Sunday, 19 April 2015


Over the last 5 years Arts for Health and people who are part of our North West Arts and Health Network, have contributed to the development of three, yes three manifesto’s! A Manifesto for Arts and Health in 2011, a follow up in 2012 and just this year Recoverist Manifesto. We’ve contributed to similar developments in Lithuania and Australia and of course, influenced a National Charter in the UK. What connects all these statements of conviction - what are they all about - possibilities, passion and belief, but above all this, real vision.

So this week in the UK, we’ve seen the publication of political manifesto’s across the spectrum. As bedtime reading, I set about reading the major parties statements of principle, hoping for some glimmer of vision beyond hollow, promises.

I’m left deflated but not unbowed.

The Reality
First of all, these faux policy documents are intended to swamp you. Just too much sales jargon, with little in the way of meticulously thought through methods of delivery. The full documents, with all their big community photographs, would be beyond digestible to most people, the summaries all fur coat and no nickers. So, bleary eyed, I focused down to the arts and culture, (with a wary eye on health) or, as so many of them refer to them, ‘the cultural industries’. (question to self - does this make me an industrialist?)

Do I have to include UKIP? Well if I must, other than noticing only one black face in the whole epic shambles (and that was on the ‘overseas aid’ page), their cultural section is headed by the legend: ‘UKIP believes in Britain. We believe Britain can be a strong, proud, independent, sovereign nation. We are the envy of the world for our rich history, our art and our architecture, our monarchy’.  It’s leader is committed to scrapping, ‘tuition fees for students studying science, technology, engineering, maths, or medical degrees’. So here’s a clear message to arts and humanities students everywhere! That’s about it for their contribution. It’s worth noting that people from different ethnic backgrounds make up 14% of our population...that’s around eight million people, including the artists that provoke and entertain us and the surgeons that cut out your tumours, nurses that care for you and the teachers that educate your children - and just about every other walk of life that contributes to our grand country.

The Green Party manifesto was actually coherent and intelligent with great LGBT policy, but its references to culture and the arts were near nonexistent. Shame - in my heart, it feels it should be something they understand intrinsically. They suggest ‘Public support for the arts is part of a civilised society,’ but only go on to promise to ‘support initiatives the arts and sport accessible to all’. Other than working to support ‘fair pay’ in the arts - that’s about it, though their commitment to public health seems fair. 

The Liberal Democrats produced another very full document and their pledge to both transform mental health services and equalise parity between mental and physical health is not to be questioned. In fact most of the other parties have jumped on the bandwagon with this one. So too, they promise to ‘publish a national wellbeing strategy, which puts better health and wellbeing for all at the heart of government policy. This will cover all aspects of government policy, including transport, access to nature, and housing, at national and local level.’ I found this appealing and interesting, but the fact culture and the arts are missing here, is a real disappointment. In fact, I had to scroll through the index to find their minimal reference to ‘Pride in Creativity’, which started well with, ‘Liberal Democrats understand that arts, creative industries and culture are crucial to Britain’s success and essential for personal fulfilment and quality of life’, and ended with the usual platitudes common to all manifesto’s around the familiar refrain of maintaining free access to museums and galleries. They do however, seem committed to equality and diversity across the board.

The Conservatives sandwiched ‘Heritage, Creativity and Sports’ coquettishly between the NHS and Big Society! Do they realise how visionary they could have been if they’d bridged the two? So near, and yet so very, very far. They inevitably lead the way in the language of commodifying culture and the arts, declaring, ‘the creative industries have become our fastest-growing economic sector, contributing nearly £77 billion to the UK economy – driven in part by the tax incentives for films, theatre, video games, animation and orchestras we introduced. Our support for the film industry has resulted in great British films and encouraged Hollywood’s finest to flock to the UK.’ Hey Ho - it’s all about the money (...and yes, I know there are mentions of Manchester in there - obviously). 

Although it’s on the back page of its manifesto and may seem out of the loop to our North West community, Plaid Cymru give 2 pages to the arts and commit to access for all, young people’s acces to the arts and family participation in the arts. Their celebration of Welsh culture and identity is rich and central to their strategy. Again, the Scottish National Party whilst seeming distant from the NW, inevitably holds some power in the event of a hung parliament. At the time of writing this blog however, they were the only party not to have published their manifesto.

And finally, for our English voters at least, there’s the Labour Party who kick off with something of a vision, that, ‘Labour believes that art and culture gives form to our hopes and aspirations and defines our heritage as a nation. The arts allow us to celebrate our common humanity in the creation and celebration of beauty. The arts should belong to all and be open to all to take part in. We will guarantee a universal entitlement to a creative education so that every young person has access to cultural activity and the arts by strengthening creative education in schools and after-school clubs. Institutions that receive
arts funding will be required to open up their doors to young people, and we will work with public bodies to rebalance arts funding across the country.

Labour do do something a little more solid, and balance the story of ‘economic innovation’ alongside the arts as being a ‘powerful force in social renewal’. But they offer a small nugget in a commitment to ‘create a Prime Minister’s Committee on the Arts, Culture and Creative Industries, with a membership drawn from all sectors and regions. The Committee will bring issues of concern direct to the attention of the Prime Minister.’ It’s early days, and this is of course a manifesto promise from a party in opposition, not in office. But if Labour are successful, the arts and health community must hold them to this promise and insure our agenda’s (plural) are heard, and acted on - not in some reductive, mono-cultural, geographically specific, prescriptive manner - but as a deeply rich movement, with cross-cutting potential across the political spectrum - less disease focused - and truly focused on the social determinants of health.

