still with a rolling continuum of ailments, failures and diseases. 37 years old, a separate different cancer diagnosis, unrelated. “You have just been unlucky twice” said my consultant. 

I have used the arts for many years to manage my experiences of illness. During my childhood cancer I would draw repeatedly my re imagination of Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’.

My work as a designer maker has led me into a passion for using the arts to enhance wellbeing for myself and others, specifically through pattern design upholstery and book printing.

I have a passion for arts health, the improvement of cancer services and coproduction. I am proud to be one of the North West regional champions for The Lived Experience Network (LENs) The LENs is a network of people who believe in the benefits of creative and cultural engagement to individual and collective wellbeing. I work with the LENs network in the North West to ensure that the voices of those with lived experience remain at the heart of the arts, health and wellbeing movement.

I believe that Arts engagement can help with the self-management of long term illness and I want to share my lived experience of using the arts to empower people to manage their own wellbeing as suggested in the All Party Parliamentary Group report ‘Creative Health’: To highlight ‘the transformation of the healthcare system from hospital centred and illness-based to a person-centred and health-based system’.

An example of my Arts Health work included working with the Macmillan Cancer Improvement Partnership (MCIP) I managed an arts project to design and upholster a chair.

The chair was produced to leave a legacy of the people affected by cancer whose volunteering work was a key part of the cancer improvement scheme. The chair was also designed to inspire others to volunteer in the future. I worked with volunteers to co-produce a wing back chair with co-designed fabric. The chair went on display at The Christie, Wythenshawe Hospital and Trafford General. You can see more HERE.  

It is only natural now that I want to focus on wellbeing. I go to the allotment, I swim outdoors, I write, I make prints, I catch mindful moments on film. I create.

I believe the arts shouldn’t be an extra or little luxury – but something that is woven in to the fabric of my life. 

I wasn’t “unlucky twice” I’ve been lucky twice and the arts have helped me.

Ruth Flanagan. Twitter @un_luckytwice

A research partnership project led by More Music and the International Centre of Community Music
How do partner-practitioners in the Music for Health in Morecambe project understand and communicate its value and why? This report shares findings from ‘Working Together’, an action research project designed by More Music and International Centre for Community Music (ICCM), led by Dr Ruth Currie.

Last week I shared news of a research event over in Morecambe and I'm pleased to share their report HERE.

 “This report shares the learning from our collaborative research. It suggests that knowledge-exchange processes have value for how partnerships can work together across policies and perceptions of music’s role in challenging health inequalities towards place-based social action.”

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Owning Who I am Now!

First of all - thanks for your lovely messages.

. . . 

Following on from last weeks guest blog by artist Sue Flowers, the second contribution to this series on lived experience and the arts, comes from the contemporary artist and former clinician 
Shanali Perera who shares a very different personal story. Shanali is a North West Regional Champion of the Lived Experience Network. 

. . . 

Owning Who I Am Now
Shanali Perera
Based in Manchester, I am a contemporary artist, educator, writer, and retired clinician living with a rare condition called vasculitis. 
The start of my illness was in 2009 during my specialist training in Rheumatology. Unexpectedly, my life rhythm got interrupted…I felt like the speed train I was travelling in, just derailed! What happened to the usual ‘movement and flow’? What took over?’ The sinking feeling, I was imprisoned and my freedom to move robbed, overpowered me.

It was a very humbling and transformative experience for me to end up as a patient in my own specialty of training. At one point, I was seeing the everyday struggles patients go through, at the next point, I was living it. The shift that took place moving from a clinician to a person with unexplained symptoms and then to a vasculitis patient was a challenging transition. There was a huge switch in dynamics. I suddenly felt ‘wow, I don’t feel like a person anymore. I’m a patient'.
Shanali Perera 
My condition affected my hand function amongst other things, which limited their use. So, I started using an app on my phone to draw when I had to retire prematurely and give up my career in rheumatology. It took years to get on top of my management and break free from illness dominance that took over my life, distorting my identity.

Regaining the freedom to finally ‘Own who I am now’, what I look like, and what I am about, to be and move forward as Shanali, helped to unlock myself from my own imprisonment.

Art helped me understand and accept what I was going through by giving my illness visibility. It gave me a sense of purpose and helped me regain some of that control I had lost. My art is the best way of expressing the ‘essence of who I am and what I am going through’. An honest and true representation of me and my lived experience with illness, pain, and change. It helps me to make the invisible visible to myself and others as it continues to capture the movement of endurance, resilience, and empowerment.

