Thursday 14 December 2023

Wednesday 2 August 2023

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye...

For those of you who pass by this increasingly irregular blog, (erm - annual, or so it might appear, but read on) you’ll know I left Manchester Met in June 2021, and it’s sad to see the old Arts for Health website is still hanging on in the ether, like some shimmering ghost of the wonderful thing it once was, or else, a neglected artefact mouldering away, on a university to-do list. People ask me what’s happening to it - and in all honesty, I can’t really say, other than offering a masters course that’s nothing like the one I’d written but which is still being advertised online! It’s important to say however, that this blog is completely independent to the university and has run from 2009 to today.

  David King, 1978

On the surface of it, I left the university because (yawn) I was diagnosed with a nasty cancer, and who wants to work full-time in an institution when their life has been limited by ill health!? So it was ill health that provided the opportunity to extract myself and focus on what’s important in life. The thing is, I still have a rollicking passion for getting stuck-in to all things cultural, and particularly, with the more political and critical side of this arts/health world, albeit tinged with a different kind of hue - a knowing and creative impulse, that internal and external forces have brought, and will bring about.

For many years I ran what I described as the North West Arts, Health & Social Change Network, to which this blog was a way of communicating far and wide. We had countless events, which more often than not, I facilitated in Manchester, and we got together and did things with passion and spirit and with a real sense of northern identity. I really do miss those collective moments. Similarly in 2017, alongside like-minded people across Greater Manchester, I established the Manchester Institute for Arts, Health & Social Change, which very shortly, I’ll be handing over, lock, stock and barrel to colleagues working in the city region to build further and enable it to grow into something useful for the creative health community. 

For a couple of decades or so, I’ve had the great pleasure of working with colleagues nationally to support and nurture the ever expanding field of arts and health and what is increasingly being described as a creative health agenda. I’ve been part of the National Alliance for Arts and Health and more recently, a North West regional champion on the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance. It’s been great, and working with people exploring our shared passions, has been a wonderful thing. That said, I’ve decided to step back from this role and encourage new and diverse blood to be part of it.

I have to say too, that the creative health agenda, with its historical fondness for unethical politicians popping up at conferences and universities - I’m thinking solely of the perverse political muppet, Matt Hancock’s multiple outings in support of this agenda - does leave me feeling slightly queazy. Are we on the brink of overwhelming the ground-swell of a people-driven movement, in favour of a utilitarian program of deliverables, to the service of politically-driven cost efficiencies in the NHS? I wonder too, are those who ‘deliver’ on the social prescribing agenda, actually being remunerated yet?

I’m chuffed to bits to have been given an honorary chair at The University of Manchester as an acknowledgement of my work in the field: Prof of Creative Health and Social Change, no less, so I need to think carefully about this creative health agenda! The thing is, as the arts and health field has morphed into creative health, I find I have evolved too! Though, I’m even queazier at the thought of my own role having contributed to a dumbing down of the arts in all their forms, so the good but unequal citizens of our island become the passive recipients of gloopy, spoonfuls of bland, mindful elixirs. Again and again I’m reminded of what James Baldwin said, that “artists are here to disturb the peace,” and not just mollify them. There are positive signs however, that outside our gated community - and in the ‘real’ world - people are beginning to embrace the arts via a myriad of individuals and organisations which are realising, that they can do things differently. 
Emory Douglas, 1968

Perhaps success in the arts-health/creative-health field might best be evidenced through its own slow demise alongside the emergence of a far wider range of people's individual and collective impulse to create. I am continually thrilled at the small-scale heroism of climate change activists who take direct creative action. Only with enflamed passions, can we wrench the arts in all their forms, out of the hands of the comfortable elite and challenge the status quo. I look forward to the day when a well invested cultural armoury is readily seen as a legitimate means to questioning and addressing inequities, and more than ever, we need to move away from our naval gazing and look to the health of communities and how collectively we might redress the damage we’ve already done to our citizens, and to the local and global environment.

My personal thanks go to those special individuals who, over the last few years have continued to nurture these ideas with me at Manchester Museum, the Whitworth and the Care Lab, Portraits of Recovery, Greater Manchester Combined Authority and my walking companion. If you're so inclined, you can keep up with what I'm up to here. 

