Monday, 21 January 2019

Perfect future versions of our current flawed selves...

A Cumbria Arts in Health Conversation
What a treat - a real and genuine treat - it was to travel to Carlisle and spend time with people pushing this arts and health agenda up in Cumbria. My thanks to Susie Tate for the invitation and all friends and colleagues, old and new. This collaboration between the people, artists, the University of Cumbria and Healing Arts of North Cumbria University Hospital Trust has so much potential, particularly given that the social prescribing agenda is on the ascendance. Some profound and deeply moving moments too! Our community of interest is expanding and as well as something a large-scale event being on the cards in Lancaster, (keep your eyes peeled) there’s an event happening in Rochdale.

IMPACT: Reaching Out
Weds 13th March
Rochdale Town Hall

IMPACT: Reaching Out conference focuses on using creativity to achieve meaningful engagement and positive mental wellbeing outcomes. Aimed at health professionals, arts organisations, third sector partners and the education sector, delegates will take part in inspirational workshops and presentations for a unique and immersive experience. More details and tickets HERE.  

Soothing the Mind and Keeping the UK Solvent
Vanessa Thorpe writing in the prohibitively expensive Guardian this week, reports that: "Art-loving young people in Britain use museums and galleries to combat the stress of modern life, a study for a national charity has found."
"While art fans of all ages feel that looking at paintings and sculptures is a good way to unwind, new figures analysed by the Art Fund show that those under 30 are twice as likely to visit a museum or gallery at least once a month specifically to “de-stress”." It's all very interesting, positive stuff and good to read Vanessa, but let's not forget that the arts might also be offering provocation and a little disequilibrium too! Read

I read too, that the Creative Industries Federation have undertaken a study that a no-deal Brexit would cause 21 per cent of the UK's creative companies to consider moving their businesses abroad. Also, it would make it harder for 40 per cent of the UK's creative businesses to export. The creative industries are the fastest growing part of the UK’s economy, contributing to over £100 billion in GVA per year. Read more on that HERE.

Literary Administrator
Part Time, Fixed Term (3 days per week, 12 month contract)
This is a perfect job for someone with an interest in seeing the work of D/deaf and disabled writers better represented on stage. You will be supporting Graeae’s lauded, highly-connected training programme, Write to Play, and will be the first point of contact for writers wishing to submit scripts for consideration. The deadline for receipt of applications is 10am, Monday 4 February 2019 and we will be recruiting someone to start on or by the 1 April 2019. Full details HERE.
The Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance Annual Conference
The Alliance’s first annual conference will be held in Newcastle on 21 and 22 March 2019. The conference is aimed at those working with the arts/heritage/creativity and health/wellbeing - or interested in learning more about this work. We hope it will be an opportunity to explore the particular challenges and opportunities presented by a time of unprecedented growth and public interest. Full details HERE.

Ruminations #2
I’m still exceptionally narked by politicians and continuing to ponder Galton, Kraepelin and the cronies of our descent into all this madness - and don’t get me wrong - I’m not anti science! On the contrary, last weeks blog was merely about quantifying the unquantifiable and reducing people to meat. I consume all those developments that science offer with gusto, (well, perhaps consume is the wrong word in this context - I certainly can’t stand having a phone ‘upgrade’ and come to think of it, I even resist software upgrades on my laptop). Every generation must feel that they are on the brink of profound scientific developments. We didn’t have a landline in the family home until I was a teenager - and now - phew, all those gizmo’s. When I was making a film as part of my dis/ordered performance, mentioned last week, I was trawling through the web, trying to find good footage of people obsessing over their phones, and taking selfies. I ended up using some footage of one of those synthetic human ready-meals, advertising themselves under the name of Kardashian. In this sneaky peak below, this 'celebrity' teaches us how to take a perfect ‘selfie’…

So - "make sure the lighting is amazing" - check! "You want to highlight all the good things" - double check! “chin down - and just pose away and take about 300 photos till I get the perfect selfie." 21st Century perfection defined by pixilated celebrity and collagen. 

Today I read about superb developments in gene editing, and the offer of both designing treatments for people living with debilitating conditions, and pre-emptive strikes at ‘screening’ for a myriad of things that might go wrong in our very human make-up. Over the last decade genetics has made huge strides, decoding the information in our genes, and our ability to modify them and genetic testing offers parents the opportunities of screening out children who might be born with certain diseases, conditions and disorders! From Alzheimer's to alcoholism, we’ll be able to identify our chances of succumbing to ill health and eradicate human frailties at a genetic level - some hybrid of Galton and Kraepelin's eugenic vision! Yes - the potential is enormous, we’ll no longer need to perfect our self-portraits through digital enhancement or physical augmentation, we’ll be able to invest in our ‘perfect’ children. And 30% of US citizens surveyed, by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, don’t think it’s wrong to edit genes for physical features! Perfect future versions of our current flawed selves.

Of course, if you can’t wait to iron out your future children’s ‘faults’, you can purchase a range of home-testing kits, and check out your own potential futures. Whether you’re health-conscious or a narcissist, or anything in between - it’s all possible here and now, and all at a price.

