Thursday, 16 June 2016 you see the noses growing - wonder where the truth is going?

Last Tuesday saw some of the pioneers of the arts and health movement come together at the Wellcome Trust to mark the Trust’s acquisition of arts and health archives as part of its 5-year strategic plan. The plan is to make this collection of archives available to the wider public. To mark the event Dr Langley Brown, Damian Hebron and Guy Eades have worked with Dr. Jenny Haynes, Head of Special Collections and Research at Wellcome, to organise and facilitate an Arts and Health Witness Seminar to mark this handover. I owe my huge thanks to them for this work and for inviting me to speak at the event which was chaired beautifully as ever, by Lord Howarth of Newport and with input from amongst others Peter Senior, Prof John Wyn Owen, Ali Clough, Gary Andsell and Prof Jane Macnaughton. Each ‘witness’ had five minutes to share their personal story and participants could ask questions of the panel. Lovely too, to have friends old and new in the room.

For my part, I chose to expand my thinking around public health and the arts and particularly what we know - but do so little to meaningfully address -  around social justice and inequalities. An extract from a performative presentation I’m preparing (Weapons of Mass Happiness), for a conference in the autumn, formed the basis of what I spoke about and I gently toyed with the casual racism of Oliver Letwin when he co-authored a confidential memo for Margret Thatcher’s Policy Unit following the Broadwater Farm Estate riots in 1988, in which he suggested that the riots were caused by bad behaviour not social conditions, arguing against investment in regeneration across the community, which he proposed would do little more than "subsidise Rastafarian arts and crafts workshops" where black "entrepreneurs will set up in the disco and drug trade.” Outrageous. 

I went on to explore an analysis of the 2011 riots across the UK, written by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in which they describe the inequalities that lay behind the riots as a ’social poison’ and the contributory factors that are well known: ‘lack of community, family difficulties, low social mobility, poor relations between police and young people, consumerism.’  The authors suggest that inequalities and status are rooted, ‘…in issues of dominance and subordination dating back to pre-human social ranking systems. They shape behaviour because we need different social strategies depending on where we come in the hierarchy and how hierarchical our society is’. 

It’s alarming then, that Oliver Letwin still works at the heart of UK Government and is currently Minister for Government Policy in the UK Cabinet Office, frequently described as a ‘cabinet of millionaires.’ You’ll be pleased to know then, that when his confidential memo became public, he expressed regret at any offence caused by his earlier comments. Well bravo Mr Letwin, that makes me confident in your ethical stance and that of our prime minister.

Before any official inquiry took place into the 2011 riots in the UK, writer Gillian Slovo was commissioned by Tricycle Theatre, to create a piece of verbatim theatre called The Riots about the events, and their possible causes, in which she used interviews from politicians, police, rioters and victims involved in the riots. Interestingly she spoke to the politician Michael Gove, who asked why young people needed the state to pay for services, when they could always join the scouts! Down with the kids Mr Gove.

Theatre critic Michael Billington described how, ‘once again, the theatre steals a march on officialdom {…} and, if the result can hardly be expected to provide any definitive answers, it asks the right questions in a way that is clear, gripping and necessary.’ Billington suggests as a piece of art, The Riots passes a vital test, ‘it offers us the evidence, and leaves us to form our own opinion as to why there is such anger on Britain's streets.’

Suggesting that artist led research offers us a nuanced understanding of how culture contributes to public debate, I highlighted the work of writer Jimmy McGovern, who has pre-empted the long-awaited Chilcot Inquiry into the legality of war in Iraq, through his drama REG about Reg Keys whose son died in 2003, in Iraq. Keys simply wanted an apology from Tony Blair when he stood against him in Sedgefield by-election 2005. Poignant, relevant and yet again, questioning the validity of what is considered gold-standard research - albeit this time, into weapons of mass destruction.

I posited the idea that we should be less concerned with instrumentalising the arts and more worried about the weaponising of the arts, particularly in light of the emergence of middle managers with little experience or vision in the field, and who are hell bent on commodifying the field - self aggrandising opportunists - who spot a hole in the market, and want to fill it with their ill-considered commercialisation of civic society. What the archive exposes however, is a slow and evolutionary reveal of intuition, experimentation and experience - born of vision.

But with the unpalatable Oliver Letwin on my mind, the seminar did leave me acutely aware that similarly to an event about devolution in Manchester earlier last week, we seemed to be a mono-cultural gathering. The old guard of the arts and health world appears to represent a very white mix, with, to my knowledge, no-one from black or minority ethnic communities in the room. In London or Manchester in 2016 - this is wrong in every way. I’m acutely aware of language when it comes to any form of discrimination - so please bear with me if I get it wrong - some questions then: 

What can we do about this?
I’ll do anything to help make change happen - get in touch with ideas.

