Monday, 12 October 2015

…a small scale global phenomenon

Last Wednesday the 7th October, I welcomed 120 people to the latest North West Arts and Health Network event in collaboration with the Manchester School of Art, Arts & Health Research Network. As guests from around the region and further afield arrived, the dulcet sounds of Caretaker and An Empty Bliss Beyond this World lulled us into feelings of great expectations for the day ahead, its hypnotic, repetitive and fractured melodies, setting the scene for the planned breakaways around dementia and the arts and mental health and the arts.

The day began with a short section of an interview I'd made with Mike White from the Centre for Medical Humanities, and who died earlier this year. In part, this was a gentle homage to the man, but it also helped set the tone and themes for the day. I’d asked Mike - what was the value of gathering people from different communities and cultures together on occasions like this. This is what he replied.

I spent a little time extending this idea of our shared interests, and our common ground and posited the notion - like all those movements that had deep roots in Manchester from Suffrage to the Kinder Trespass, by way of the Arts and Health movement - that we are in fact - a Social Movement. Embracing something of the feeling in the air generated by the groundswell of grassroots support and active action around the Labour Party leadership elections, I shared a reading of the Recoverist Manifesto, which (I hope) illustrated perfectly, the synergy between the arts - and people who may be disconnected to arts/culture - and proactive change. The leap from passively accepting the stigma, labels and demonisation propagated by the media - from benign recovery - to passionate Recoverism.

Most of our regional events spend time in deep discussion, but this event was different, afterall, we had guests from Japan, Finland and our first speakers from Lithuania who shared their stories of empowerment through the arts, illustrated beautifully through their work with people with physical and intellectual differences. Whilst arts/health is a new phenomena in Lithuania, Ieva and Simona shared their expanding research and practice in dementia care and mental health. Their work in understanding the impact of cultural interventions on the wellbeing and health of clinical staff, is breaking new ground.

From Helsinki in Finland, Kirsi Lajunen of the Arts Promotion Centre shared the findings of her counties long-term strategic work in arts and health development. Her work is best summarised by the belief that:‘Art questions, seeks and creates meanings. Art belongs to everyone. This is why we support artistic expression.’

From Osaka, Japan the artist, Yutaka Moriguchi and 11 colleagues from design, medical and cultural sectors shared activity and research currently taking place in their country. Largely focused in clinical settings, this work, alongside that taking place in Finland and Lithuania gave all of us present a strong feeling of affinity and camaraderie. We are not alone - our drive towards a more cultural engaged, fairer and more connected society is a shared one. There may be cultural nuances, but our vision and passion are shared and increasingly understood by policy makers. This would be something we returned to later in the day.

At this point, I have to say a huge thanks to all of you who made our visitors so, so welcome on their visits to your place of work. You made their time here rich and incredibly rewarding. Thank you.

Following lunch, the day split into two loosely themed areas around our mental health and wellbeing and dementia. This was planned in simple response to those of you who wanted to share your practice and research. Thank you Tom Macan, Miriam Avery, Alison Bowry, Sheila Gleadhill, Rachel Radford, Sarah Greaves, Carol Hanson, Jeni McConnell, Sarah Lawton, Stacey Coughlin, Kathryn West, Tom Jefferies, Kate Bevan, Luz Loguercio, Helen Felcey and Kat Taylor. These breakaways were enthusiastically received and really make events like this. 
Superb and thank you again.

So, our last period of time together, was probably the most important part of the day. The conversation. The starting point was simple - we’d developed our Manifesto for Arts & Health - we’d revisited again in February at Chaos & Comfort and now - considering our feelings of solidarity - it seemed right to begin to go a little deeper.

...and low - it came to pass, that Greater Manchester began to consider how this arts and health movement might connect more explicitly to public health within the devolution agenda that is taking place across its 10 districts. If ever there was a time to consider our place within this emerging work, now seems the time. I’d had a strategic conversation with people involved in the process and wanted to explore these ideas and possibilities with those activists on the ground in research and practice.

“...if we had the opportunity to influence cultural change in a public health agenda across Greater Manchester as part of devolution, what would our offer be?”

So, grouped around tables, we shared ideas and threw some thoughts into the pot. Here’s a little of what we discussed. 

A key critical issue would be that to integrate the arts and culture more formally to the devolution and public health agenda, they would need to be understood in terms of existing and emerging priorities of public health across Greater Manchester. Linking the arts would need to be meaningful and well thought through, not a smoke screen for simply glossing over systemic issues, and avoiding the social determinants of health - or in the worst case, a cost-cutting exercise. It was suggested that the work needs to be about investing in the arts and not‘volunteerism’.

Whilst biennial style festivals and celebratory events were seen by some as potentially positive vehicles for promoting health, efficacy of impact beyond the feel-good factor has to be thought through. Perhaps multi-site festivals across GM taking place in GP’s, libraries, schools, hospitals, voluntary sector and cultural venues/institutions. 

The work should be about increasing the visibility of the arts and their potency, and communicating cultural value. A discussion about evidence and research ensued. Do we really want to understand the impact of the arts on public health in the language of scientism and reductionism? How can we understand cultural value through rich mixed methodologies? We should encourage input and comment on the government’s consultation on its new White Paper; The Places Challenge. We also note that Public Health England includes the arts within it’s new publication to tackle health inequalities. Click HERE for more details.

