Saturday, 9 March 2019

The Manchester Declaration

That was the week that was...

...rounded off with an excellent conversation between Mark Prest and Melanie Manchot as part of Whitworth Thursday lates, this conversation explored the relationship between Recoverism and Manchot’s work Twelve (2015) commissioned by Portraits of Recovery. It seem’s fitting to top this blog posting with this extraordinary piece of work that really put’s a line down in the sand blurring the boundaries between contemporary art and recoverism. It’s a seminal piece of work in the field and marks a ten year evolution in Prest’s cultural reimagining of the lived experience of recovery from substance misuse.

But this was Thursday night.

I’d just spent the previous hour in an exhibition of Lucy Burscough in the same gallery, and was still processing the jewel-like beauty of her work exploring the lives of people who have undergone treatment for facial cancers. Her small portraits of Graeme who has undergone numerous procedures are a thing of troubling beauty. This man exudes dignity and warmth and his, like may other stories in this exhibition, unfold for us all, to slowly take in. Questions of identity and sense of self and a real humanity fit this room, and alongside image of people who have undergone facial surgery, the story of the surgeon is there too. It’s an important exhibition of work and further cements Burscough’s place in this important field which bridges medical humanities with something altogether very, very human. The exhibition, Facing Out runs until 2nd June.

Lucy Burscough, Graeme, 2017

On Wednesday how I wished I could be in multiple places all at once, and I missed the showing of Amanda Ravetz’s My Recoverist Family and This is My Face: What lies inside a journey with HIV, a film by Angelica Cabezas. I’m lucky to have seen both pieces of work, but here’s a taster of what it is all about.

This is My Face: What lies inside a journey with HIV. In Chile, people living with HIV fear stigma, and often conceal their condition and remain silent about what they are going through. This is My Face explores what happens when a range of men living with the virus open up about the illness that changed their life trajectories. It follows a creative process whereby they produce photographic portraits that represent their (often painful) memories and feelings, a process which helps them challenge years of silence, shame, and misrepresentation. A lesson in the power of collaborative storytelling. Directed by Angelica Cabezas.

Image: Angelica Cabezas

My Recoverist Family
. An LGBT+ group from Greater Manchester are on a non-linear journey through recovery from substance use. Presided over by performance artist and high wire avant-gardist David Hoyle with supporting artist Jackie Haynes, their trips around the north west culminate in a once – and only once – live arts performance at Manchester’s international arts venue HOME. Cutting between final performance and nomadic workshops, the film bears witness to these recoverists’ unique perspectives on addiction, the vitalising power of art and friendship and on what it is that they – and we – need to recover from. Commissioned by Portraits of Recovery. Directed by Amanda Ravetz and Huw Wahl, featuring Justin Freeman, Greg Thorpe, Jackie Haynes, Mark Prest, David Hoyle and Adele Fowles.

If you get the opportunity - these are both beautiful and affecting pieces of work.

As this work shimmered and danced for those lucky enough to be in Islington Mill, I spent a little time with Darren Henley the CEO of Arts Council England, who not only had spent the day at the World Healthcare Congress (more of which in a minute) but was now spending time soaking up something of the rich cultural offer of Greater Manchester. We kick-started the evening with an event curated by Venture Arts at the Manchester Gallery and it’s guest speaker the artist Tony Heaton, initiator of the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive. This VA Collective event is part of a series of discussions and events organised by Venture Arts for people who have an interest in the work of learning disabled artists in context with contemporary art and society. Tony shared rich, poignant and deeply relevant images that resonate.

Great Britain from a Wheelchair: Tony Heaton
At the Museum of Science and Industry the whole place seemed fit to burst with a young and fully engaged crowd. The late-event called Culture Cures brought science and the arts together beautifully and in exceptionally powerful ways. Lots of participatory stalls, music, film and energy and at the centre of it all, performers taking to a small stage to bast us with dance and spoken word. Company Chameleon particularly drilled inside me. Kevin Edward Turner was emotive, refreshing and dynamic in his revelations around bi-polar. Utterly beautiful.

Then there was the World Healthcare Congress (Europe)
When I began to explore what an arts, health and social change element of the World Healthcare Congress might look like, two years ago with Esme Ward, I never imagined for a moment that Greater Manchester would be pulsating with all those cultural happenings in the days surrounding the congress. With the IMPACT conference still on the horizon in Rochdale this coming week, and the activist/artist Tracie Daly kicking off a new period of intensive work in Wigan on Wednesday - this fortnight is positively dizzying!