So in terms of this blog, perhaps see it as an irrelevant archive of one man’s reflections and rants in a world on fire - or else, a gibberish contribution to the grey puce literature!                           

Bye Bye 👋


Friday 8 July 2022

An institution run by clowns...

Not quite the end of Johnson yet...
I baulk at the arrogance of Johnson and his self-serving supporters in parliament. Good riddance. Who do we have to replace him? - former Health Secretary, the rather privileged Jeremy Richard Streynsham Hunt, (pronounced like Strencham Service Station on the M5)! Well, Hunt has a book out! Remember him? - the favoured politician of sickly arts n health events for ‘decision makers’ back in the day; the Health Secretary who wanted to strip out the NHS section of the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games. This is the same man who pledged to increase the NHS workforce, a workforce that on his watch, instead shrivelled to numbers lower than before his term in office - and who made an oh-so innocent error with his expenses and was found ‘in breach of the rules’ when he was rumbled. How dare he cash in on the pandemic, when the party he stands for (and wants to lead) is governed by immoral and criminal clowns.

I’m trying to remember what happened to the guy who succeeded Hunt? - Oh - I remember, that cherubic faced ‘Randy’ Hancock - who left his job in disgrace for breaking lock-down rules, yet I see he was a speaker at a UCL recent event singing the virtues of low-cost arts interventions as part of social prescribing, yet again. It seems that the arts and health community is a key part of his rehabilitation! Good grief. But back to Hunt and his book-flogging, doesn’t he realise the pandemic isn’t quite over just yet - if he’d just take a look further than the white cliffs of Dover! His new book is called Zero: Eliminating unnecessary deaths in a post-pandemic NHS. I’m barely able to contain my bile over this disreputable lot, so here’s a pithy comment, taken from a well balanced review of his book, by the palliative care doctor, Rachel Clarke.

“Political choices, in short, are causing avoidable deaths here, now, in every NHS hospital in the country. Hunt knows this yet chooses not to voice it. Presumably he still has one eye on Downing Street. And that’s the thing about candour. You can’t credibly advocate total transparency while dipping in and out of being candid when it suits you. A true patient safety champion would lead by example, speaking out about all kinds of patient harm, including those inflicted by their party in government.”

Tory Scorn for the Arts Spells a Second Dark Age
There was a wonderful (if depressing) opinion piece by Stewart Lee last weekend - in which he lanced the pustule that is Dominic Rabb and his recent attack on Angela Rayner for going to the opera. The print version of the article was called Tory Scorn for the Arts Spells a Second Dark Age. You can read it online HERE.   

The BIG Arts Council England job in arts/health
Having only recently stepped into this role, the recent incumbent leading on all things arts/health at Arts Council England has flown the coup, so a rather splendid job is on offer. Read on...

Director, Creative Health and Change Programmes
Can you inspire others to make change happen?  Do you have senior level skills and experience in public policy and project delivery? We have an opportunity to direct the Arts Council’s work in creative health and change projects in line with our strategy Let’s Create.  The role is a 50/50 split between: 
Implementing our ambition to support people’s health and wellbeing through cultural and creative activity. Leading cultural sector change projects to support Arts Council England’s ten year strategy “Let’s Create.” 

This is a full-time role, and it comes with a salary of £54,593 per annum and some excellent company benefits. To succeed in this role, you will be a strategic thinker and entrepreneurial in your ability to form partnerships and attract resources.  You will adapt quickly to new challenges.  You can demonstrate inspirational leadership skills and a strong track record of idea generation, project management and delivery at a senior level. You will also need to be familiar with the public policy landscape and understand processes of change within society and organisations. 
For further information about this Director, Creative Health and Change Programmes role, or to arrange an informal conversation, please get in touch with Arts Council England at
Full details are HERE.   

Celebrate the birth of your baby with dazzling beams of light!
An extraordinary public art event at The Factory will mark every new arrival in Manchester and Salford this January. So if you're expecting a baby in January 2023 the Manchester International Festival would love to hear from you. All the details are HERE.    

