Monday, 8 July 2019

The Silent Edition (almost)

ACE 10 year Strategy Consultation 2020 - 2030
Over the last 18 months, Arts Council England have gathered a wide range of research and evidence and spoken to over 5,000 people to help shape their new strategy. Take a look at the timeline for collecting our evidence and developing the draft strategy, and view all of the evidence and research they've published. If you follow the link below you can see their proposed vision and outcomes for the next ten years, now they want to know what you think. The consultation on their draft strategy 2020-2030 is open until 23 September 2019 and you can also sign up to a workshop taking place across the country. Click HERE for details.

In 2009 at the first Arts and Health Australia conference, as well as giving a keynote, I invited people around the world who couldn't attend, to submit a five minute film that we’d share at the conference in a session that I rather unimaginatively called, Show and Tell: Film, Sound and New Media Critical Showcase. The response was great with films submitted from the US to South East Asia. I have very fond memories of a film from Chicago based Snow City Arts about young kids in hospital creating a space adventure - superb. One film that really transfixed delegates was from Breakthrough and called Bell Bajao. It specifically asked ‘men and boys to take action against violence against women – not to ignore it, but to interrupt it. It tried to change the narrative where violence against women and girls is seen as a woman’s problem into one that is everybody’s problem. They undertook this work in India at two broad levels – creating a compelling and cutting-edge mass media campaign that reached a large number of people across the country and  engaging in grassroots mobilisation with young people and community leaders.’ Breakthrough have been pursuing this agenda for 20 years and continue to be a world leader. You can find more out about their vision and ongoing work by clicking HERE. 

School of Interrogation
Manchester International Festival
I see a number of members of this arts and health network are facilitating events as part of School of Interrogation between 5th and 20th July. Tania Bruguera’s powerful, provocative and inspiring new work draws us nearer to those who’ve made this city their home, inviting us to discover and embrace the diversity in our midst. During MIF19, the school will offer over 80 classes on a wide-ranging curriculum that includes food, customs, ethics, politics and many other forms of knowledge – classes given by local people originally from countries around the world, from Zimbabwe to Tibet. These are not only instructional lessons, but something more personal and vivid. Each teacher will pass on their own experiences, sharing skills, knowledge and culture in a different kind of communal integration and learning experience in the heart of Manchester. Click HERE for full details.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

A big welcome to Clare Devaney

I’m thrilled to welcome Dr Clare Devaney to the Arts & Health team. Clare is an experienced researcher, strategist and communicator and a strong advocate for socially engaged practice. She is founding Director of Citizen-i Ltd, a platform for citizen-led research and civic innovation. As a Research Fellow with the Royal Society of Arts, she led its “Heritage, Identity and Place” between 2014-7 and its “Citizens and Inclusive Growth” programmes in 2017. You can find out much more on her personal website HERE. Over the next 12 months Clare is working with me on the development of the Manchester Institute for Arts, Health & Social Change and associated collaborations. Great things ahead.

Steven Poole's word of the week in the Guardian focus on a word familiar to all of us in the arts/health community - Craftivism. Poole describes how: “The online knitting and crochet platform Ravelry banned patterns for MAGA hats and other pro-Trump creations that, it said, promote “white supremacy”. Could this be an example of what is known as “craftivism”: the use of crafts to advance a political agenda?” Read on HERE. This is one for Sarah Corbett and the Craftivist Collective to embrace.

From Western Australia this week, a small film from DADAA (Disability in the Arts, Disadvantage in the Arts, Australia) and artist Patrick, a 32 year old Aboriginal man who was born with Down Syndrome. The short film above, gives you a taste of his work and the way DADAA continue to support artists reach new heights. Great stuff and wonderful as ever to see DADAA thriving.

Assisted dying in Victoria
As the state of Victoria in Australia embraces Assisted Dying, it is great to see intelligent and considered responses from the Palliative Care community. In his own words, Dr Will Cairns who “is on the verge of retirement from his medical career, first as a GP, and subsequently as a specialist in palliative medicine,” writes HERE.

World Destruction
As the leader of the ‘Free World’ begins circling Tehran in preparation for implementing his next self-appointed global policing policy, (land-grab) and our silly little island prepares to anoint its own affable, charismatic, popularist (but far more machiavellian than the good old British public are prepared to accept) ‘leader’ - your blogger clings on to anything remotely positive in this world.

