Saturday, 24 May 2014

You cannot restrict the mind's capacity

Last Thursday, the North West Arts and Health Network was proud to host an over-subscribed event led by Mike White from the Centre for Medical Humanities. With a presentation entitled - Randomised Thoughts, Controlled Ramblings and a few Trialised Thoughts - we knew we were going to get something mischievous from this cross-Pennine foray into the historical arts and health, hilltop fortress that is Mamucium (or rather the Manchester Art School), and Mike didn’t let us down. Opening his presentation with Psycho Killer by the Talking Heads, he took us on a journey that conjoined his early work by way of Welfare State International to the possibilities of generating new traditions. 

Blasting the crass commercialism of the Baguette of the North and imploring us to share something of the spiritus mundi, Mike framed much of his presentation in David Byrne’s ‘slow dawning insight about creation,’ that 'context is everything.' Urging us to consider Bevan’s collective commitment to social habits and offering the best we can give to society, he subverted the context of health and safety from authoritative and risk-averse control, to caring for each other. His own work illustrated perfectly how investing in children and young people reaps dividends in generational change, not least in creating young researchers who inform new ways of thinking, being and doing.

Discussing the current ‘trends’ in research and evaluation, he poked a blunt stick in the side of reductionists and reflected on the range of documents ‘out there’ and drew from the 2004 Kings Fund report: Finding Out What Works: Building Knowledge about complex, community-based initiatives, as one of the most useful.

For me, there were some key messages from his presentation and the illuminating and animated formal and informal discussions that followed. He raised some fundamental questions, of which these a few, and which I will leave hanging in the air for you to ponder:
  • Why does the state fund the arts?
  • What is health for?
  • How do we better disseminate evidence?
On the final question and that of the 40+ members of the fledgling Arts and Health Research Network, we had a short discussion about the ongoing role of the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing and alongside the burgeoning archive of research data held at MMU, how this might be made freely available to a wider international community. More on this soon. His discussion of being at the crossroads in research and of having the ‘empirical highway’ or the ‘lantern road,’ resonated with some and was questioned by others (see below), but for me echoed the dangers of thinking that one size fits all. The agendas of those working in clinical settings and those working in communities have shades and nuances that can’t be aggregated into one crude ‘measurement.’

For my own part, the constant cries for a Gold Standard in arts/health research is horribly flawed. After all, it seems it's the big pharma model that’s being held up. Well, that objectivity isn’t skewed by greed and manipulation, is it? When Gold is used in our context, might it be more appropriate to think in terms of Gold Methods and not Standards? More subtle, reflexive and appropriate. 

Whilst there is room for diversity in the way we understand cultural value and the subtle impacts of creativity and the arts across societies, context is critical, as is placing people at the heart of what it is that we do - not simply seeing them as subjects to be ‘done to.’

I was struck by a sense of shared vision with those present and Mike embodied what I can only describe as an authentic voice in this arts/health field. So often, the agenda is scuppered by those looking to patent their ideas or position themselves as central to a field which Mike so clearly illustrates is emergent and ever changing. His own slow and honest dawning insight in this journey, is enriching to be a part of. I can only say thank you Mike. 

coda 1
There is a tradition of radical thinking in Manchester, a place that urbanist Anna Minton describes as the ‘bellwether for social change in Britain.’ It has been a temporary home to Engels and Marx and the Pankhurst family were residents, the city arguably being instrumental in universal suffrage and the co-operative and working-class movements - deluded or not - I think of this arts/health movement as having strong roots in this place and tradition too.

As part of what Mike describes as this small scale global phenomenon, the good citizens of the People’s Republic of Arts and Health (AKA the NW Network) would like to confer upon him the honour of citizenship and thus, our highest award, that of honorary Mamucium Republican. Judging by all the extended email signatures of my esteemed colleagues in academia - which seem to be growing day-by-day with fellowships, societies and much conflated (oft purchased or self generated) clap-trap - this means he can now refer to himself proudly as MR (Hons).

Much as though I tried to audio record the event for those of you who could’t attend, the quality of the sound is appalling, so it will be left for those of us who attended to disseminate his thoughts through loud-hailers on street corners, or hushed whispers on hospital corridors. I also offer some quick reflections from some of the people who attended.

9 reflections...

“...I found his talk to be thoughtful, sensitive and full of respect for the participants he has worked with. It was a pleasure to listen to and a reminder of the power of creativity to bring communities together and to transform people’s lives.”

“...As always Mike was inspiring and it was really great to hear someone talking about the realities of our work. A great spokesman for what we are all doing.”

“...the image of a fork in the road frightens me as it feels that these directions are moving away from each other, which feels pretty hopeless! {…} developing our smaller scale artist led research I have found my path much more meandering with my practice and those I practice with…”

“... I'm inspired by the lantern and transition projects and would like to initiate a new project with my local community.”

