Sunday, 3 February 2019

What’s that coming over the hill... it a monster?
No silly, it’s the (released without fanfare in a time of Brexit) NHS ‘Social Prescribing and Community-based Support Summary Guide’ including its Common Outcomes Framework, alongside a template for ‘Link Workers’ and more insight into this agenda as part of the governments ‘Personalised Care’ agenda. Now, you’ll know I’ve already expressed a little concern over the offer of artists being ‘free social cures’! - but if this agenda is rolling out, it’s one we’ll need to not just engage with - but influence. There are a couple of brief references to the arts in this 30 page document, and at least it cites Creative Health as a point of reference. I can’t help thinking of the deeply grounded work that START in Salford have been delivering for decades, and to when I first really heard mention of Arts on Prescription in Stockport in the early 1990’s. So yes, let’s embrace it - but let’s look to where the public (not just the patients) alongside arts/cultural organisations drive the health and social change agenda. And let’s make sure the arts aren’t used as a smoke screen to hide the incremental funding cut
s and privatisation of the NHS! There are a raft of really interesting observations emerging around this agenda and Helen Salisbury writing on the BMJ and a response to her writing, are insightful. 

(a pause for Elisabeth Moss and Max Richter)

Another survey suggests that galleries are great for reducing this Global Plague of Anxiety (my words, not theirs). The Arts Fund suggest that young people who are stressed out of their minds are going in droves to galleries, to improve their mental health! Distressingly they also suggest in their survey, Calm and Collected, that: '40% of adults feel anxious some of the time.’ Good grief - 40%! You’ll forgive me for being a little in awe of the other 60% of adults, who we can assume, don’t feel anxious some of the time - ever! It must be amazing not to feel anxious/stressed/depressed when someone we love dies, we lose a job, we’re ill - or in fact - we’re dying ourselves. God - I love robust statistics. 

Of course, I think galleries and museums have a critical part to play in a healthy society, but I’m beginning to have serious worries about the contagion of anxiety. It seems that every single stress or anxiety has become a sickness to be cured, not just a normal part of life. I know just how much anxiety can be crippling, so if we’re all being told we’re anxious, it just becomes the way we understand ourselves - our defining characteristic, and therein lies the path to something more extreme, driven by shame and worthlessness.

No One's Coming to Save You
To find out more about the work of Smith & Genever and work that they explored with young people in a residential mental health unit, click HERE.

But back to galleries and museums and this influx of young people - I have a slightly cynical perspective framed by observation - the cult of the selfie. More and more I see people wielding their smart phones in an attempt to document their connection to culture, so we need to understand pseudo interaction with the arts beyond the easily instagram-able, to the collective - and this might involve thinking beyond simplistic ideas around happiness and anxiety, and rather, how the arts in all their forms ask difficult questions and hold all our thinking up to account.

Why are we fixating on calming the stressed masses and not exploring and fixing the factors that push people into serious mental stress? All the evidence shows that the most unequal people feel anxiety much more of the time, but perhaps are still less likely to visit galleries.

This is why the place of galleries in working with marginalised communities is a really interesting and bigger story - and one that whilst not offering 'solutions' to societies ills, might just ask the right questions and provoke deeper thinking. Gallery/arts participation has the potential to offer a real sense of community too and Dementia & Imagination research found that of 37% of the 271 people living with dementia, or caring for people with dementia in this research project - had never previously engaged with the arts. In other words, it was the condition of dementia that brought them to the arts for the very first time. This is powerful and significant. It would be very easy to believe that we somehow need to evidence the impact of the arts in the language of bio-medical science, but the arts do something more nuanced and subtle than that, and it's this blogger’s belief, that it’s the language of the arts in all their forms, which offer multiple means to explore the most complex of existential conversations - what it is to be human, to have finite life and to affect change. Not just in ourselves - but collectively.

Nou Ra
The work that I was lucky to be involved in with Portraits of Recovery around substance misuse and recovery, and which gave birth to the concept of recoverism moving away from passivity to cultural activism is an interesting case of point. This work has gathered momentum and spun off in a million directions, predominantly in work instigated by Mark Prest. This week he sent me one of those small golden moments in my week, which the artist Nou Ra has kindly agreed to me posting. Nou is one of a group of people behind the sold-out forthcoming performance of The Washing Up in Manchester. Directed by Kate Lodge, "The Washing Up is performed and created by people in addiction recovery. With original songs and stories, it takes an absurd look at the politics and practice of this every day act”. More details of the performance can be found HERE. So a big thanks for sharing this poetic piece of work with us Nou. It's a short and profound spoken word piece on anxiety and everyday life - it's raw and affecting. Click on this image/soundcloud above.

Love Makes A Mess Of Dying

Here’s a very readable article about the artist Greg Gilbert who used to be in the band The Delays, and who since a cancer diagnosis has created a superb body of work; both poems and visual art. He currently has an exhibition at the Southampton City Art Gallery until 6th May, and a new book of poetry -  Love Makes A Mess Of Dying. Full details HERE to the Tim Jonze feature. Profound & beautiful Greg and I've got my order in for this book and more on this blog very soon. Photograph: Zachary Culpin/Solent News. 

A Recipe for Home...I'm proud to be supporting my optional Masters in Arts, Health & Wellbeing students in a participatory exhibition they have created exploring concepts of, and ingredients to making a home. It all takes place on the first floor of the Righton building on Cavendish Street on the 7th of February from 11.00-16.00, with two facilitated workshops at 13:30 and 14:00.

Two footnotes:

#1. Jeremy Hardy: intelligent/wicked - forensic/warm - political/integrity 

#2. Bob Mortimer: just wonderful on Desert Island Discs.

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