But how can I objectively unpick a conference in which I’ve been so deeply involved? Hmmm. That’s a tricky one. For me, the session entirely devoted to people who, for what ever reason, have been patients in the healthcare system - and who shared their experiences - was profound and crackled with electricity. What is it to be human? What is it to be at the mercy of the system, as opposed to being the centre of it, creating it, respected, heard and valued. I learnt many new things this week and was inspired by people I knew and those who have been off my radar. I’ll take some time to distil it all. I’ve been so worried about the uncertainty around all things European, I was completely thrilled that 24 countries were represented. Yet still it feels as though the disarray in politics is like some hell-fire brass band marching its way towards Beachy Head.*

The things that surrounded the conference and the people that attended and took part are what made it for me. Biggest thanks to all the presenters and keynotes. There’ll be much more thought on this over the next month. I'm thrilled that the British Council commissioned ShortForm to capture some of the conference to disseminate more widely. I'll look forward to sharing this in due course which will tell multiple stories of the conference, of Age Friendly Culture and of course our arts, health and social change direction.

The Manchester Declaration
For those of you who regularly come to this blog (or stumble inside its murky corners by mistake), you’ll know that whilst I try and cover North West Regional things, I am developing some really interesting work in Greater Manchester - but I do believe it’s all relevant to our national agenda, not just in terms of research and practice - but also strategy and policy and the values that should underpin them.

Last year I launched the Manchester Institute for Arts, Health & Social Change (MIAHSC) as a collective of people interested and committed to developing this agenda across Greater Manchester - while connecting with, responding to and influencing the national and international field. Between the launch of the institute and the World Healthcare Congress, I’ve facilitated some events, held some workshops and had some amazing conversations around shared aspirations. I’ve weaved these into a shared statement of values and am encouraging anyone around GM or further afield to sign up and put their name to it. It ties in a wider exploration of values being developed as part of the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance and like the Manifesto that was collectively created here in the North West back in 2011, it’s all about galvanising and our collective strengths and leading this agenda through thinking and action. The time has never felt more right to advance this work.  

So, I launched it at the congress as it seemed a suitable event to air this thinking and direction. The Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham was keen to support it - and yes, the photo of us together is cheesy! But it's more than just a photo, and this advocacy, alongside Lord Howarth of Newport, who was here to deliver a keynote and from the CEO Arts Council England, Darren Henley OBE, is critical when held up alongside the advocacy of the people who contributed to it - and who make up our community. Think activists and artists - strategists and citizens. It’s early days yet, but I’m really hoping that more and more of you who have been involved will embrace the declaration and sign up. Send a mug shot and a link - and I’ll look forward to those next steps. Things are evolving - so let's pursue a vision. You can get a taste of it all on the MIAHSC website by clicking HERE. At Manchester Met I am indebted to the very real help of Georgina Burns, Lucy Burke, Helen Felcey and more distantly, Wills.

Now I could be accused of being a tad premature, as they are not online yet - but I will be recruiting for two job opportunities shortly. One will be a post-doc to work with us on The Manchester Institute for Arts, Health & Social Change and undertake some very interesting research across Greater Manchester. We are still discussing the second role and you’ll see them both here first and via our twitter and facebook accounts. Keep your eyes peeled. Gale force imminent! 

Workshop - Health and Arts together
Exploring ideas for Wellbeing at Work....

by Nicky Duirs and Shanali Perera

Make space and Breathe. Arts and Health together - Wellbeing at work. What can we learn from each Other? A catalyst workshop for both Arts and Health sector professionals, to come together and explore way to "support ourselves to sustain our work with others." Full details of this event on the afternoon of April 17th HERE.
Part of the Live Well Make Art micro-grant scheme 

Manchester Centre for Youth Studies and Community Arts North West present:
The Politics of Provocation: A conversation about the ethics of community arts practice with refugee-background young people

Tuesday March 26th, 5-7pmDr Dave Kelman, Western Edge Youth Arts; Victoria University, Australia
Drawing on recent research that examined a community theatre project in an Australian regional city, this presentation interrogates the ethical dilemmas that confront an external arts practitioner when working with refugee-background communities. It considers ethno-theatre, pedagogy, questions of authorship and ventriloquism and the tension between art and authenticity. A practitioner working in such contexts faces a myriad of dilemmas about how far a theatre work should go in challenging mainstream narratives and what the consequences may be for the participants and the practitioner if the challenge goes too far (and whose decision is it to make?). Full details HERE.

*One delegate - (Geoff I think) left me ruminating on the behaviour of politicians and ministers who bray from the privileged pit of the House of Commons modelling behaviour that would be abhorrent in any other walk of life. Yet they carry on with their act, all shrouded in history and free speech. Bullies and self aggrandisement in the name of some pseudo-shakespearian amateur dramatics. 


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