Now, my mantra is that I am not the illness – I am a person first. The illness is only part of me, an accessory I wear around me.

Shanali Perera 
From my experience, adapting to find ways around limitations plays a central role in rebuilding confidence. Regaining a sense of control, a sense of purpose became a significant component that inspired forward movement with my life and work. And I'm very keen to share with others how:

. art helped me to transform my illness experience into a more meaningful way of living, moving from a clinician to a patient, to becoming an artist and a person again;

. beneficial art can be as a self-management tool on top of all the other medications and therapies to cope with pain and all the other daily challenges that people with illnesses are confronted with;

. expressions of illness experiences can highlight what goes on behind the curtains for the patient, giving health providers, a deeper understanding of what people really go through and what impact illness can have on a person's image and identity; the stereotyping and stigma that is attached; start seeing more of the face behind the illness, not just the person with diabetes or vasculitis.

I strongly feel that using the arts may help us to tap further into the human aspect of medical practice. My aim is to connect with healthcare providers, junior doctors, medical students as well as patients and the public to give them this message.

. . . 

Thanks you so much Shanali and next week, we'll hear from Ruth Flanagan.

. . . 

Alison Kershaw

The artist, curator and activist, Alison Kershaw died this week. A driving force behind Pool Arts and Victoria Baths Arts, Alison has given so much to so many people with warmth and with tenacity. Of the many people I’ve known who were deeply embedded in the arts and mental health community, Alison got things done - and everything she was part of had such integrity.

Photo: Roger Bygott
Alongside her partner Adele Fowles she was half of the artist collaboration Another Adele and when the Manchester International Festival threw open the invitation to the citizens and workers of Greater Manchester to be part of its opening extravaganza - What Is the City but the People? - the three of them strode out along that catwalk, part of that great city-scape - of people and place. So many people will miss everything about her.
Alison Kershaw - a brilliant woman. 

. . .

How might community music work tackle poisonous health inequalities?
More Music and the International Centre for Community Music Present (ICCM) 'Working Together - Music for Health in Morecambe.’ Join the team from More Music and the ICCM as they reflect on their recent
partnership-led research, in a free webinar on Thursday 21 October at 2pm. They will discuss the value of critical research in developing community music partnerships, to improve health inequalities in Morecambe.

More Music Winter by Robin Zahler
Music for Health in Morecambe is a programme developed by More Music to help improve mental health and wellbeing. More Music piloted three social prescribing projects in Morecambe. With Bay Medical Group local GP practice and social prescribers, they are running a weekly community sing a long for anyone aged over 60 aimed at combatting isolation and loneliness. With CAMHS and A.C.E. (a charity who provide free counselling to young people), they run a young people’s singing for positive mental health group, singing out any stress in a safe inclusive group. With West End Impact, a Morecambe community faith charity, they run ‘Drumming for Health’, working with marginalised people who live with issues arising from homelessness, chronic illness and depression. 
This work will be featured on BBC NW Inside Out this Monday 18th October. Want to find out more, or book a place? Click HERE.
"We know 'Music is medicine', More Music have been leading this for 25 years in Morecambe, what does a new way of working together for community health look like?" 
Andy Knox, GP and Director of Population Health for Morecambe Bay Health and Care System

A Book of Ours. Photo: Noora Mykkanen

A Book of Ours
Last week I made brief reference to A Book of Ours being launched. You can find out more by reading the short article Noora Mykkanen in The Meteor by clicking HERE.

. . . 

The Contemporary Visual Art Network North West (CVAN NW)
CVAN NW are currently trying to steer the network towards more socially engaged practice and are trying to build a new vision based on the impact of the arts across 3 key areas:
Health & Wellbeing
  • Place Making 
  • Climate Justice.
Do you want to help them build a better and more representative future? We're working on our future strategy& need your input. Grab a brew, click on HERE and share some feedback to help their much-needed research.
Deadline Sun 24 Oct.

Director of Cartwheel Arts (full time)
The long standing Director Rick Walker is retiring after two decades with the company. They are therefore looking for an experienced leader who is passionate about the social impact that participatory arts can make in low income neighbourhoods and marginalised communities, delivering creative excitement and positive outcomes for both individuals and groups, and in bringing about a socially just society. This is their mission:
Cartwheel is committed to promoting social inclusion, cohesion, diversity and regeneration through community participation in vibrant, innovative, high-quality arts projects  building healthier, stronger, safer communities.
We call this Art for a Reason. More details are HERE.