In a stinging analysis of DNA testing Barbara Ellen offers us much food for thought. At the benign end of the home testing spectrum Thriva offer a “…convenient and affordable way to manage your internal health.” Their baseline subscription offers vitamin D, iron, cholesterol and liver function tests, at £49 per test, with a recommendation of one test per month! Its co-founder Hamish Grierson describes Thriva as “a lifestyle brand with medical-grade testing at the back end”, enabling “people to see themselves as consumers rather than patients.” OK - consumers not patients! (Yes - CONSUMERS) Lucky for us we have sage people keeping their eyes on these offers, and author of The Patient Paradox, Dr Margaret McCartney, describes the way slick marketing plays a part in persuading people they need to take tests because it could save their lives. 
The results of home testing are of low value, and after people have taken their test, they are often “…told to go to see their GP…swallowing up the time of NHS staff and the money of healthy people who pay thousands to private companies for tests they don't need. The companies make their profits and walk away, letting the NHS sort out all the fallout. {…} Meanwhile, the truly sick are left to wrestle with disjointed services and confusing options. This worsens health inequalities and drains professionalism, harming both those who need treatment and those who don’t.”

McCartney warns us that there’s no evidence that shows doing these tests makes people become healthier, warning that In the world of sexed-up medicine pharmaceutical companies gloss over research they don't like and charities often use dubious science and dodgy PR to 'raise awareness' of their disease, leaving a legacy of misinformation and fear, in their wake. 
And all the time, we are being manipulated by slick advertising, to look inwards.

This gold-rush around gene editing, and the aspiration to perfection, does open up an ethical Pandora’s box, which in the context of Galton and Kraepelin, taken to its extremes, has already been justified by the Nazis in their mass murder of those deemed to be ‘genetically defective’. That said, it’s easy to believe it was only the extremes of fascist ideology that saw judgments around ‘purity’ used to control populations. Coerced sterilisation has been used as a means of controlling “undesirable” populations – including immigrants; people of colour, poor people, unmarried mothers, the disabled, the mentally ill – federally-funded sterilisation programs took place in 32 states in the US throughout the 20th century! Read a deeply deeply troubling work by Independent Lens on this.
So will our rosy genetically enhanced future be something we have any control over. Will community and patient groups be involved in its governance, and will it stop at remedial action to mitigate against disease, or move towards the seemingly inevitable ultimate market choice of not just physical, but mental enhancement? 

I promise that my rumination will subside as the year goes on (possibly, maybe) and here and now, I end with an image of Trump getting his tiny little hands around his filthy phone and tweeting. Urgh. Does he take selfies, I wonder. I know I go on, but he’s the president (small p) of the ‘free world’. I still can’t believe the US elected a CEO, but then I can - in these late stages of what neoliberalism has evolved into, isn’t he the perfect ‘leader' to take us into this fractured future of the perfect self?

To paraphrase both Will Storr and Chris Frith, morality has been replaced by feeling, our feelings are increasingly mediated by social media and we all feel like "the invisible actor at the centre of the world."

Hey Ho...

Monday, 14 January 2019


I have painted a picture of a ghost
Upon my kite,
And hung it on a tree.
Later, when I loose the string
And let it fly,
The people will cower
And hide their heads,
For fear of the God
Swimming in the clouds.             
Superstition, Amy Lowell, 1874-1925

Hello and welcome to another blogging! As the
Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance grows, over the next 6-months we'll be uploading more and more regional information about events, funding etc and the national website will have a dedicated regional/sub-regional section. I'm really looking forward to this collegiate work expanding, and I'll keep regular readers of this blog in the loop. Both this blog and the more dedicated Greater Manchester focused website will continue to grow, and I'm pleased to have secured some funding to deliver some work across GM over the next year focused on collective research, evaluation and CPD. So much more to follow on that soon. This dear old blog, will continue with a mix of what I can only think of describing as a slightly more critical arts and health agenda! So please do continue to send me things to share and as all these things evolve, I'll make the call as where best to place them.
Early-bird rate for the World Healthcare Congress closes this week. Click on the image below to register.

The Other in Mother

Here’s a film by John Grey about the Sarah Greaves art installation commissioned by Arc, around perinatal mental health issues and motherhood. 

While I've not seen the dance linked below, I am very excited to go an see it. Click on the link to find out some more details from this new group.

Abattoir Tour

ACAB - All Choreographers Are Bastards

The Washing Up
by Small Performance Adventures

Wed, March 20, 2019
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM
The John Thaw Studio Theatre
The Martin Harris Centre
The University of Manchester
With original songs and stories, The Washing Up takes an absurd look at the politics and practice of this every day act. Audiences have told us that it is “bonkers and brilliant”, so please do join us to explore what lies beneath the surface bubbles and find out whose turn it is to do the dishes and how they should be done. Every kitchen sink has a story to tell, of power struggles and pots and pans, of greasy plates and moments of quiet contemplation…

The Washing Up was premiered at Your Place, Brighton Festival in 2018 and is a partnership between small performance adventures and cascade creative recovery. Full details and FREE registration HERE.