Closer to home, there’s a wonderful freelance commission on offer with Contemporary Visual Arts Network North West (CVAN NW) with a £13k fee and an application date of the 21st July. They are recruiting a Creative Producer exploring the role of visual arts in developing Health & Wellbeing in the region! What a superb opportunity! 
Full details HERE.  

I recently wrote a thought piece on - well - on - amongst other things, tokenism in arts/health and Derek Jarman. Read it and weep. It was in the regional newsletter and you can fin it HERE or by clicking on the sublime Jarman image above.

Creativity & Wellbeing Week
I know many weeks have passed since this glorious week of arts and health activity, but what a treat it was this to see so many parts of the country embracing the arts as part of a health and social change agenda! From my own immunocompromised-isolation, I had the real pleasure of venturing out to hospital! But miracle of miracles, it was to visit LIME Art who were holding a three day festival in the grounds of the Manchester Hospitals site, just off Oxford Road. This cracking event was focused on the workforce of the NHS and centred around a large performance space under an open tent. It was just wonderful to hear the stories of the workers, who’d been taking part in the work that LIME have been quietly delivering through the pandemic. For my part, it was lovely to share some words/film/sound with people, and feel something of the burgeoning possibilities of this creative/health renaissance across the region, and in the wider world too. You can see lots from the festival HERE.  

CALL OUT: Outside In is now accepting submissions for its 2023 National Open Exhibition, which has the theme of ‘Humanity’ and will be the first to tour venues across the UK. Showcasing artworks by 80 Outside In artists, it will open at Sotheby's, London, in January 2023, before heading to Project Ability in Glasgow and Brighton and Hove Museums at the end of 2023. The first prize will be a solo exhibition for the winning artist. Full details are HERE.  

Nanking reticulated basket, c. 1750, mended with metal staples

Recruitment Open: The Repair Works
Participation recruitment for The Repair Works is now open
Register your free place here for Autumn 2022 
The Repair Works invites participants to explore the relationships that exist between Kintsugi, recovery from substance use and artistic acts of self-repair, and to creatively apply these ideas to individual journeys of recovery.  

Participation is open to people who live in Salford, Trafford, and Bolton. Priority is for those in substance use recovery, but is also open to family, friends, and significant others. We recognise that addiction impacts all and others are entitled to their own recovery. Full details and registration HERE.  

If you know of anyone who may be interested in registering for the project, please share this page and/or contact Claire:
 Cody Dock (Climate, 2021)

Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance Awards 2022
The CHWA Awards 2022 are live!
Deadline: 5pm, Sunday 31 July, 2022
Although the world and life as we know it has changed since we launched the CHWA 2020 Awards in the winter of 2019, we and our partners believe that the themes of collective power (partnership), practitioner wellbeing and climate are ever more relevant and important. We also recognize that we cannot go forward without addressing the connections between our work and health and cultural inequalities – and specifically the impacts of racism.  During the pandemic, we have seen the culture, health and wellbeing sector respond with creativity, imagination and kindness to meet global crisis, local need and individual loss. As partnership and collaboration have driven innovation and greater reach, the need systematically to support wellbeing across the sector, respond to the climate and ecological emergency and its relationship with global and local inequalities is becoming clearer. We were looking for projects, organisations and people who led the way through lockdown or are learning from this challenging time to build a better future. The categories are: Climate, Collective Power and Practising Well. Share your imaginative & innovative responses to the collective challenges we face...
Find out more and apply HERE.    

Masters in Arts, Health & Social Change
People constantly ask me why I left Arts for Health, and it’s a tricky one to answer, but safe to say, my even trickier health problems were the catalyst. Bodily frailties force our hand and make us consider what’s important. Do remember Arts for Health was, for a long time, the brain-child of Peter Senior and a completely independent organisation to MMU. When I took over, it was already very much part of the university - and for me - being part of a large institution, tended to draw me away from the heart of the work, which for my part is about social change and the factors that influence all our lives. So, it’s been a year since I left the university and right here, right now - I’m focusing on what’s important.  

