Sunday, 28 February 2016

Arts and Health - in Fashion?

...if that’s the case - beware!

Working at Manchester School of Art, I am exposed weekly to some sublime and challenging work produced by students and staff alike.(not the ludicrous and non-MMU image above) With my colleague Helen Felcey, I run an optional Health & Wellbeing unit for masters students in the arts school that is in its third year now, and is explores a public health and inequalities agenda. 

Building on previous work with MA Design Lab students, the first year we ran it, the work was focused on substance misuse and resulted in many rich outcomes including the RECOVERIST MANIFESTO. The second wave of students all contributed to a rich showcase of activity at the CHAOS & COMFORT event and launch of an AHRC Cultural Value research synthesis. Now the third cohort of students have been working around a very explicit MENTAL HEALTH agenda and the work produced has been challenging, nuanced and quite wonderful. My genuine frustration is that the work isn’t more widely available and in reality, is exhibited for one day for the purposes of assessment! 

This optional unit is quite an interesting approach to exploring the arts and health agenda in higher education. For one thing, the students by and large are that bit older; have most certainly spent a few years refining their practice and have the key ingredient - a little more life experience - both positive and negative! So - for my part - this way of working with students with a bit of nous, but without restricting their practice to arts and health in its totality, is liberating for them - and illuminating for us.

There’s a temptation to think that we should be creating new undergraduate courses in arts and health, but for my money - letting younger students really flourish in their own creative practice and evolve in their thinking - is critical. But then Arts and Health is really flavour of the month and wellbeing is bursting out all over! It’s great that our agenda and the cultural value of the arts is at last being understood, but if it’s just a fashionable fad - we could quite possibly be doomed!

We’ll all have seen that beleaguered Health Secretary Hunt was recently held up as an arts and health champion of sorts! Well, we can see the sorts of decisions he is making, and in our austerity obsessed country, it all seems part of an inevitable chopping up the NHS into useful cost-efficient pieces. No, this arts and health agenda doesn’t need pint-sized venture philanthropists commodifying the field, but rather people with intelligence, nuance and values. Still, ‘now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.’(or something of similar grand proportions)

Those students who through a considered and aggregated process, explored the very real texture of human experience and displayed work that isn’t the slightest bit ‘on trend’ -  remind me that those jumping on this agenda because it’s ‘fashionable’ will be exposed in the fullness of time for their opportunist vacuity. Let’s celebrate our emerging artists and free thinkers who offer our world extraordinary ways of thinking, seeing and just maybe - doing.

The Center for Arts in Medicine at the University of Florida has a new website which features a new research database over 1,000 articles specifically related to arts and health. This free open-access database is available to anyone. Great stuff from Jill Sonke and her colleagues and wonderful to see people in the field making this work freely available. CLICK HERE. 

Open Call for NOUS 7 - The Work Issue

For many of us being at work or working for a living takes up more than half of our time.

Probably also more than half of the time of our whole lives. In this issue we want to explore how our work can cause distress, make us unhappy but also show off alternatives that show how fulfilling a profession can be. Is there such a thing as good work and bad work? How do other cultures “work”, how did our grandparents “work”. What work has been done to make the world “better”. What is work, or labour, or profession, and what does it mean to us? Is working in our blood, is it good for our soul to do stuff? Many questions to explore, send us your proposals for essays, short stories, and poetry to

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