I do ruminate - it’s not a good thing - but it goes on behind the scenes of flesh and bone when I’m conducting all the day to day pleasantries. So often, I’m getting eaten up by bigger and smaller things that happen to be circulating in my own personal headspace. Low flying anxieties entering my own sovereign territory. For those of us in the UK, regardless of which way we voted (you did vote, didn’t you?) I think it’s safe to say, we’re sick of all the gibbering and fence-sitting of those we elect to serve us. Which ever way you look at it, it feels like a precipice. Yet they trouble me like hornets in my psyche. The exterior is fine, but inside I just can’t swat them. Hollow at times - full to overflowing at others.

I ruminate too, in the fetid stench of ‘successful’ men, who I and others like me, are downwind of with little room left to breathe. Not all white, middle-aged men are bastards. A couple of years ago, I spoke at a big event in Australia, called Artlands - the biggest thing I’d spoken at, and I wrote something called Weapons of Mass Happiness. In it, I did much of what has come to be expected of me - had a go at the self-styled arts and health philanthropists and their complicit trialists - but I also explored racism, difficult as it was, as a white English man speaking to delegates, many of whom were indigenous first nation Australians. But I bit the bullet. The response I got and the conversations after, were quite liberating. That work got written up and is published HERE. It’s broadly about music, health and social justice - and a poke at arts/health cure-all evangelists. 

Then in 2018, towards the end of the Sun-Bed-King’s first year in office, and the unfolding stories of abuse from actors, directors, politicians, philanthropists and the rest - I found myself attempting to take on the roots of some of this murk (I think) at The Big Anxiety Festival. For two days, I had space at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Sydney, to talk to the public about how mental health diagnoses have been scuppered by, what I argue, are some of the same forces that have given predators their ‘permission’ to abuse. The same forces that dictate that capitalism gets its Kentucky-fried-king of end-days in Washington, and austerity is used as the acceptable catch-all to keep people small, and grateful and servile. So what’s brought all this on today?

Well, that talk at the MCA wasn’t recorded. The paper isn’t being written up, and other than a highlights film (see below) it won’t be, as it moved very close to the knuckle. Well - the bare bone! It was personal - and it was difficult. I asked both the audience and the organisers to just let it be ‘live’ - an experience that happened, and which would vanish into the ether. An so it did. But I want to share some extracts from it here and now, which bridge those roots - of racism, colonialism and reductivism, and of the oily neoliberal compost that has nurtured contemporary predators who have left me ruminating.

In his Rede Lecture at The University of Cambridge in 1884, British Scientist, (and cousin of Charles Darwin) Francis Galton announced:
“The powers of man are finite, and if finite are not too large for measurement.” Galton was a polymath to say the least, amongst other things he was an anthropologist, tropical explorer and statistician. He published the first newspaper weather map, coining terms that may resonate with us - of ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ and ‘pressure fronts.’ Though they sound more like useful ways of describing day-to-day mental difference too!

By its very nature science requires a reductive eye for detail and Galton had a giant appetite for the statistical measurement of human data, crunching it and finding patterns. He believed that everything could be quantified, notoriously compiling data for a ‘Beauty map of the British Isles.’ On walks in parks around the the UK, he would wear a pair of large gloves which he had specially adapted with a pin in the thumb, and a small piece of paper hidden in a pouch which he would prick to rank the women he ‘observed’ on his travels. He would discreetly walk along classifying the women he passed, “…as attractive, indifferent or repellent,” insisting this was a robust way of collecting data. And the results of this grand survey? Aberdeen in Scotland was judged as lowest, and London (surprise, surprise) the highest. 

And this pseudo objective approach to mapping beauty, morphs into a more sinister form of colonialism, when Galton is funded to visit South Africa, his great quantifying eye, rolling over landscape and people with impunity, and settling on a woman sheltering from the midday sun under a tree. Unlike any woman he had ever seen, (brace yourselves) he fixated on her buttocks, and he made it his goal to quantify every inch of her. To do this he used a sextant and made, (apologies again):

“…a series of observations upon her figure in every direction, up and down, crossways, diagonally and so forth, and I registered them carefully on my outline drawing…this being done, I boldly pulled out my measuring tape, and measured the distance from where I was to the pace where she stood, and having thus obtained both base and angles, I worked out the results by trigonometry and logarithms.” 

So here we have the giant white man of science, exhibiting the most disturbing confluence of both his obsessive personality (that’s another and well described story) and spurious science, as part of an expedition to which he won, the Gold Medal from the Royal Geographical Society for taking an expedition to a country, (steel your nerve) “never before penetrated by a civilised being.’ So alongside his cultural myopia and objectification of women, 
we have the insidious evolutionary roots of eugenics.

 Galton’s later study, Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry into its Laws and Consequences, set out to measure the frequency of ‘eminence’ among the offspring of the most illustrious parents, as compared to the poor old general population. His conclusion of course - was the offspring of the illustrious were more likely to be illustrious than children of the non-illustrious! Observations of outcomes, devoid of context. 