The amount of inquiries I get about the MA, Arts, Health & Social Change is quite something, so first of all - thank you! It means a lot that so many of you are interested in new ways of exploring the space between culture and inequities and ultimately, social justice, while simultaneously challenging the ‘normal’ ways that higher education delivers a relevant post graduate offer. Now here’s the tricky bit - I’d written this masters with my colleague Helen Felcey, and during my heady period of sick leave, the MA metamorphosed into Design for Health and Wellbeing. Here's course leader, Professor of Design Kristina Niedderer, who you can see in the promo video HERE. She says, “Promoting health and wellbeing have become even more important since the COVID-19 pandemic…Design can help in so many ways, including the design of PPE, the delivery of wellbeing-related activities, as well as services, products and environments.”

It is certainly a very different direction from the one I was taking, and I had no part in the new design-focused course, so I am unable to answer questions or advocate for it. Thanks everyone for letting me know the short film advertising the original course is still online HERE as are my staff profile page and the old Arts for Health website, like ghosts in the machine! Still, you can you can compare and contrast, not least how ridiculously lined my forehead is!

Wednesday 2 March 2022

Reimagining Human and Planetary Flourishing

Guernica (1937) Picasso

Guernica is a visceral reaction to the Nazi's appalling bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, the painting was made by Picasso in its aftermath. Is it the most famous work associated with such brutality? My knowledge is limited and I think immediately of Otto Dix and Francisco Goya and all the horrors they depicted, or witnessed up close. Artist, Paula Rego has consistently produced difficult and beautiful work, more often than not, exploring trauma. War (2003) was motivated by a photograph from the war in Iraq and the aftermath of a bomb blast in Basra and the image Rego saw, of a small girl in a pretty dress.

War (2003), Paula Rego. Photo: © Tate, London; © Paula Rego
I have terrible feelings of impotence and fear when I see minute by minute updates of the unfolding horrors in Ukraine. Though there are ways we can actively help HERE. I send solidarity to unknown others and love to those people I know who are physically and existentially closer to Ukraine.

A pandemic, a war, climate catastrophe and all the while morally bankrupt men preside over the unequal masses, and through it all, there'll be politicians and profiteers on the make.

How on earth will this century be remembered?

. . .

The Creative Power of the Arts: Reimagining Human and Planetary Flourishing
This report looks at creative reforms in the target areas of climate, health, education, and justice. By sharing the thinking of this global, diverse, and engaged group of Fellows in this report, Salzburg Global Seminar invites others to engage in a similar process of constructive inquiry to reflect deeply on what is dividing us, what is keeping us from collaborating better, and how we can achieve transformative change together. Want to find out more and read the report? Click HERE or on the above image.

An Introduction to Social Prescribing on the 24th March
Please note that this event is targeted to people in Greater Manchester specifically. Have you heard the term ‘social prescribing’ but are unsure of how it applies to your role? Health and care workers can learn more about how it works and how you can link people up with activities in their local area, in our upcoming free webinar with Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership. Join either of the two live sessions on 24th March (1pm or 7pm) to learn about the two main delivery models for social prescribing in England, as well as how it can be accessed by communities, potential outcomes for people, and where your own professional practice fits into it. Sign up to hear from expert speakers Charlotte Leonhardsen and Julie McCarthy from @gmhsc-partnership and Dr Jaweeda Idoo by clicking HERE.      

From Surviving to Thriving: Building a model for sustainable practice in creativity and mental health
Here is the latest report from the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance, From Surviving to Thriving: Building a model for sustainable practice in creativity and mental health. It has been authored by Victoria Hume and Minoti Parikh, and developed with around 150 creative practitioners and organisations working in the field, many of whose practice is based on their own lived experience.

The report is the result of a six-month project funded by the Baring Foundation, to understand how we might help more people and organisations using creativity to support mental health to survive and thrive. At the heart of the report are a series of recommendations for five groups: practitioners, commissioning organisations (whether arts, health or care), funders, researchers and infrastructure organisations like the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance itself. Read the recommendations and the full report HERE or by clicking on the above image.