Women with Moustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity
I came across a remarkable book by Afsaneh Najmabadi, called Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity (2005). It sheds light on notions of male and female beauty under the Qajar dynasty (1785 – 1925) in her native Iran. At the beginning of that period, male and female ideals of beauty were remarkably similar. In a lecture to accompany the book, Najmabadi revealed images of women with “heavy brows and faint moustaches – considered so attractive that they were sometimes painted on or augmented with mascara – and young beardless men with slim waists and delicate features. In 19th century portraits of lovers, the genders are barely distinguishable, identified only by their headgear.” This is completely fascinating work and the image below is from the photo archive of the Institute for Iranian Contemporary Historical Studies and shows two Qajar women standing as a couple. The bilingual website SharheFarang focuses on collecting, documenting, and presenting visual material from Iranian daily life and culture. 

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Your blogger is away #2

This last couple of weeks I have been the guest of the artists Vic and Sarah McEwan over in Birrego - just outside of Narrandera in New South Wales. Their home and workplace - The Cad Factory - has been my home too and I extend the biggest thanks to them and Holly for making me so welcome. I’ve been invited out here as part of a piece of work that The Cad has organised with funding from Create NSW to do two things - co-facilitate a residential workshop with people from all quarters of Australia exploring arts, health and social change - and begin conversations around suicide and grief which is looking towards a major experimental and performative arts event in late 2020. Those initial conversations have begun with Wiradjuri Elder, Auntie Lorraine Tye (and LS) - and I can’t thank them enough, alongside everyone I’ve met in my time out here. Powerful conversations moving towards something really quite profound. Thank you JJ in Lt and YM in Jp for kick-starting this difficult and collective conversation. Therein lies the key.

Normal blog service resumes next week, but for now a very early Nina Hagan film where you get the taste of what was to come. Quite wonderful.


Monday, 3 June 2019

Your blogger is away... here's a holding slide and a song, which may change from time to time

Sunday, 26 May 2019

One Man Band...

...and more on that soon!*
On Death, Dying and Grieving
A strange old week with a few moments of grief - up close and personal, diffused and by six degrees of separation. In Lancaster I took part in a piece of new immersive work with the artist Fabiola Santana under the title - A Home for Grief. It was a completely unexpected treat which exposed some profound and unexpected reflections, yet at the same time brought me up close and personal with other people's experiences and aspirations around the process of dying and of caring for each other. In short, this Lancaster Arts commission was a guided exploration - part aural - part psycho-geography. Confronting and gentle. While I embarked on this (over an hour long) process, someone quite unknown to me, but close to someone I love, died very suddenly - and because of their youth - very tragically. The reverberations of this loss have been felt quite elementally. Like a ripple moving underground that erupts unexpectedly. Soil and stone, wind and water.

For many years I've been following the work of two very different activists who are embroiled in the business of dying: in the US, Katrina Spade and her recompose project, and hailing from Australia, Dr Philip Nitschke and his latest explorations around ways that we might die with dignity and at a time of our choosing. These are two very different people, pursuing very different agendas around how we live, die and return to nature. It is thrilling that Katrina has announced "that natural organic reduction – the contained, accelerated conversion of human remains into soil - has been legalised for the disposition of human remains in Washington State." Her press release provides some key facts.

"The Recomposition Science Project, a research study at Washington State University which the company co-sponsored in 2018, previously found that natural organic reduction is an effective and safe alternative to burial and cremation.

Natural organic reduction with the Recompose System offers an additional choice for after-death care that is natural and sustainable. With significant savings in carbon emissions and land usage, it addresses increasing demand for green alternatives:
• Recomposition uses 1/8 the energy of cremation, and saves over a metric ton of CO2 per person

• If every WA resident chose recomposition as their after-death preference, we would save over a 1/2 million metric tons of CO2 in just 10 years. That’s the equivalent of the energy required to power 54,000 homes for a year.

Recompose offers an alternative choice to cremation and conventional burial methods. Our service-recomposition - gently converts human remains into soil, so that we can nourish new life after we die." Superb, progressive and very, very impressive work. More details are HERE. I've never been a great one for the cult of Ted Talks, but what the hell - here's Katrina sharing her thinking.

Perhaps poles apart, Philip Nitschke has launched the world’s first 3D-printed euthanasia pod ‘The Sarco’ which he showcased at the Venice biennale 2019 at Venice Design. The machine is the creation of Amsterdam-based Euthanasia activist, Dr Philip Nitschke and Dutch industrial designer, Alexander Bannink. Find out a little more in the film below.