His  younger contemporary - German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin - was researching connections between brain biology and mental illness. Like Galton, Kraepelin was an influential proponent of eugenics, but he took the data to another level, and extended the ideas of racial hygiene focusing on alcoholism, degeneration and hysteria, believing that the education system and the welfare state undermined the Germans biological "struggle for survival” in their attempts to break the process of natural selection and liberate people from poverty and distress. The statistical influence of Galton alongside the conviction of Kraepelin - that degeneration was underpinned by brain biology - would go on to influence the way biological disease was understood, ultimately paving the way for the 1952 publication of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 

Waiting in the wings, and embracing much of Galton, was economist Friedrich Hayek who argued that any value that can’t be expressed as a price - decided by the market, was nothing more than subjective opinion and preference. Hayek’s research would go on to influence the ideals of Thatcher and Reagan - that society itself, was nothing more than a universal market. All these factors combined contribute to nurturing the roots of neoliberalism, which play a significant part in the ways all our mental health is understood and how our fellow humans are ranked.

Clinical Psychologist, Peter Kinderman et al, in an essay of the same name, suggests we should ‘drop the language of disorder’ and start by acknowledging that distress is a normal, not abnormal, part of human life - that humans respond to difficult circumstances by becoming distressed. The death of someone we love, can lead to a profound, and long-lasting, grieving process. In what sense is it a ‘disorder’ he asks, if we remain distressed by bereavement after 3 months? This excludes any possibility of finding meaning in people’s ‘disordered’ responses and experiences, preventing people from understanding how they might use their own resources to address their difficulties. Kinderman tells us, that those psychosocial factors like poverty, unemployment and trauma are the most strongly evidenced causal factors for psychological distress - other factors - genetic and developmental— influence the magnitude of the individual’s reaction to these life circumstances. If mental illness is seen predominantly as an individual chemical and statistical problem, this has huge benefits to the market, whilst neatly apportioning blame and shame on the individual, while feeding the pharmaceutical industry, who doling out medication contributing to the creation of a passive and compliant workforce to boot!

Added to all this blame and shame, the booming wellbeing ‘industry’ seems fixated on anyone being able to recreate themselves as ‘the best possible version of themselves.’ In his book, The Selfish Capitalist, Oliver James suggests that toxic capitalist policies and culture stoke up the aspirations and expectations of our entrepreneurial and delusion societies, that we can all be the next Kim Kardashian, Bill Gates or, if you really work extra hard, the president. James believes these toxins are poisonous to our well-being by reinforcing the systemic belief that material affluence is the key to fulfilment and that access to the top is open to anyone willing to work hard enough, regardless of their familial, ethnic or social background - if you do not succeed, James wryly notes, there is only one person to blame! We have been marketed an image of constant perfectionism which doesn’t exist physically or mentally. It’s a delusion that we are all in some way part of.

You see then, my third and final rumination of the week got the better of me. I remember Alan Bennett talking about how as people get older, they become more insufferable in their politics. Might this be happening to me? As I look to the increase in reported mental health issues, I begin to question everything, increasingly feeling confused/conflicted - are we all really ill - and is this really an epidemic of mental illness, or day-to-day anxieties that are being rebranded as an illness - and if so why - self centred individualism - ideation built on the increased media coverage - the proliferation of competitive anxiety - or just responding to the market and feeding the self promoting ‘wellbeing’ industry?

The deepening crack in the Earth, systemic inequalities and acceptance of gross hierarchies and all that they decree, are surely the sickness that needs treating, and our 'Epidemic of Despair' actually seems like a very natural response to a twisted society. Heads down in our lonely echo chambers, avoiding the long-read in favour of 280 characters, or a digitally enhanced vision of the almost always unattainable. After all, social media brings us together and divides us, quantifying our social standing, and intensifying social comparison to the point at which, having consumed everything else, we start to prey upon ourselves, our inadequacies, our vulnerabilities and our loneliness. 

This week, I had the pleasure (said with just a hint of irony) of reading the sad and vacuous French author and television presenter Yann Moix, (50) who said ‘he was “incapable” of loving a woman aged over 50. “Come on now, let’s not exaggerate! That’s not possible … too, too old, {he commented, adding that women in their 50s were} “invisible.”  “I prefer younger women’s bodies, that’s all. End of, {…}The body of a woman of 50 is not extraordinary at all,” he said, adding that he preferred to date Asian women. 

Still, in defence of the backlash he faced following his interview, he justified himself with aplomb: “I don’t see this as pride, but almost as a curse. It’s not my fault. We are not responsible for our tastes, our penchants, our inclinations. I’m not here to hold forth on this.” Listen HERE.

It all makes me feel kind of sick.

But not the kind of sickness any medication
 can cure.

. . . 

OK - enough already. Here's a film and a song.

For anyone interested in some great literature to get them through these winter months, can I recommend the micro-scripts of Robert Walser. Dig into him and see if he makes sense to you. My parting shot today - a quote from a longer work by Walser, which I guess could be my aspiration for the new year. Now who’s coming along with me to establish this company of like minded humans? 