MA Arts Practice (Arts, Health and Wellbeing) at the University of South Wales
Places are available for the well-established MA Arts Practice (Arts, Health and Wellbeing) course in the heart of Cardiff. The duration of the MA is 18 months. Teaching begins in September each year and is delivered on campus, one weekend per month. Tutorials are scheduled at intervals between teaching weekends and are held online. The course reflects the breadth of practice within the field of arts, health and wellbeing in providing scope for multifarious forms of creativity, from participation and socially engaged practice, to site specific art works aimed at enhancing healthcare settings. The programme is designed to equip students with the tools and principles they need to succeed within this valued and expanding are of professional arts practice. Contact Carol Hiles for more information and take a look at our website which includes examples of recent projects completed by our students. Click HERE or on the image above. 

Sunday 23 January 2022

“You set an example … you live by that example” - Tracey Emin

It’s an overcast grey day today and I’m ruminating on the man who was overwhelming elected as prime minister in 2019 and whose name I can barely write - a contrived comedy act who is consistently referred to by his first name, so as to make him ‘one of the people’, some daft, bumbling showman, worse still, someone who apparently has presided over some miraculous action plan to deal with the ongoing pandemic. Yes, apparently it’s over and life will go on just like before. Throw your masks in the bin and crack on with life, let’s get the economy back on target. 
Stefan Tiburcio,* Stay At Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives, 2020,
Woodcut on plywood, © the artist
As of today, Sunday 23rd January at 11:42 am, 154,297 people in the UK have died of covid. Let’s not kid ourselves, the roll-out of the vaccination programme has been successful because of the incredible work of the NHS and the invisible swathes of people who volunteered their time to do the work. The pandemic isn’t over! We’re told glibly, that it’s become endemic, yet the virus is rampant in many countries, many of which have little access to vaccinations yet! This isn’t what success looks like to me. While superhero pharmaceutical companies pull in mind-boggling profits.

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (let’s not forget who this man-of-the-people-cum-bloated-Machiavellian-twerp is) advises us that the British public will show common sense when all the safety measures are thrown out of the window this week. What? Common sense and decency as modelled by him? Through his own arrogant behaviour, he has illustrated one rule for himself and his cronies, which others will inevitably emulate. If the Grey report lets him simply get away sacking a few minions, lessons will be learnt by the many, rippling out and elevating self-entered individualism to dizzying heights that we could never have previously imagined. At least the campaign against the government’s anti-protest laws this week, shows that people still have the passionate appetite to demonstrate, and the Lords stopped the bill in its tracks.

Emin neon© Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2022.
Photo credit: Government Art Collection
Tracey Emin’s timely intervention to get her 2010 neon work, More Passion, removed from 10 Downing Street while its current incumbent is still is situ, couldn’t have been more timely. Here Here! Responding to the most recent revelations about Johnson and Downing Street parties on Woman’s Hour, Tracey Emin comments - “Their behaviour is pretty shameful…people had to watch their loved ones buried on their telephone…people are really angry…this government need more compassion, not passion…you set an example, and you live by that example.”

Yet, what we consistently get from Johnson is faux attrition and apologies - but for what? - the action or simply being caught out? He did a grand job of genuflexion and public hand-wringing following the publication of those images of the Queen sitting alone at the funeral of her husband. For his televised downcast eyes, I well imaging under his face mask, there's still that smug smirk.

On this blog, I’ve spoken about my own experiences of living with cancer in parallel to the pandemic this last couple of years. I've spared many of the details for fearing being seen as too self-indulgent, but these last few weeks have proved so politically unpalatable, I need to throw a few appalling details from my own life into the mix - which I don’t offer up glibly, or seeking words of solace. Like many other people, this timetable of arrogance and partying sit uncomfortably with my own experiences. While masks are thrown into bins and the hoards laugh and jape on the underground, do spare a thought for the terrified people with blood cancers who may sit there triple masked, or more probably will exile themselves from planes and trains indefinitely.