Philip describes the aim of the Sarco "is to allow a rational adult the option of a peaceful, elective and lawful death in an elegant and stylish environment. The Sarco capsule is detachable and can be used as a coffin for burial or cremation. The mechanism within the base is infinitely reusable." "The invitation to exhibit in Venice came quite unexpectedly" said Dr Nitschke today.  "It takes a courageous curator to be prepared to exhibit an object which has such a serious real life use." What conjoins these two very different and very radical thinkers is their belief that things can be different and their continuous drive to turn their vision and ethical beliefs into practice. 

Facing inwards and outwards: challenging inequalities within Greater Manchester
The Manchester Institute for Arts, Health & Social Change is publishing a range of guest blog-postings and podcasts over the next year or so. For our first foray into encouraging new thinking around the broadest arts, health and social change agenda, PhD candidate Frances Williams went to the launch of Wigan's ‘cultural manifesto’ - under the banner of The Fire Within and with the curatorial eyes of Al & Al  is a hybrid  of 'public event, exhibition and also catalyst for investment.' You're bursting to know more - so go straight to it by clicking HERE.

This brand-new theatre piece has been created through a programme of public engagement and creative enquiry into the lived experience of young onset dementia. Throughout 2018-19, Manchester Camerata has engaged with multiple dementia support groups across Greater Manchester to capture and tell the stories of younger people living with dementia. Shining a light on both the positives and negatives of living with dementia, the groups have considered how it affects someone of a younger age and their family and friends. The piece takes the audience through the journeys of four people. Each have been affected by young onset dementia – a mother and son, and a woman and her loving wife. Manchester Camerata’s ‘Dementia Voices’ project is being toured across Greater Manchester from 19th – 29th June 2019. To find venues click HERE.  

SANE launches creative arts scheme to inspire people affected by mental illness    

Individuals affected by mental illness are being given the chance to fulfil their creative potential under an exciting new initiative. The Creative Awards Scheme has been launched by the mental health charity SANE with the aim of improving the quality of life of people with mental health problems, their families and carers, by helping them to pursue the visual arts. The scheme will make grants to individuals to enable them to engage in creative and educational activities such as taking an evening course in photography, or creating a piece of art. The scheme is open to anyone with a diagnosed mental health condition or anyone acting as a full-time carer to submit proposals for works of visual art. The awards will range from £75 to £300 to cover or contribute to the cost of materials such as paints and frames, attending training courses, or supporting the provision of replacement care in the case of carers who apply. Click HERE for more.



Sunday, 12 May 2019

It's all getting a bit Soylent Green

First things first - robotic cats, dogs and seals in care homes? With fur or without? Be prepared, because 'research tells us' that the robots are coming! What's more, I bet they'll be cost-effective too. No need to pay pesky humans to interact with people, or worse still, bring real flesh and blood animals into care homes. Researchers from the University of Exeter assessed 900 care home residents  observing how the robopets increased social interaction between residents, family members and staff. Though, as the the researchers note: 'Not all residents liked the robots, and staff may require specialist training on how to help them get the most out of their robopet.' I used to love taking flowers into hospital. Big, bold and beautiful - and my mum loved them. Only they present a 'health & safety risk' so inevitably were banned. Although there are different dynamics at play, this short film from Equal Arts and their HenPower project is a lovely alternative to Stepford Pets.

Arts Catalyst 
Artistic Director/Joint CEO  
Arts Catalyst is looking to appoint a new Artistic Director/Joint CEO, to develop its programme and establish the organisation in Sheffield, where it will be relocating from its current home in London over the next two years. This is an exciting opportunity for an ambitious, imaginative individual to take one of the UK’s leading art and research organisations forward into the next phase of its development and to take an active role in shaping its artistic future. Over 25 years, Arts Catalyst has established a reputation for commissioning bold and experimental art that expands art practice into domains commonly associated with science and specialist research, and for its unique curatorial model of transdisciplinary co-inquiry that brings together artists, scientists, communities and interest groups for long-term, thematic programmes. Arts Catalyst supports artists at pivotal stages in their careers, providing opportunities to develop projects and create ambitious new artworks. Full details of this amazing opportunity HERE.

So - out of the blue I stumble on this extraordinary and timely song and film. Sublime and troubling...

Birth Rites Collection Summer School 15-19th July 2019
Birth Rites Collection Summer School is a unique 5-day programme of lectures, workshops and exchange. It is generated through engaging directly with the artworks in the collection which are installed across the historic Guy’s campus, King’s College London, and hosted by the Faculty of Midwifery .