Sunday, 10 October 2021

#WorldMentalHealthDay - or - Aus her Krankheit eine Waffe machen

To celebrate World Mental Health Day and the rich lives of people affected by the stresses and anxieties of being alive in the here and now, I’m chuffed to bits to have a some brief accounts of the life experiences of four of the north west regional champions of the Lived Experience Network (LENS) who are a critical part of the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance. So over the next four weeks, there’ll be a blog with each of the contributors telling something of their story.

The work that each of these artists pursue reflects a myriad of lived experiences linking mind and body and care - and much more - so no binary divisions here - just beautiful and complicated thinking about what it is to be human, with all our differences and similarities. My biggest thanks to Sue Flowers, Shanali Perera, Ruth Flanagan and Danielle Chappell Aspinwall who are pictured below.

This first posting is by Sue who is a driving force behind Green Close, an artist-led organisation located in the village of Melling in rural North Lancashire. You can find out more about her work and Green Close HERE. Both images of the 
Embroidered Cardigan and and the writing below are copyright of Sue Flowers 2021.

. . . 

My Injury by Sue Flowers 

Lived experience is such a strange term, especially because all of our experiences are lived in some way or another. But for those of us involved in LENs (the Lived Experience Network) it has a very specific meaning –referring to our experiences of illness, healthcare and often some fairly harsh realities of facing complex conditions and how these are managed.

Another thing that unites us is our belief that the arts can play a significant role in enabling better health, better healthcare systems and inspiring hope for individuals when they most need it. I think all of us involved in the network truly believe in the power of the arts to help and heal and we also understand that they can provide a much-needed portal to giving voice to the unheard (too often harrowing) stories of individuals as patients caught up in a healthcare system that has lost its way in focussing in on truly person-centred care.

My passion for the arts came as a child and I have spent my life working creatively, using the visual arts as a form of empowerment and understanding for others. However my passion for using the arts to affect positive social change within the mental healthcare system didn’t come until much later, when I witnessed how broken the system really was.

I have two close relatives with bipolar disorder, one aged 83 and the other 26: and having first experienced a relative with psychosis when I was just 23 I felt pretty well versed in what to expect when the younger one first became unwell. The problem was it wasn’t the actual mania of the illness that damaged his sense of self it was the way he was ‘treated’ and sadly abused by the services that were meant to protect and care for him. I witnessed him being held in seclusion unit for 15 days, not being allowed to shower or clean his teeth, and unfortunately I witnessed him being put into a headlock and held face down by members of staff when he had done nothing more than walk towards a closed door. 

I understand that people in altered states of reality can become aggressive and violent – but in this instance – there was an appalling abuse of power on a vulnerable young man who was compliant. At that point my heart broke. I wanted to do everything in my power to affect positive change and use my skills as an artist to help people see and understand some of the difficulties people with mental health conditions and their families face.

So, I became a part-time peer supporter on a mental health research study led by experts from Lancaster University REACT - the Relatives Education & Coping Toolkit. I was shocked to discover that the trauma we had faced as a family ran the length and breadth of the country as I worked to support others in navigating a confusing, underfunded system – where people are left until crisis point before any action is taken. Reading and responding to the individual traumas, heartbreak and collective suffering I vowed to try and find a way to make a difference.
I knew that when I worked creatively with groups I tried to facilitate platforms of equality, where every individual and every idea mattered; where difference was positive and so – called ‘failure’ was the absolute gift of knowing where to go next.

All of this was second nature to me as a visual artist and so I have chosen to take a pathway that wears my ‘lived experience’ on my sleeve – I am delivering creative mental wellbeing programmes and talk openly about our experiences of mental health and the systems that damaged us. I understand that the complexity of some emotions cannot be put into words and that sometimes other modes of expression are much more useful.

And, I have helped myself to heal through my own making and creating of artworks that have helped me process difficulties and I hope in some way they may also try to affect some new understanding.

. . . 

My Injury

My injury is not on the outside
stitches, swabs and bandages 
are not necessary
and surgeons cannot help me.

My injury is not on the outside
I carry my pain within me
no surgeon, operation or plaster
can fix it - it dwells within me.

My injury is not on the outside
it lingers like the memory of an unwanted dream.
Instead, blood that may have spilt across the floor, 
pumps around my veins keeping my injury alive.