Having begun chemotherapy in January 2020, the stem-cell treatment needed to hold my cancer at bay, from May that year was variously delayed, postponed and canceled leaving the disease to return, and the stem-cell transplant eventually given in May 2021. Throughout all of this, the individuals behind the NHS that worked with me, were flawless. But, for all the personal turmoil of diagnosis, uncertainty and brutal treatment, it was the unfolding death of my partner’s father Peter; my children's grandad - through covid - that was unbearable. Tracey Emin reminds us of people not being able to attend funerals, for my family it was the untimely death (regardless of his age) of Peter over WhatsApp. This kind of trauma is unbearable. Not to be able to be with, to hold, to kiss. 

Peter died in May. He wasn’t a statistic, he was one of those individual humans who died while party season flourished at the heart of UK government. We should be so fu**i*g angry. If Johnson is able to continue in office following the publication of the Gray Report, we will know that democracy and any sense of common decency have failed.

. . . 

* You can see more of the incredible woodcuts and drawings of Coronavirus: Lockdown by Stefan Tiburcio HERE. 
. . . 

Here's an exciting opportunity for someone to get a foothold in the arts and health community in vibrant Greater Manchester.

Lime Arts + Health Project Assistant
Established in 1973, Lime is an internationally acclaimed Arts and Health organisation based at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT). Due to programme expansion, and the recent launch of a pioneering arts + wellbeing centre to support NHS staff, we have a new and exciting opportunity for a project assistant. This is a great entry-level opportunity for anyone wishing to gain specialist skills knowledge and experience of working in the arts + healthcare sector.
The position requires a reliable individual with a professional manner who has good numerical skills. Attention to detail and excellent interpersonal and communication skills are essential. For an ambitious and hardworking graduate/professional, Lime is the perfect place to start your career in a broad role - there will be opportunity to learn new skills and eventually progress to handling more complex projects on your own. As the remit of the role will be varied, it would suit someone with a flexible ‘can-do’ attitude and eagerness to learn. This post is fixed term; however it will be reviewed for continuation in March 2023.  Click HERE to complete the online application form or find out more details. The application closing date is 2nd February 2022. For more information please contact Lime Administrative Manager Rosemary Howes on 0161 276 5839 or email

Fallen Angels Dance Theatre
Transfiguration is a trio of 10-minute dance films, focusing on a series of defining moments in the journey from addiction to recovery. The trailer for the trilogy can be viewed above

I Fall, I Need and We Rise explore key moments in the life of a person who experiences addiction, exploring craving, relapse, recovery, using dance theatre, text and digital technology. I Fall, the first film in the Transfiguration trilogy, explores the carnage and chaos of addiction. Focusing on the twisted love story between two addicts – how they can’t live with or without each other – and their unbearable compulsion to use. But through the despair, we see that recovery can be possible. The Transfiguration works are available freely HERE.

Driving along recently, I heard a piece of work by Meredith Monk, who I have to confess to not knowing a great deal about. I know even less about the intention behind this work which is called Memory Song. I'm sure that it has absolutely no connection to the kind of dementia field that some of us navigate, but it sure feels like a brilliant stimulus I'd use if I were still in the field. Some of you may find sections of it irritating, but in the round, it's a lovely thing.

If you have anything you'd like to share with the North West Arts, Health & Social Change community, please email me HERE and I'll do my best to share it on this blog and via social media. For where to send any details of events that you are planning for Creativity and Wellbeing Week (16 - 22nd May 2022) you can send HERE, but do remember to upload the details what it is that you are doing that week to the official website HERE.

Keep safe and thank you for passing by...

Saturday 1 January 2022

the transient bliss of being alive


I really hope this year is a good one for you and those you love and that maybe, just maybe, those that are profiteering in the billions from the manufacturing of covid vaccines, get their act together and distribute their products (or their magical blueprints) to the vast numbers of people around the world who as yet, have no access to their gold dust. Good old Pfizer.

"According to CNN, vaccine sales alone were responsible for 60 percent of the profits as vaccine revenue rose to $14.6 billion from only $1.7 billion a year earlier."

