Sunday, 27 April 2014


On Tuesday 22nd April people from across Lithuania came together with like-minded colleagues from Finland and the UK to explore cross-cultural partnerships in arts and mental health. Organized by Socialiniai Meno Projektai and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania with the support of others including the British Council and the Tiltas Trust, the one day conference sought to explore the Lithuanian National Progress Programme 2014-2020 where both culture and health are seen as horizontal priorities in state policy. With plans that culture and health will be integrated into all the fields of public and political interest, the conference set its aims high, exploring close collaboration between cross-governmental institutions and NGOs.

Alongside Šaronas Birutis, the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania; Lolita Jablonskienė, Director of National Gallery of Art, Arturas Vasiliauskas, Director of The British Council in Lithuania and Bo Harald Tillberg, the Director of The Nordic Council of Ministers’ Office in Lithuania, I had the honour of setting the scene for the event, which I hoped would open up meaningful dialogue and exchange that went beyond rhetoric - and critically - gives voice to people affected by mental health issues, to affect long-term public change.

The day was planned and chaired beautifully by Ieva Petkute who set the scene and introduced Roma Survilienė who gave a historical overview of the work of Socialiniai Meno Projektai and its direction in Lithuania sharing its ongoing practice and research. The first UK speaker was Stuart Webster from BlueSCI in Manchester who painted a vivid picture of the stealthy, strategic direction of his organisation which crucially is a partnership between artists and health professionals, and which over the last few years has become central to provision of cultural and wellbeing services in an geographical area of great inequality.

Šaronas Birutis, Minister of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania
Ismo Suksi is the Senior Officer at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health In Finland and gave an overview of the influential Finnish Strategy Culture for Health and Wellbeing 2010-2014. His presentation was an honest account of the successes and failures of the strategy and he reflected that to some extent, culture is now seen as part of promoting well-being in the work place and to a limited extent, the impact of the built environment on well-being is accepted. He reported that understanding of the role of cultural activities on inclusion and social capital and arts/cultural methods being used as preventative activity are only embraced to a limited extent. But perhaps the most significant finding he reported to the conference, was that the significance of the positive effect of art and culture on well-being is still not at all understood at policy and administration levels. This is deeply interesting and will need unpicking further. The implications in such a progressive country are important and I look forward to discussing this further with my counterparts in Finland, to whom I thank for sharing.

Following the three presentations, we had a very active debate. These discussions were populated and co-facilitated by key senior civil servants from the Ministries of Social Security and Labour, Culture and of Health of the Republic of Lithuania and provoked some familiar heated exchange about the distribution of funding, familiar to all of us in the field, but robustly discussed by representatives of government and delegates alike. I had the opportunity to share policy and strategy from a UK perspective with some focus on the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing, the development of the All Party Parliamentary Group and of course, I used the moment to find out a little more about the delegates in the room, positing the idea of developing a network and an advocacy document, not dissimilar to a manifesto!

Following a break for lunch, we experienced a touching dance performance to celebrate spring and which saw residents and social workers of the Kaunas Kartų Namai Care Center, coming together with the choreography of Asta Brilingienė and Marija Vitkūnaitė and stunning visuals by Eglė Gudonytė. A dignified and moving piece of work that received a justifiably rousing response from the delegates. 

The afternoon presentations started with Director of the State Mental Health Centre, Ona Davidoniene, who shared data on population mental health across Lithuania and its parity to other Baltic countries. The data illustrated the need for cross-sectoral partnerships, with unacceptably high levels of mental ill-health and suicide in the country. 

Currently, within primary mental health care, there are 164 thousand clients, which is 5,5 % of all the population. In 2012, the suicide rate was 54,7 men and 10,8 women per 100 thousand citizens. Domestic violence, bullying, alcohol addiction and a lack of mental health specialists were cited as key factors. Her presentation stressed the need for activity that strengthened and prevented ill-health in Lithuania - something we felt that culture, creativity and the arts might play a key role in. 

Lee Knifton is the Co-Director of the International Centre for Health Policy at the University of Strathclyde, and Director of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, which each year attracts around 100 thousand visitors and is widely regarded as an exemplar in both mental health promotion and crucially, fighting stigma. Sharing this large-scale and well-established work was counter-balanced by another UK speaker, Julie McCarthy from 42nd Street, a Manchester based mental health charity, which provides services to young people experiencing mental health problems. The organisation works with over 1000 young people per year between the ages of 13 to 25, who have mental health problems including depression, anxiety, behavioural problems and self-harm. 

The second panel debate of the day was moderated by Dr Aurelijus Veryga, deputy professor at the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences and psychiatrist and our very own Dr Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt who has part of her AHRC funded cultural values project, has been interrogating data sets from Scandinavia and the UK to understand the long-term impact of cultural participation on health outcomes. The previous speakers were joined by Psychologist and Director of public non-profit institution Perspectives of Mental Health, Karilė Levickaitė to explore collaborative models, impact and evaluation. 

We discussed the reality that within the cultural sector, there is a lack of impact evaluation results, not only in Lithuania, but in most EU countries. It was agreed that it is important to share experience internationally. Aurelijus underlined the importance to collaborate with researchers and public health specialists to find ways to better understand the impact of art and culture on health. The collected experience and analysis of impact could become a guideline for the policy makers. This opinion was supported by Karilė, who observed that evaluation is of significant importance for the NGOs, which hold huge potential that could be harnessed in mental health prevention practice, but where often there are a lack of skills to participate in the process of policy making. 

Delegates raised issues of the importance of focusing on children and young people and we explored some ideas around what constituted evaluation in arts and mental health. A number of people with experience of mental health issues expressed their interest in being part of this conversation and network.

This free conference was over-subscribed and the atmosphere was one of exploring new possibilities in the promotion and protection of mental health and wider wellbeing, with delegates and contributors alike galvanised to imagine new possibilities in the arts and public mental health. Sharing copies of the celebratory art magazine NOUS from Manchester, which explores the philosophical and poetic elements of mental difference and which includes contributors from around the world, I suggested the possibility that working with Socialiniai Meno Projektai, we should harness some of the passion and political will in the room, to bring people together through an informal Lithuanian arts and mental health network - and to kick start things - begin exploring a Lithuanian MANIFESTO for Arts and Mental WEalth. So, true to our word, this is a starting point, a seed of an idea, something we can grow together, whilst our minds and hearts are bursting with ideas.

Let’s share thoughts. Let’s begin to tell our story and share our vision and let’s start NOW. Those of you involved in the conference, we ask that you respond to these simple questions.

(are you a survivor, an artist, a health or social worker, a politician...we are rich and varied people, so tell us a little about yourself)

(no answer is wrong - it may be knowledge, it may be experience, it may be time and energy...or anything else)

(those of us attending the conference are inspired to create positive change, but how do we tell this story, share our evidence and inspire others who may just not yet understand it)

(feel free to express anything about this see of an idea...anything)

Send your responses to Ieva Petkute by May 9th and before the month is through, we’ll have our first ideas of how we’ll grow as a movement in Lithuania...and create our first draft of a manifesto. For details in Lithuanian go to   

I want to thank extend my personal thanks to Artūras Vasiliauskas, Director of The British Council in Lithuania for his continued enthusiasm, generosity and commitment to innovation in this field. It was wonderful to meet new and inspirational people who took part in the day and a huge thank you for the warmth and friendship of my hosts. 

No comments:

Post a Comment