If you are a midwife, academic, artist, medic, health professional, art historian or policy advisor, you will arrive on the course with your skill set and leave with a bespoke multi-media pack of visual, textual, auditory and filmic material of your own responses to art on birth, to be used thereafter in your own future work. Birth Rites Collection Summer School will introduce you to the art collection and facilitate a dialogue between you, your practice and the artworks. The course will be led by Helen Knowles, BRC Curator and New Media artist and Hermione Wiltshire, artist and lecturer in photography at the Royal College of Art. We will encourage you to curate your own responses to the artworks in the collection, through a variety of media, exploring the themes addressed by them, introduce different perspectives from special guest speakers and chair in-depth discussions that address aesthetics, ethics and practices of the visual discourse of birth. 

Workshops will include the chance to shoot short films on everyday devices, create a podcast/ sound work and reflect on the themes through visual and written responses which will then be edited into an imaginative PowerPoint. There are 20 full-price places on this course and 5 concession rate places. We are also offering one bursary place on the course. For more information please click HERE.

Thank you for the intrigued, bemused and terrified comments about Cold Dark Matter, posted last week. For those of you who asked or have an inclination to delve into the text and footnotes, you can find them HERE or by clicking on the beautiful image above from the 1922 Swedish film HÄXAN which featured in this work.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Surrounded in Nothing but Love

'X was sleeping rough last night, came in here soaking and shivering. You can’t solve all of people’s life problems but you can give them a chance for just being. Just sitting and being. That’s what I saw him do today in the workshop, he was writing a poem, but also sitting quietly with his thoughts. Looking around a little, listening. Being a person*.'

I could write reams about the constantly evolving work of
arthur+martha but the words of the people they collaborate with are far more revealing. Click HERE for their latest blog posting. *Karen, project worker at The Booth Centre

Artists Practising Well... a new research report by Nicola Naismith, which focuses on the topic of affective support for creative practitioners working in participatory arts in health and wellbeing. The report has been prepared with a wide readership in mind: creative practitioners, arts commissioners, organisational leaders, funders and policy makers. The research is informed by the experiences of creative practitioners working in arts for health and wellbeing, collected via an online survey. Want to know more? Click HERE.

The Age of Creativity Festival... 
...celebrates the extraordinary range of Age Friendly creative and cultural work taking place across England and reaches out into our community to help more people get involved. On May 2nd the Festival held an opening event at The Whitworth and across May there are lots of events happening across the UK. You can check out their website HERE.

I was really pleased to be involved in the event last Thursday and deeply impressed by the broad range of thinking - particularly by the lovely group of people I spent much of the day with as we explored how attitudes to ageing might evolve and how culture and the arts might play a critical part in that evolution. I’d been asked by the festival organiser Farrell Curran, to be one of three people providing ‘provocations’ on the day - so not providing simple answers to complex problems - but getting people thinking. I’ve been asked to share the provocation I made, and it’s got a voice-over on this online version. I can publish the text too, but perhaps not on this blog. It’s short, sweet and just a tad bleak - but hey - what the hell.

For my part I get a little tired of dimming down, so I wanted to explore some of those broader political and environmental factors, while at the same time thinking a bit more abstractly and not avoiding the darker issues we try not to engage with (and are right in front of us, in plain sight). Wonderful to see the skills of different artists capturing the day and particularly Leslie Thompson who with a clear eye and deft hand rendered something of the humour, edge and diversity of thinking. One of his images is above this text and you can find out more about his stunning work HERE. More compelling than any work be an artist rapporteur
 that I've seen. Below is my very short provocation: Cold Dark Matter.

Artist Training around Young People and Mental Health
42nd Street are delighted to be offering a one day training course for artists working with young people experiencing mental health issues.
Training content
- Understanding common mental health issues experienced by young people

- Risk assessment & management when working with young people
- Barriers to engagement for young people and how to address them
- An exploration of the relationship between the facilitator/ artist and the mental health professional /organisation during project delivery
This free event will sell out, so hurry. Click HERE.

Can We All Keep Ourselves From Being Crazy?
'Because so much in our society shares with Trump an appetite for hyperreality rather than reality and is so deeply entrenched in spectacle, spin and celebrity and armored within the illusions of personal autonomy, we are now incapable of pulling back the curtain and exposing the Wizard as a sham.'

Here's an extract for a cracking piece of writing by Joseph Natoli at counterpunch. Superb and succinct. Read it HERE. 

Selfie #1 (institutional malaise)