The market continues to ensure the seamless transformation of a pandemic into some permanent endemic state, where new variants will undoubtedly flourish and the coffers of the rich will fill to the brim as the poor, marginalised and vulnerable conveniently disintegrate. Sounds like a win-win situation for those with their eyes on the dollar. A market-driven disposal of those dependent on the state. Then there’s our arrogant and seemingly untouchable political elite…
The CHWA at the Herbert. Image Jenny Harper
Thoughts on lived experience
A couple of months ago, and for the first time since November 2019, I found myself taking part in a group event inside a building! Imagine - no more than close family and friends (or clinicians) near me for two years! Well, I know you can imagine it, but if you’ll indulge me, my diagnosis of multiple myeloma - just a couple of months before the emerging pandemic was beginning to be taken seriously - plunged me into a new kind of social isolation.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am completely happy romping around the coastline and up the hills in complete solitude, but isolation initiated by cancer and cemented further by all the societal impacts of the pandemic, really does take the biscuit. If life has been limited by disease, to have the possibility of wider human connection taken away, is really appalling. So it was, that, double jabbed and double masked, I took part in one of the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance’s (CHWA) meet-ups in Coventry. I’m not quite sure if my lovely colleagues old and new, quite grasped how delightful the whole experience was for me, what with being hidden behind a mask and all!

Knowing that a significant proportion of the great (independently minded) unwashed masses, were piling on to trains without masks, I decided that a public transport wasn’t for me on this foray into the outside world, so I drove (I know, I know - but bear with me) down to the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum smack-bang in the centre of Coventry and next to the extraordinary bombed out cathedral and its modernist replacement. What a treat.

Inevitable anxieties aside, the meeting was a complete joy tempered only by my frustrations at not to be able to throw my arms around unpixilated friends. Sitting by an open window, the door to the large room thrown open, I was far more relaxed than I thought I’d be, and I quickly found myself part of a community again. I was more apprehensive about the prospect of looking around the Turner Prize exhibition and rubbing shoulders with the wider public, but the galleries were reasonably quiet and our hosts had gone to great effort to organise this visit, so wander around the exhibitions I did.
Though I found all the nominees thrilling, (you might disagree, but a mixture of the collective nature of the work and not being in a gallery for years, really do pique the senses) the one that got to me was the work of artists associated with Project Arts Works from Hastings. Nominated for their ‘practice which celebrates and raises awareness of the dynamic and extraordinary contribution neurodiverse communities make to art and culture’, Project Art Works resonated deeply with me. It still does. I’ve been so fortunate over the last couple of decades to connect with incredible people in similar/different communities. In New York, the extraordinary work of neurodivergent artists working with Carrie McGee at MoMA; in Brooklyn at LAND Studio & Gallery; in Manchester the wonderful Venture Arts and over in Australia, DADAA. There’s always complexity surrounding the language of different groups and projects where people have been traditionally labeled up as differing from the ‘norm’ - whatever that is - so it’s great to see these people and organisations flourishing. Language however, is something I always mess up with, attempting to get it right.

I guess that now I’m ruminating on my own mortality, I’ve got to thinking over some of the people, places and things I’ve been involved in (back to mortality in a moment) and the things that define us, and like the organisations above, in all honesty, my work hasn’t been focused explicitly on health, but rather ‘doing’ art and being creative. My own career (of sorts) began in a long closed Victorian hospital for people with learning disabilities through the 1980’s and 90’s, has been creeping back through my blood these last few months. As a young but inexperienced participatory artist in the making, I really had none of the sophistication of these contemporary organisations, but what I did have, was a fire in my belly, a large studio space and people who with a burning desire to create - and others who hadn’t ever had the opportunity to explore these elements of themselves! Words that spring to mind when I think of these people labelled ‘challenging’ are frustration, anger, desire and joy.
Lived experience is something that’s been explored by some wonderful guest bloggers here over several posting in 2021 - my big thanks to them - and I guess I’m rounding off the year with my own fractured lived experiences, which professionally and passionately have all been defined by other people’s frustrations at not being able to access opportunities for self expression (or rather they had, but it was expressed through frustration, boredom and in less constructive ways). I've constantly been inspired by the personal and collective passion that emerges when people find ways of turning ideas into something tangible - or gloriously incomprehensible!. I remember when cynical people at the Royal Albert Hospital where I was working, described the studio environment we'd created as messy and child-like, I resorted to whipping out images of Francis Bacon’s studio which quickly frustrated them and shut them up. It was about mess and exploration and visceral sensation.