“With all my ideas and follies I could one day found a corporate company for the propagation of beautiful but unreliable imaginings.”
Robert Walser - Jakob von Gunten (1909, IMYS)

*I never question the terrible reality of mental health crises or enduring mental distress, or the release that medication, combined with talking therapies can offer. But it feels like some grotesque contagion is taking place and many minor mental health crises might just be a healthy response to an unhealthy situation. 


Monday, 7 January 2019


Hey - to all my friends and colleagues who I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with this year...
Happy New Year

Laimingų Naujųjų Metų

Godt Nytår
Hyvää Uutta Vuotta

Just this last few weeks I have seen an advert for a fridge that spies on your family when you’re not home - worse than Black Mirror! - I also saw a Dalek on Salford Quays, but it seems it had a positive message for Earth. The Arts & Health HQ was of course closed for the festive season, but I scribbled a missive, for any of you killing time over this, (for many people) a bleak period, and who stumble across this blog.

Regular readers will know that over the next two years I’m working on a large piece of work around a subject close to my heart - that of suicide, of impulse, of survival and of empathy. It’s a complex and messy thing to explore, surrounded by taboo and stigma and a very natural fear of putting ideas into the minds of people who are vulnerable. This thought of increasing ideation has its own complexities too, as fear of discussion in our risk-averse world creates as many problems and risks, by not opening up difficult, and well managed conversations. Having had some of these early tentative conversations in Lithuania, Japan and Australia has brought home some salutary cultural dimensions too - and not simply language differences’s, but belief and value systems. The film below represents some visual notes I have made that touch upon some of this. Oblique as it is, it's all part of a longer, unfolding conversation.

Thank you to everyone who has given me time to discuss suicide with them. I know that it is troubling and disconcerting for many people, and I really hope that as this work develops, we can have more of these conversations and contribute to de-stigmatising everything that surrounds it.

Of course I'm reading quite a bit around the subject and this ranges from the uncensored world of the web, to profound personal stories and professional perspectives. While the conversations I've had have tended towards individual experiences, I am interested in the part that wider society plays on both individuals and communities.

Some of this big picture thinking is already well described and nowhere is this better illustrated than in the USA. Ed Pilkington discusses the complete horrors of the Second Amendment, where gun deaths have risen to their highest level in 20 years. Data shows that 39,773 people in the US lost their lives at the point of a gun in 2017, but soberingly he reports, "in fact most suffering takes place in isolated and lonely incidents that receive scant media coverage. 
Of those, suicide is by far the greatest killer, accounting for about 60% of all gun deaths."

You can read this troubling article in full
HERE. Poignantly he comments: "The statistics speak to a brutally simple truth. Studies have shown that suicide attempts often take place in a moment of hopelessness that can last barely minutes – which means that easy access to a firearm can in itself exponentially increase the risk of self-harm." 

Seemingly disconnected, Bruce Levine discusses ketamine as the latest cure-all from the pharmaceutical industry - this time promoted as an 'anti-suicide' drug. Levine is utterly compelling, and amongst other things, he argues that: "a legitimate mental health authority would make great efforts to publicize the fact that suicide is highly related to social variables that create pain (for example, unemployment and poverty). A legitimate mental health authority would make clear that the most powerful solution to the U.S. suicide epidemic is not more treatment but a completely different culture and society: one with far fewer people who are totally isolated and alienated, and one where people would have the time to offer genuine compassion." Read his full article in counterpunch. 

It's a deeply relevant article and held up alongside Marcia Angell's review of new work that scrutinises opioid addiction (and goes far, far deeper) in the USA, these writers offer us some serious food for thought. Not light reading by any means and not entirely cheerful either - but - important critique of the establishment and the machinery that perpetrates addicted peoples, fractured lives and multiple means to end it all. As Mark Fisher so beautifully suggested (and as I have quoted a thousand times) - "affective disorders are forms of captured discontent; this disaffection can and must be channeled outwards, directed towards its real cause." 

And culture and the arts in all of this - what of it, you might ask? Here's a thought - expressing rage - galvanising human potential - and issuing a collective scream for social change - directed to the heart of Fisher's target - capital.

If you are in a low place, or feeling despair, the Samaritans (in the UK) are available around the clock, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you need a response immediately, it's best to call them on this free phone number, or via email. 
116 123 (UK) 

Citizen Activism
One more online article I can recommend (thank you again NS) is Citizen Activism in Europe’s Periphery: “An Antidote to Powerlessness.” The above image is Polish Mothers in Krakow, photograph by Tomasz Wiech. The Polish artist Cecilya Malik began a campaign against the removal of the obligation for private landowners to apply for permission to cut down trees. Click on the image to read on about extraordinary acts of art and activism.

Printmakers required for Artist in Residence programme at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust
LIME is seeking experienced printmakers who can work closely with Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust staff patients to produce a unique body of print based artworks. There are currently two residency opportunities available. At this initial application stage, artists are advised to submit; an expression of interest, identifying their preferred residency from the two listed below, plus supporting documentation to include a CV and images of your work. Artists, who demonstrate excellent artistic skills and relevant knowledge and experience, will be invited to attend an interview to present their ideas and approach in more detail. FULL DETAILS AVAILABLE ON THE EMAIL BELOW.
Artist Residency 1 – Nursing + Trauma 
Nurses are traditionally seen as infallible "angels," but if they falter there is often little sympathy and they are demonised. What are the emotional and practical challenges that nurses go through every day in order to ensure they are providing compassionate care?
Artist Residency 2 – Elective Caesarean 
The residency will aim to reduce anxiety and stress associated with Elective Caesarean through an exploration of the procedure and the associated emotional impact it has on pregnant women. 

