Sunday, 16 September 2012

menas + kultūra = galia

Blogging from Lithuania where I have the pleasure of working this week with amongst others, the Lithuanian Artists Association and the British Council as they roll out a new programme of arts and health activity. More of that soon - the blog however, has a distinctly grubby, tabloid feel to it.


First though - in the UK, we hear that acute NHS trusts are in dire straights. ‘Hospitals are so full that elderly patients are being discharged in the middle of the night and routine blood tests are being conducted at 3am, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has warned. As bed spaces for acute care become increasingly under demand, patients are being turfed from ward to ward which is leading to a poor continuity of care, the RCP said.’ 

Whilst acute services are constantly under pressure, (but isn’t that the whole of the NHS) let’s not forget the ‘cinderella service’ that we are so closely affiliated too. Emphasis should quite rightly be on public health, and if we really want address promotion, prevention and protection, we have to focus on the determinants of health and well-being - what are these determinants? Well let’s start with poverty, literacy and a deficit of aspiration in a population in which inequalities are perfectly illustrated by those in the comfortable position of power. Our celebrity fixated aspirations to have the biggest TV, the fattest 4 x 4, plump, collagen-enhanced lips and the quickest and easiest food, points to a public health nightmare well before we even book our private hospital bed. Is our well-being about the way we feel about our bodies - crooked teeth, balding head, bad posture, too fat, too thin - or do we just believe in the rubbish that’s peddled at us through the media? 

My first thought when I heard Big Brother producer, Sir Peter Bazalgette, was to chair Arts Council England – one of Jeremy Hunt’s last decisions as Culture Secretary - was biliousness. I mean, Big Brother: doesn’t that say it all? But thanks to thinkers far greater than me, I’ve been reliably informed that this might be far more relevant to the arts/health agenda than it first implies. Think about the potential of libraries (now under Arts Council jurisdiction) to be cultural hubs, where alongside Post Offices and other community spaces, people might be able to find out more about their conditions, and services available to them, and potentially engage in arts-lead initiatives. This could indeed, be a more creative approach to an expansive public health agenda and engagement with civic society. Of course, I have to mention BlueSCI who are already making huge leaps in this direction. 

As a footnote to the Bazalgette appointment, its worth noting that he is the descendant of Victorian engineer Joseph William Bazalgette, who following a nervous breakdown, and alongside public health champion John Snow, revolutionised London’s sewage system, which before his intervention had been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths from cholera. Their work was undertaken in the face of significant political and scientific resistance, which asserted that cholera was transmitted by air, and not as Snow and Bazalgette asserted, by water. Their groundbreaking partnership fundamentally changed understanding of public health, saved countless lives and reduced what was known in London, as The Great Stink.

There’s something in that. Challenging the system - seeing arts and culture as change agents. Thinking differently. 

So with all this in mind - here is a call for all you innovators to think about how you join your arts and public health to these new possibilities. Here is your chance - make your vision huge - work with the people who use these spaces - the people who are disenfranchised, this is an opportunity: TAKE IT.

Arts Council England has announced that it has an extra £6 million available to support arts funding for libraries.  This will open to applications on Thursday 27 September 2012. Arts Funding for Libraries will support projects that stimulate ambitious and innovative partnerships between libraries and artists and/or arts organisations, encouraging communities to participate in cultural activities. The funding will run from September 2012 until March 2015. Click on THE SUN above for details. 

The Leveson inquiry’s killed off the News of the World, why not finish the job off and bury the SUN too, after-all it’s been dead in Merseyside for the last 23 years, where people with taste have chosen to boycott it for its fictitious journalism and lies. The Hillsborough story doesn’t need my comment, so I’ll let the SUN headlines from then (above) and now (below), speak for themselves. 

It’s bizarre that this rag still gets away with its objectification of women too, and with distant memories of the Off the Shelf Campaign of the 80’s, I notice Lucy-Anne Holmes is spearheading a new campaign to get rid of page 3. here’s a snippet of her story.

‘The country was gripped by Olympic fever, and as Holmes opened the paper, she was glad to see there was no topless woman on page 3, just stories of victorious athletes, such as Victoria Pendleton, Jessica Ennis. She leafed through the sports coverage contentedly, until she reached page 13. There she found "a massive picture of a girl in her pants", she says. The typical image had just been moved back. "It made me really sad. It was the biggest female image in that issue, and I think pretty much every issue of [The Sun] for 42 years." At a time when women's strength was being celebrated with medals, on podiums, this image, in the country's biggest-selling daily newspaper, seemed starker than ever. Since Page 3 began, in November 1970, the most prominent daily newspaper image of a woman has been smiling, and topless.’

You can follow Lucy-Anne Holmes on facebook and twitter.

I seem to remember the then MP, Clare Short, was met with vitriol over similar attempts to get the SUN to remove page 3. One of its headlines ran, 'Fat, jealous' Clare brands page 3 porn. HOW SHE'D LOOK: Mission impossible ... we give Clare a Page 3 'makeover'. Sounds like misogynistic bigotry to me - a peddling topless young women alongside athletes, or more probably the latest news and views on anorexia, or the super-morbidly obese. Now as the Paralympics have finished, its been reported that hate crimes against people with disabilities have gone up. I wonder what parted distorted journalism plays in all this. There’s a time and place for naked bodies and all things erotic, but it’s not in the ‘news’ paper. Dim, twisted and offensive. Oh, and what: no mention of 'those' royal topless photographs today? Only a polite acknowledgement of dear Richard Desmond's apparent 'fury' at the Irish Daily Star's publication of them. You couldn't script it, could you?

So, to cap this tabloid nonsense off, here’s a reminder of the response of artist Sarah Lucas to both her frustration at Goldsmith's College minimalist doctrine of the 1980s, and her reading of literature on feminism, pornography and sexuality. She turned to popular culture and the tabloid press and its attitudes towards the female body and here then, is her 1991 conjoining of sex, politics, disability and tabloid scandal. Offensive or a critique? You decide. 
Its title: SOD YOU GITS

Talking of which...
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published the list of the ‘domains and measures’ that will be used from now on to create an assessment of the wellbeing of the nation – but no measures specific to arts have been included. Earlier this year a campaign by the sector to have engagement with cultural activity formally recognised as contributing to personal wellbeing had fed into an ONS consultation to determine the most appropriate ways to measure wellbeing, and it was proposed that the DCMS ‘Taking Part’ survey could be used to provide the statistical evidence needed to feed into the calculations. But the ONS has rejected any such inclusion in favour of a measure that assesses “satisfaction with the use and amount of leisure time… without making a judgement that particular or specific activities are good for wellbeing”.

The domains are still under development and ONS are seeking comments on the measures by email via

Networking evening...
So we’ve a networking evening scheduled for the 27th between 6 - 8 here at MMU. I’ve had a number of confirmations, and if you want to come along, drop me an email at and I’ll get back to everyone with the room details a couple of days before the evening. Although its an informal session (and you can bring any thoughts to the party), I’ll just talk a little about the National Alliance; the Conference in Bristol next year; a media campaign around arts/health and how we might undertake some more regional/local activity...(but I need your help - hint, hint)

Ahh, a tabloid hell eh? My children recently asked me the question, ‘why don’t we have riots on the streets in this country, like the Arab uprising?’ Hmmmm, I pondered delicately, ‘I thought we did last year in London and Manchester, and in pockets all around the country.’ ‘No, not just looting’, they responded, ‘the ones where governments get overthrown?’ Kids eh?

Thank you as ever...C.P.

1 comment:

  1. opinion a very good article ... health and sharing is everything