My injury is not on the outside, unlike a carbuncle
I can’t have it removed or cut out of me.
I’d be happy to bear the pain and carry a scar
but impossibility comes with this.

My injury is not on the outside
I want to banish it – to set it free.
People say time is a healer; but guilt gnaws and anxiety craves
And so I uncover my injury – it is a part of me.

Thank you for sharing this with us Sue.

. . . 

A Little Light Reading
What books am I reading at the moment that link to mental health? Well, in truth don’t all books have some affect or impact on our emotional and mental wellbeing? Aren’t they nourishment for the soul - pure and simple? I know that through this last 20 months or so - through my own illness and through covid - I have devoured more books than I thought feasibly possible! I listened to a podcast by the writer Jenn Ashworth recently, where she describes the act of writing like breathing out, and that is inevitable nourished by reading itself - which is the breathing inI like this a lot.

She’s one of the authors of 17 short stories in a book edited by Dan Coxton which ploughs all its royalties/fees to the charity, Together for Mental Wellbeing. Out of the Darkness is a great collection of horror, dark fantasy, uncanny and the strange. The book is threaded with, and influenced by, the experiences of the authors and published by Unsung Stories, it ‘harnesses the power of fiction to explore and explain the darkest moments in our lives.’

The other book I’m ploughing through again (and it is a challenging read) is the brilliant SPK Aus her Krankheit eine Waffe machen. Translated as Turn Illness into a Weapon, it is a compelling treatise and account of the Socialist Patients Collective (SPK) in Heidelberg published in 1973 and the still-relevant account of the collective voices and action begins, what described at the time as the ‘anti-psychiatry’ movement. It is a brilliant critique of the medical model of mental health. The extraordinary preface is by John-Paul Sartre. 

One online reviewer (Durakov) succinctly captures something of the books narrative: 

"Instead of helping the ever-increasing body of the ill, capital and its defenders only seeks to make them exploitable bodies again, and it does so by essentially holding them hostage: the ill cannot seek the means of healing that fit their needs and desires, but are forced to travel through prescribed pathways and means defined by the authorities. If they do not do so, they are free to starve or die."

While dominant figures like R.D Laing - from English-speaking countries - dominated the late 60’s rethinking of mental difference, in Germany (SPK) and Italy (
Franco Basaglia) other radical voices were blossoming. Today, and perhaps not as divisive as those free-radicals, there are still passionate voices in this insane world, and at the head of the pack in the UK has to be the psychologist Richard Bentall, who looks to the reasons behind distress and ill-health. Of course, I return to Mark Fisher again and again and again.

Free Arts, Culture and Mental Health Module

For anyone interested in finding out about arts and mental health, there is a great free online module from the GM iTHRIVE project, which you can find more about on Dr Kat Taylor’s blog HERE. Below is a brief introduction to what it’s all about.

‘The new Arts, Culture and  Mental Health module introduces learners to the value of arts and culture for mental health. The module takes around 30 minutes to complete and demonstrates how the arts and creative interventions can be viable options for mental health service provision, shares key resources to raise awareness of the evidence and what options are available, and provides activities and ideas for how to incorporate arts and culture into every day practice. With interactive sections, videos and lessons from how we spent our time during the pandemic, the module also supports understanding of the broader applications of the arts and culture in public health.’

The always extraordinary arthur+martha launch A Book of Ours at Manchester Cathedral this week. A medieval-style, illuminated manuscript that has been written, illustrated and designed by a group of people who have experienced both homelessness and life at the margins of society. The book describes their lives, hopes and dreams over the course of a 2-year project. It's being launched on Thursday 14th October between 2:30 and 4:00. If it weren't for my fragile health, I'd be there in a jiffy. Find out more this rich and beautiful work HERE.

Here's what one participant said about this process:

“I’ve turned something nightmare-ish into something else. That experience of being homeless, which I’ve never talked about. A lot of my friends didn’t know it was happening. But now those memories have become part of something beautiful.”  


If you're kicking your heals and want to titter at your blogger ranting on about all manner of things arts n health back in May this year, here's a filmed conversation - quite odd at times - between me, Miss Death and Jay Katz! Katz, AKA = the Australian musician, archivist, social worker, film critic, radio announcer, and DJ, Jaimie Leonarder. Recorded while I was still on the MMU payroll, I wonder how different this would have sounded if recorded today. Jamie is the most radical social worker/activist I've ever met who worked created a bad alongside people living on the streets. Really quite a remarkable force of nature... 

 Hey Ho