Artist Fee: £2,400
Materials Budget: £500
Exhibition budget: £ TBC
Submission Deadlines: Weds 13th Feb 2019
Interviews: Thurs 28th Feb 2019
Residency dates: From 28th March
For more information on Lime AiR: contact Dawn Prescott, Programme Director, LIME: 

Cumbria Arts in Health Conversation
Thursday 17 January 2019
In response to the rapid development in the Arts in Health sector, University of Cumbria and Healing Arts of North Cumbria University Hospital Trust are hosting a day of conversations and workshops for Cumbrian practitioners working in the arts or health. The aims of the day are to:. Create a network of people from Arts and Health backgrounds to start to plan the way forward for Arts in Health in Cumbria;
. Develop our knowledge and understanding of the evidence for Arts in Health;
. Hear the experiences of people who participate in art-based activities to support their health and wellbeing.

This event is open to all artists and health professionals who have an interest in arts in health.
I'm thrilled to be speaking at this event alongside Hayley Youell who is now working with the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance. You can find fulldetails and registration HERE.

Please do keep an eye on this blog for details of a North West Arts & Health Network event taking place in North Lancashire as part of my collaborative work with the Alliance in the spring! It will be a biggie!

Applications open for Ruth Borchard Self Portrait Prize 2019
An exciting opportunity for artists opens today, Wednesday, 2 January 2019.
Submissions can now be made for The Biennial Ruth Borchard Self-Portrait Prize 2019. A competition which will allow 120 artists to have their work on show at the prestigious Piano Nobile Kings Place, London, and one receive £10,000.

Alongside the winning self-portrait, a number of works from the submissions will also be purchased for the Ruth Borchard Next Generation Collection.
Outside In is an official partner of this year’s prize and founder Marc Steene will be one of the judges. He said: “We are excited to be an official partner of the Ruth Borchard Prize and be able to support and encourage engagement from artists, many of whom face significant barriers to the art world.”
Full details are HERE.                                                            .      

In times when nothing stood but worsened, or grew strange, there was one constant good: s/he did not change.
Philip Larkin 

Tuesday, 25 December 2018


First there was the Rattlesnake King and now one eagle-eyed reader has drawn my attention to something from the mid 20th century arts and health annals - and a very potent reminder that you can’t ignore the rat! Urgh - makes me shiver! 


Tuesday, 18 December 2018

An Occasional Dream

Just - my biggest thanks
What a mix of heady exhilaration and appropriate anxiety that remote Australia has brought! High up in Maningrida via a deeply disconcerting river crossing, spending time with Michelle & Chloe at Maningrida Arts & Culture and getting to grips with art, culture and local politics - was deeply inspiring - as was time with Ingrid at Babbarra Women's Centre. Being made to feel so welcomed by artists from the outlying areas too, was wonderful. I feel deeply honoured to have spent so much time with John Mawurndjul at a key moment in Maningrida’s development. There’s a much bigger story here, about power, rights and social justice being played out - but not for facebook. A profound and complex thing. Thanks to NS via GB for making this all possible and CV for her warmth and friendship.

My early conversations around suicide and grief in Australia have begun to expose many complex themes that arts-led research might gently navigate over these next few years through an international partnership. This would be impossible to contemplate without my collaborator, Vic McEwan and the Cad Factory to whom my biggest heartfelt thanks for your deep and considered reflective practice, your hospitality and more than anything - friendship. Biggest thanks to Sarah and Holly. I was so sorry not to be around for The Art Factory end of year exhibition asI left Aus and it was a real treat meeting the artist Layla Bacayo. Her work: CAR vs CT SCAN (2018) is pictured below. 

In Japan over just four days and seemingly countless seminars/conferences/lectures exploring all things arts, health & social change and much, much more - my mind is boggled by it all. Seriously.

To my hosts Prof Katsuyuki Kamei at Kansai University, Prof Yutaka Moriguchi at Kindai University,  Dr Shiji Okumura, the Medical Director of Mimihara Hospital and those of you from Sakai City and their kind invitation - the biggest thanks for your welcome and hospitality. Of course, none of this would have even begun without the generous support of the Great British Sasakawa Foundation. It was so, so lovely to meet people who regardless of language differences, shared their work and responded so enthusiastically to mine. Thank you for your friendship and life-saving cheesy pizza.

Biggest thanks to Alder Hey Children's Hospital, LIME Music for HealthCW+, Willis Newson and Vic McEwan for letting me advocate on behalf of your sublime work.

Difference, similarity and complex humanity - and in it all - I’m just a passing thought on a breeze.

This image is by Kazuhito Sahara "Seven Aromas"(from series of the Viewing Aromas) in Art Waiting Room/Nakano Iin (Clinic). Thank you Uta Nakano for sharing your work with me.