Key factors around the education and training of health and social care professionals emerged across the majority of participants tables, as did an emphasis on the use of community spaces with multiple uses and actors. This has been highlighted nationally by organisations like the Bromley by Bow Centre and BlueSCI and the reimagining of mainstream cultural organisations.
Loneliness emerged as a key health theme - not specifically confined to older, isolated people, but stretching across the generations. Perhaps this was an opportunity to explore some of the longer-term negative consequences of social media, as opposed to the much lauded positive consequences. Across all participants tables extensive notes were made on:
The everyday participation in the arts of people who feel excluded or distanced by them
The word INCLUSIVITY was repeated across all tables
That we should CONSULT with artists and through creative methodologies
We should gather EVIDENCE in all we do
The focus of much of our work is PROCESS over outcome 
We should work with the LONG-TERM in mind moving beyond short term investment
We should think GENERATIONALLY about cultural change
We want TRANSPARENCY in cultural and health strategic planning
We want to SHARE the EVIDENCE and have it freely available
Health Visitors and Early Years Nurses are seen as POWERFUL ALLIES
RESEARCH ARTISTS placed in community and clinical settings could bring new understanding to complex problems
We are an explicit SOCIAL MOVEMENT that could affect change in public health and social change across Greater Manchester
Questions that were left in the air include:
How do we share our research and practice with health professionals?
How can artists become (as appropriate) part of a multi-disciplinary team?

Where to now? 
Well, I’ll report back on that very soon...

For now, again, just big thanks to all of you who got involved and to all of you who made time to share your work with Ieva, Simona, Kirsi and Yutaka and all her colleagues from Japan. You made me very proud to be part of our North West Region!

Are you aware of ongoing research and/or evaluation of arts based work with nurses and other clinical staff that aims to improve the wellbeing of staff and which isn’t focused on how they work creatively with patients? So all about the health and wellbeing of the workforce. I’d be really grateful of links to any projects, research or evaluation. Email HERE. Many thanks. 

…and whilst we have nurses in mind, the brilliant PRN online magazine has a feature by the A&E nurse, David Flecknoe about his training as a Speciality Registrar in Public Health. Excellent and click on the image below to read it.

DCMS White Paper Consultation
The Government has begun a consultation exercise in the run-up to the publication of a White Paper for the Arts. The Places Challenge invites the public to “share and discuss your ideas on how culture and heritage can shape vibrant healthy communities across the country”. Click HERE to register and comment. 

Whilst the government consults on the arts, another campaign has been launched to persuade MP’s to support public investment in the arts. The What Next? initiative, a campaign bringing together cultural leaders, includes an information pack available online with guidance on how to make a case for the arts. Supporters are also being asked to promote the campaign on social media. The move comes as the government prepares its comprehensive spending review in November, which is expected to mean a cut of up to 40% across most government departments, including the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Source: AI)

Arts as a resource for tackling health inequalities
Public Health England has published a series of resources to help local authorities address health inequalities. The guidance and resources, which include a series of written and video stories to encourage local action on health inequalities, emphasise that the creative arts can “help individuals build and maintain social connections and can be beneficial for health and wellbeing.” Click HERE. 

42nd Street, a Manchester-based mental health charity working with young people under stress, has today received £516,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) with further support from LandAid and the Redevco Foundation to enable the opening of its new venue, The Horsfall, in May 2016. The Horsfall builds on 42nd Street’s trusted and innovative approach to improving young people’s mental health. The programme will see national and international artists, makers and heritage experts, working with local young people to reinterpret stories from the past, their own stories and to imagine new futures. On Monday 3rd November at 4pm, BBC Radio 4 will broadcast Taking Art to the People a 30 minute documentary exploring the history of the Ancoats Art Museum and how 42nd Street is building on its legacy. The project will begin with the renovation and repurposing of an empty, Victorian shop into a three storey, dedicated creative space by Manchester based architects Stephenson STUDIO. The launch programme (2016-18) includes a site specific theatre experience, visual arts exhibitions, online collaborations between young people in the UK and Los Angeles and opportunities for young people to develop creative skills for a commercial market.  Want to know more? Get in touch with Julie McCarthy; 42nd Street’s Creative Producer who will bring young people together with some of the best creative minds to reimagine how we engage with heritage and the arts. Contact Julie HERE. 

Arts Development UK National Seminar: Arts, Health & Wellbeing
Venue: St David’s Hall, Cardiff
Date: Tuesday 1st December 2015

This national seminar in Arts Development UK’s professional development programme is aimed at officers involved in both policy and practice related to arts, health and wellbeing commissioning and service provision. Our training needs survey and previous seminar feedback indicated that arts officers across both England and Wales who are engaged in and keen to learn more this area of work. It will also assist health professionals to learn more about the benefits of applying arts and cultural participation to improve health and wellbeing. Speakers include Alex Coulter and Clive Parkinson. Click HERE for details.

Granada Foundation Grants Programme (North West)
The Granada Foundation has announced that the next closing date for applications is the 12th November 2015. Through its grants programme, the Foundation wishes to encourage and promote the study, practice and appreciation of the fine arts, including drawing, architecture and landscape architecture, sculpture, literature, music, opera, drama, cinema, and the methods and means of their dissemination. The Foundation also welcomes applications which aim to engage and inspire young people and adults to take an interest in science. Click on the Granada logo above.

Funding for Digital Projects with a social impact 
The Nominet Trust which provides funding and support to technology with a social benefit, has announced that its Social Tech Seed Investment Programme re-opened for applications on the 1st October 2015. Social Tech Seed is an investment programme that offers early-stage investment of between £15,000 and £50,000 to social entrepreneurs and charitable organisations who are looking to develop new ideas to use digital technology for social benefits. This programme provides funding and support to help entrepreneurs nurture, develop and test their ideas. The Trust is looking for applications that demonstrate the potential of technology to tackle some of the big social issues in sectors including wellbeing and healthcare. More details at


1 comment:

  1. Hi Clive,
    Great to read all of this - what wonderful work there is, going on all over the globe. I have a sense that there is a critical mass now of people dedicated to the arts in well-being and health. Thank you for being such a catalyst. Warm wishes x