Following the seminar, the first annual Mike White Lecture took place in which the poet Fiona Sampson gave a lovely presentation which conjoined her poetic research and healthcare, and something that Mike would have undoubtably been thrilled at. Mike was very present throughout the day.  

Biggest thanks to Langley Brown and John Hyatt for your enthusiasm and constant support.

SOUND - Arts & Health
An Afternoon with Vic McEwan and Toby Heys
Weds 29 June 2:00 - 5:00 
Manchester School of Art
Australian artist Vic McEwan is the Artistic Director of The Cad Factory, an innovative arts organisation based in regional NSW, Australia. He is the recipient of the Inaugural Arts NSW Regional Fellowship and was the 2015 Artist in Residence at the National Museum of Australia. Vic is in the UK over the next two weeks in residency at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and with Clive at the Manchester School of Art where we’re collaborating on joint work over 2015/17. Dr. Toby Heys is an artist working through and with a large range of electronic media technologies, mostly with a sonic focus. He is a Digital Technologies Researcher and Leader of the Future Technologies Research Centre at the Manchester School of Art and will present a project called ‘Furniture Music’, which is currently exhibiting at the Level Centre in Derbyshire. The project stemmed from working with people with Williams Syndrome, and more specifically from investigating their relationship to the soundscape given that many of those with the condition have a heightened sensitivity to music, noise and rhythm.

Vic will be giving a presentation about his recent arts practice focussing on 3 major projects. 

Buckingbong to Birrego - A 3 day walk over 55 km’s that commissioned artists to create work along the way.  This project started in collaboration with local Aboriginal Elders, at a place of historic Aboriginal Massacre and ended on a farm that is leading the way in environmental farming practice. Artists, community members, farmers and academics walked and camped and had discussions over three days that embraced tragedy, climate change and complexity.

Haunting - Vic’s major outcome of his residency at the National Museum of Australia was a project that explored the consequence of advances in technology that allowed the expansion of people and agriculture into inland Australia. This body of work was created by projecting large images over the Murrumbidgee River into shifting environmental conditions such as fog, mist, smoke. ThIs created a stunning series of images which propose to allow new understanding to emerge about the consequence of human decision making. 

Re-Hearing - This project is currently under development at Alder Hey Children’s hospital, and will see Vic, Clive and Arts Co-Ordinator Vicky Charnock working together to explore the negative effects of sound in hospitals and how artist led interventions might allow a process of education, understanding and rethinking.

Secure a very limited free place at this event by following this link: 

Meanwhile back in London
Sadiq Khan: I'll take the arts as seriously as housing and crime
London’s new mayor Sadiq Khan has pledged to take the arts as seriously as housing and crime.  The Mayor has vowed to take the arts as seriously as housing and crime, and confirmed he will appoint a “night czar” and help to protect music venues threatened with closure. Khan stated: “Supporting the arts and creative industries will be a core priority for my administration; right up there with housing, the environment and security, as one of the big themes that I want to define my time as Mayor.

People’s Postcode Trust: 2016 Grants
Deadline: 30 Sep
People’s Postcode Trust exists to try to make the world a better place through short-term, designated funding for projects that focus on the prevention of poverty, support healthy living initiatives and uphold human rights for some of society’s most vulnerable groups. It will also consider projects which help different communities come together for the benefit of their local area. Registered charities in England, Scotland & Wales can apply from £500-£20,000 (£10,000 in Wales), whilst other organisations may apply for up to £2,000

Paintings in Hospitals
Freelance Opportunity: Regional Coordinator (North East)
Contract: 12 months+, 30 hours per month (estimate). The role may include some evenings.
Fee: £400-450pcm retainer, exclusive of travel expenses
We are seeking a dynamic Regional Coordinator to help us increase the number of health and social care sites using our services in the North East of England.
As a national charity that uses art and creativity to improve the wellbeing of patients, staff and those caring for them, we create uplifting environments to benefit the lives of over 1.8 million patients, visitors and staff every year. 

'What I HATE about Arts in healthcare'
No - this isn't more about jumped-up twerps with their grandiose hyperbole, this is Victoria Jones formerly of Great Ormond Street Hospital and who launches her own organisation in Australia and starts with a naughty, but spot-on look, at what she hates about arts in healthcare!!10-Things-I-Hate-About-Art-in-Healthcare/c1e1p/57564f560cf2cc77abfa8ea4 


No comments:

Post a Comment