Further thoughts on suicide
I am very interested to see more and more artists, health workers and people with lived experience around suicide - as survivors or family members - talking much more openly about their work. I think it might be useful to gather some research and project reports from the UK and wider international community to enable a deeper exploration of this work, much of which slips under the radar of many of the statutory (and voluntary) sectors. So if you know anyone - individual or organisation - large or small - which in some way through the arts/creativity/culture/heritage explore any aspect of suicide, please do email me with outline information before January 21st.               .  

Contact name/details

Where you are in the world

Project outline (200 words max)
What do you aspire to achieve and how will you know if you achieve it? (100 words max)
Any web links to your work

Email me HERE.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

A Delicate Ecology

A Delicate Ecology from Arts Health Cinema on Vimeo.

I've been to a fair share of anaemic conferences in my time, but the ENGAGE conference at the Whitworth Art Gallery was one to blow your socks off! First of all, a big thank you to Jane, Jessica and Sayak for asking me to speak and arranging such a rich agenda. It was great meeting lots of new people and some old, familiar faces. Superb to be part of a well considered programme, but I do wonder how that fringe activity went? (It makes me think long and hard about this World Healthcare Congress that Esme Ward and I are co-curating next March - and the way the cost of these big events makes it prohibitive for so many people. We’ll certainly be making sure that there’s space/time for fringe events on and around this event.)

For my part, I’m only sorry we all didn’t have more time to talk - so many people under one roof! Claire Ford - superb as ever - and rocketing on with brilliant things. I reckon that anyone living with dementia who has been fortunate enough to spend time on a piece of work with her, will certainly treasure her thinking, warmth and total ingenuity.

For my part, I’d taken the request to think and speak about our contemporary arts and health landscape, very seriously, and I was certainly a little worried, that as opposed to rousing the delegates, I might bring the party down! Not least following the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care’s speech last week on social prescribing. Yes, there were good and interesting things in his words - who wouldn’t want to see an end to the blind belief in the claims of big pharma to control our fractured mental health? So offering the arts up as a challenge is great, while not being blind to the benefits of medication. But is he really calling for a war on drugs? I’m sure a reduction in the tax revenues they bring in might not go down too well with his pals in the Treasury. Read more by clicking on his new school bag below.

Anyway, my spasmodic revulsion - (and I have to admit to greatly tempering my keynote at the 11th hour) - was at the idea of the arts offering a ‘free social cure’. Anyway, if you want want to know more and you are not already sick of my droning on, below is a quick rough cut of the presentation I gave, which brings together minds far greater than mine from a few recent book chapters. Take it as you will - only beware - it sounds like the arts are being offered up as a cheap way of decorating over the cracks of an already fragile health system. And there are one or two decorators out there, only too ready to capitalise on this opportunity. Great claims should be tempered by a little caution - and borne of experience. 

Influence Arts Council England...
I do have to prompt people to comment on Arts Council England’s consultation on their next ten year strategy. We really can influence their direction if we take ten minutes out and comment on it HERE.

Wellbeing & Care for Arts Practitioners
Artist and 2017/18 Clore Visual Artist Fellow Nicola Naismith is seeking contributions to her latest research project looking at the support creative practitioners receive when working in the participatory arts for the health and wellbeing sector. Explains Naismith: “It is essential that the health and wellbeing of artists is properly supported, which in turn will help them to deliver the best quality work in the participatory arts for health and wellbeing sector. The evidence base of the benefits to health and wellbeing from participating in the arts continues to grow, but what about the health and wellbeing of the creative practitioners delivering these activities?” Read more HERE. Complete the short survey HERE.

Sing-a-Long & Dance-a-Long to old school arts and health...
Meanwhile in Australia - I'm steering clear of bats with the hendra virus, old koalas with chlamydia, and the white-fever of evangelical singing and dancing in the name arts and health. See the apparently authentic footage above, taken covertly at a recent jamboree! For eager eyed visitors to this blog, you'll know I've gone deep south and am developing a longer-term piece of work with artist Vic McEwan, which although not directly linked to the Harmonic Oscillator, does build on some of those fundamental thoughts in Critical Care and takes our shared work to a very, very different place. More soon.

...and finally, one last song.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Arts & Health

Do you want to influence Arts Council England’s next ten year strategy? This consultation is really important to any of us committed to equality, social justice and health across this wider arts and cultural agenda. You have until 2nd January 2019 to respond. Read on…

Shaping the Next Ten Years
‘The Arts Council is currently developing our new strategy for 2020-2030, which will shape our development, advocacy and investment approach over the next ten years. After gathering and analysing a wide range of evidence, and holding conversations with the public and with stakeholders, we have identified a series of proposed outcomes that we believe we should aim to achieve by 2030.  You can read more about the outcomes below. In this first stage of consultation, we are asking a wide range of stakeholders if they agree that these outcomes are the right things for Arts Council England to focus on over the next decade, and if so, how we might work together to achieve them. We would like to hear from a diverse mix of individuals, groups and organisations.’ Full details HERE.