“...what has touched me the most and made me think deeply? Having a motivating aesthetic - it's what drives my work, only that I had never found the words to describe it so greatly. Oh - and 'Psycho Killer' is in my top 5 favourite songs ever.”

“... succinct and informative - from embedding 'memories' into a calendar to the debates surrounding cultural contexts and a need to follow one's intuition concerning local needs, research and funding.”

“...I was fascinated with the concept of 'flourishing' and whether one can flourish even in ill health. I would answer a definite 'yes' to that from experiences both personal and professional. The networking afterwards was great too. So useful to talk with others exactly on your wavelength!” 

“...he blows the instrumentalists out of the water…”

“ engaging and challenging a figure you could ever hope to meet holding a lantern at the crossroads…”

...and following in the footsteps of MR White, Winston Churchill
The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust has announced its areas of interest for the next round of fellowships. These involve travel for from 4 to 8 weeks to one or more countries to look at examples of best practice, innovation and inspiration, and then return to disseminate these experiences for the benefit of the Fellow’s organisation or community. Some of this year’s areas:

-  The Arts and Older People
-  Early Years Prevention and Intervention
-  Environment and Sustainable Living
-  Prison and Penal Reform
-  Young People 18-25
-  Medicine, Health and Patient Care
-  Science, Technology and Innovation

These are available to anyone (UK citizen) ‘with a passion for their subject,’ and so the focus is as much, if not more, on practitioners and professionals as on academic personnel. If you are interested in applying, or know practitioners/professionals who might be good applicants, the information is available by clicking on Churchill's own private war room below.
The deadline for applications is September 23, 2014.

Wingate Foundation – Performing Arts grants
Deadline: 23 June, 19 September & 12 December 2014
The Wingate Foundation’s Performing Arts grants programme is open for applications (this does not include music, which has a separate fund). Particular emphasis is given to providing financial support for not-for-profit companies with a record of artistic excellence that require additional funding (not available from public sources or commercial sponsorship) to broaden their repertoire or develop work of potentially outstanding interest. Assistance will also be considered for training and professional development for creative talent or the technical professions. Read more at:

Paying Artists campaign: website launches as support grows
A new campaign aimed at securing a fair deal for artists working with publicly funded galleries in the UK is launched today. Led by a-n and AIR, the Paying Artists campaign comes after research revealed that more than 70% of artists are not paid for contributing their work to publicly-funded exhibitions. Almost as many have turned down offers from galleries because they can’t afford to work for nothing. The campaign, which has its own dedicated website and is supported by some of the UK’s leading arts organisations including the Design and Copyright Society (DACS), Artquest, Axisweb, NSEAD and Arts Development UK. International support has come from the Swedish Artists’ National Organisation, CARFAC in Canada and Visarte in Switzerland.

Susan Jones, director of a-n the Artists Information Company, said: “Unless we start valuing the artist as well as the art, in future galleries will only be showing work by the privileged few who can afford to work for nothing. The Paying Artists campaign is about tackling the inequalities faced by artists and giving galleries and the visiting public access to quality art that genuinely covers the spectrum of human experience.”

Aphorisms on Futurism (1914) by Mina Loy (part 2)

LET the Universe flow into your consciousness, there is no limit to its capacity, nothing that it shall not re-create.

UNSCREW your capability of absorption and grasp the elements of Life—Whole.

MISERY is in the disintegration of Joy;
Intellect, of Intuition;
Acceptance, of Inspiration.

CEASE to build up your personality with the ejections of irrelevant minds.

NOT to be a cipher in your ambient,
But to color your ambient with your preferences.

NOT to accept experience at its face value.

BUT to readjust activity to the peculiarity of your own will.

THESE are the primary tentatives towards independence.

MAN is a slave only to his own mental lethargy.

YOU cannot restrict the mind’s capacity.

THEREFORE you stand not only in abject servitude to your perceptive consciousness — BUT also to the mechanical re-actions of the subconsciousness, that rubbish heap of race-tradition — AND believing yourself to be free—your least conception is colored by the pigment of retrograde superstitions.

HERE are the fallow-lands of mental spatiality that Futurism will clear—
MAKING place for whatever you are brave enough, beautiful enough to draw out of the realized self.

TO your blushing we shout the obscenities, we scream the blasphemies, that you, being weak, whisper alone in the dark.

THEY are empty except of your shame.

AND so these sounds shall dissolve back to their innate senselessness.

THUS shall evolve the language of the Future.

THROUGH derision of Humanity as it appears—
TO arrive at respect for man as he shall be—
ACCEPT the tremendous truth of Futurism
Leaving all those


This blog is a-political - honestly! I just have to say this. One trick-pony jingoistic deluded zealots. Thank goodness for those spirits and minds that influence and feed me and this movement. All hail colleagues, immigrants and friends who infect me with ideas and challenge apathy. Thank you. The world is rich and diverse. Albion is small and needs your input.

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