It should be mandatory for all eligible adults to vote. If you haven’t registered to vote do so before the end of play on 20th April @ 

The Delusion
So, eight million people are from ethnic minorities in the UK and one makes it onto the pages of UKIP’s manifesto. I guess we should be reassured by our current senior ministers and the rich ethnic and gender balance of our Cabinet Office. Let’s have a peek eh? Of the 22 current Ministers, we have five women. Well that’s four more then when Mrs Thatcher was in power. OK maybe she let homophobic Janet Young have a seat at high table for a year, but my rather sordid namesake Cecil Parkinson, soon pushed her off it. Still, surely today's Cabinet must have a rich ethnic mix? Hmmm Secretary of Sate for Culture, Media and Sport and former Vice President at Chase Manhattan Bank, Sajid Javid. So that looks pretty much like 1 of 22 people. Oh dear. Still, we have Pickles in the cabinet - that’s one thing to be grateful of. (a pickle is a vegetable isn’t it?)

I actually miss Sayeeda Warsi being in cabinet. She resigned over the government’s policy on Gaza, which she described as ‘morrally indefencable’ - ah a politician with a free voice and principles - very rare indeed. Perhaps I’d give her a role in my dream cabinet alongside Glenda Jackson who could share some arts responsibility with Banksy. Maybe Adam Curtis and Warsi might make a great job-share in Justice. Peter Tatchell - you can share Equity + Diversity somehow with someone from Femen and maybe, just maybe we can rope Russell Brand in as PM for a while. Hey - maybe even as El Presidente? But I guess that's another story.

Hey ho - who’d be on your dream cabinet reshuffle? 

Still, we need to vote. If our arts/health agenda is concerned with anything and we’re serious about addressing inequalities and the social determinants of health - we should look to civic society and social justice in our work. Let’s exercise this right, long fought for by our relatives and let's motivate other people to vote too.

Let's remember the key things (edited down for this blog) that we agreed when we pulled our first manifesto together:

>we aspire to our vision of a better society, not a big society, and will share this vision far and wide and inspire and support people in the struggle to get there

>we will plant culture at the core of other strands of decision making and influence the hearts and minds politicians and the public

>our language will speak to a wider community and not be self-congratulatory or sanctimonious

>we embrace diverse disciplines and are not constrained by individual professions

>we will challenge ourselves to engage with the cynical

>we take the long-view and look beyond short-termism to generational change

>we will nurture local activity that embraces a world view

>we will not reduce our work to a standardised form, but will articulate our potency by co-creating a common language and shared vision

>this is a movement, we are the resources; we will tell the story of our work and like a virus, will spread 

>we will meet, we will talk, we will argue and we will influence change, thriving on critique and rallying our resources...face-to-face, person-to-person

>creativity goes beyond materialism and is like food and water, art is an expression of imagination and a powerful vehicle for social change

The Aspiration
At the Chaos and Comfort event in February, 200+ people came to MMU to discuss arts and public health research and practice. It was a damn fine day. As part of the event we discussed the Arts and Health Manifesto and where we were in the here and now. Those present made copious notes of which I have studiously aggregated and transcribed, so to round off this Election Special, and in a period where our politicians seem a little devoid of vision, may I share our rapid-fire 2020 Chaos and Comfort aspirations:

Prevention is Better than Cure (FACT)

The poorest people are disenfranchised, disengaged and disempowered by the current political system  

Arts and Culture inspire and influence people, but so many people feel disconnected to the arts 

Inequalities in health and culture are endemic amongst the most economically disadvantaged people 

Charges in education prevents people expanding their horizons and progressing

Increasing inequalities are unacceptable - our work is increasingly political with both a small p and a big p


We will start with What Works and not get bogged down with what doesn’t 

We will smash & burn the BARRIERS & BOUNDARIES that we are told prevent us from moving forwards

By 2020:

- the economic case for the arts (+ health) has been accepted 

- artists and health professionals working together are being paid well for their endeavours

- a national/international body of evidence is freely available and constantly expanding

- we are a valued profession

- arts education from early years onwards is expanding and flourishing

- we will be providing free, enthusiastic support for each other through multi-sectoral events

- we have developed new research models

- culture will have escaped the clutch of pseudo-scientists and understand its value in its own terms

- the arts will be valued within their own rights, within health and social care and beyond slavish instrumentalism

- passion for the arts is nurtured in schools

- human experience will be valued alongside scientific evidence

- bridges between research organisations and communities will be commonplace

- the arts are reconnected to the people

- we speak a rich and common language

- health and wellbeing are influenced by participation and engagement in cultural activity

- research is undertaken for deeper understanding of culture beyond blind financial justification

- wellbeing is understood in terms beyond selfish individualism and superficial happiness 

- pessimism is not seen as a symptom of depression but a healthy response to injustices 

- health doesn’t just happen in a clinical vacuum and culture and the arts don’t just happen in galleries and theatres 

- we are a cultural and political movement


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