An Australasian Perspective
I am very much looking forward to spending time in New South Wales later this month working with Vic McEwan on a long term piece of work which follows on from The Harmonic Oscillator to which the CAD Factory have been awarded the 2018 Australian Prize for Distinctive Work from the Council of Humanities Arts & Social Sciences. This is an enormous honour and I’m thrilled to have been a part of this work. You can read some of my account of this work in Critical Care which is available directly from me, or from TATE Liverpool and HOME bookshops. For those of you itching to hear more from Vic about his ongoing work, I can host a very small number of public places at a free event I am facilitating at MMU on Thursday 8th November between 11am and 12noon. Details directly from me HERE. And Vic will be giving a public seminar on Wednesday 7th November between 16:00 and 17:30, the details of which follow.

The Butterfly Kiss: Exploring The Materiality, Affect and Performativity of contemporary arts practice within complex community settings
MMU Brooks Building, Room 4.48
Vic McEwan, The Cad Factory
The Cad Factory is an Australian based organization creating an international body of work that often deals with the fractures borne from the lived experience of people and place. Positioning creative practice as an open ended and responsive examining of the poetics of care within our communities, The Cad Factory encourages arts practice to bear witness to, contribute to and respond to the thresholds and tensions, blends and blurs ((Seigworth, Gregg 2010) of the lived experience.

Guided by the MAP (Materiality, Affect and Performativity) of communities and of cross disciplinary arts practice, The Cad Factory positions itself in what Anna Tsing might call “Zones of Awkward Engagement” in order to engage with and contribute to various communities.
Hear about projects ranging from long-term collaborations with Indigenous communities around histories of massacre and colonisation, projects exploring health within clinical settings, as well as projects examining complex issues around suicide, environmental and cultural loss and climate change. Contact details for this are not with me, but are HERE.

There is much on my mind right now - and it comes out here - like a throbbing boil that needs lancing. Although I’m sure one should never lance a boil -
but you know what I mean.

I watched Harry and Megan What’s their Name over in Australia doing their thing around public discussions of mental health, mental illness and mental difference - and I know - all discussions about our psychic terrain should be made in public. I’m acutely aware of his dysfunctional family background too, and if royals have any contemporary purpose, maybe this is it - some deep public analysis of the ‘nature or nurture’ arguments that surround mental distress in all its forms. Then I watched some highlights of the Invictus Games - and one can’t fail to be moved by the physical and mental strides these athletes have made, from some unimaginable horror to televised heroism of the 21st century. Rousing stuff. But look a little closer at the Invictus Games website and have a peek at just what proud ‘supporters’ they have on board including amongst others Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Leidos and Saab - all either major armament manufacturers, or arms logistics and comms.
Image posted on facebook by CakeInternational (I kid you not)
Nick Deane writing for the always interesting New Matilda observes that, “on the one hand these companies and their shareholders grow rich through creating, selling, researching and constantly ‘improving’ weaponry and weapons systems. But it is weaponry that has produced the horrific injuries sustained by the Games’ participants.” You can read his compelling article in full HERE. With the appalling story of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the UK and US continued commitment to selling arms to Saudi Arabia, perhaps the Invictus Games should think carefully about its ‘supporters’ and not simply let them appease their guilt and keep their investors coffers full.

Poetry Emergency

Poetry Emergency is a two-day festival exploring emergency and liveness in radical poetic art, taking place in Salford and Manchester on 23rd and 24th November 2018. Bringing together some of the most challenging and surprising poets and performers of the moment, we ask how poetic art can intervene against passivity and fear in order to agitate and inspire. In the emergency-prone moment of anxiety and disaster-creation, how can the mini-revolutions of language art snowball into communities of support and resistance? Crossing between poetry readings and performance, and integrating workshops and discussions into the programme, Poetry Emergency will be a rare and exciting creative and learning event for the North West. Full details HERE. 


For the first time over 2017-2018 Socialiniai meno projektai has conducted an in-depth research study of accessibility of Lithuanian art museums/galleries to people living with disabilities. Over 100 interviews have been conducted with people with disabilities and with representatives of museums across Lithuania. This is a ground-breaking large-scale piece of work that will be shared across Lithuania in November and December. The study has been supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania and the Lithuanian Culture Council. Full details and registration HERE.

Entelechy Arts

General Manager£30,000 - £32,000
Deadline - 16th November
Entelechy Arts is a pioneering arts charity working in the fields of art and social change. Based in South-East London it has achieved national and international acclaim for its work with older people and those with complex disabilities. For over 25 years the company has been making exciting, contemporary work in the centre of its community. Entelechy Arts is looking for a brilliantly organised General Manager to help deliver a busy and exciting programme. Full details HERE.

Storytelling for Health Conference
We are delighted to announce that ABMU Health Board and the University of South Wales are working together with a range of partners towards the next conference ‘Storytelling for Health 2: Patient Stories’, which will take place on 27th, 28th and 29th June 2019.  We will be narrowing the focus slightly for this conference to look at how patient experiences are captured, presented and understood through story.  We hope this will make for some provocative and productive conversations. See full details HERE.