What I often did was ‘curate’ public exhibitions and events with collaborators: Lancaster Litfest; the Dukes (theatre); Ludus Dance; TATE Liverpool and Lancaster Museum amongst others. In terms of the visual arts I recently unearthed a portfolio of hundreds of drawing and paintings from the days when the hospital closed down, largely dating from the 80’s. Inevitably my walls are now festooned with rather smartly framed images, the artists all of which I remember well, though all of them are now long dead. Woe betide anyone who thinks they are created by my children! Some of these paintings, now resplendent on my walls,
 are peppered all over today's blog. Of course, I am uncertain about sharing the full names of the artists. In truth, the people I worked alongside back then, have informed everything I have done in the name of arts and ‘health’, though at no time then did health come into it, and only now reflecting on those years, can I really see the liberating force of what we were doing and how those studio sessions really opened up all our lives in different ways. Those determinants of health are complex and messy and quite probably, immeasurable things. Lived experiences too, are myriad and inspiring in their differences. 
A personal call out to share lived experiences around our fleeting here and now's 
So, back to mortality, and I should advise you, there's nothing at all clinical or miserable here, just a call out from me to find some potential collaborators. Go on - read on and I promise not to give you the willies or make you depressed - seriously. I am developing a piece of work that hopes to explore the experience of living with a life limiting illness. Hold your horses - it’s beginning to sound grim - but I’m not in the slightest bit interested in doom and gloom (though of course, ill health is a pisser on multiple levels) - I’m interested in moments of crystalline clarity, of unexpected euphoria in the moment. I don’t want to focus on grief or the inevitable rollercoaster of frustration or anger, but shimmering clarity of fleeting here and now’s. What might I mean?

One of the best examples I can give is when the playwright Dennis Potter was being interviewed by Melvyn Bragg. Poor old Potter was in his last months of life and swigging away on champagne and morphine and all the while puffing away on cigarettes. It was a bravura performance and while lambasting Rupert Murdoch (he called his cancer Rupert) he described that feeling of being alive in the here and now so lucidly - in fact, he described it as ‘nowness’. To illustrate this he talked about a white plumb blossom tree in his garden, which he’d seen for years, but only now, with his impending mortality, could he really see it for what it was. It was a profound moment - and one that has stayed with me.
Jackie B
Experiencing profound feelings of love is something that Tracey Emin has recently talked about in relationship to her treatment for cancer. She spoke beautifully on the BBC’s This Cultural Life, and it’s this kind of overpowering experience that I’m looking to explore with people who regardless of their diagnosis, have found themselves unexpectedly experiencing that feeling of nowness, or an enhanced perception of beauty - and of course - the transient bliss of being alive.

So if you, or someone you know, is, or has experienced, this kind of heightened perception, I’d really like to have a conversation, which will influence a new film and sound work this year. This is something being developed alongside my scrutiny of anonymous super 8 home movies from the 60’s/70’s which I’m exploring as reimagined domestic narratives. 

Get directly in touch with me HERE.  

William R
Get Creative, Get Outdoors
Creativity and Wellbeing week 16 - 22nd May 2022
Creativity and Wellbeing week is run by London Arts in Health and the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance. The festival started as a small event based in London in 2012 , to coincide with the Olympics. In 2019 the week went national for the first time – allowing thousands more people across the UK to participate in culture and creative activities. The festival creates core partnership events, while encouraging and supporting organisations and individuals to organise their own activities. Events can take any art form and can be held in clinical settings, cultural buildings or in the community – as long as they  involve either accessing or participating in cultural activities that improve health or wellbeing.
HERE for details.

Commemorative Project
Swansea Bay University Health Board is calling for applications from experienced and suitably qualified artist/s to design and realise unique, external interventions on a number of hospital sites. These are to commemorate the extraordinary experience of staff and local communities during Covid 19, to honour and remember those who lost their lives, to recognise front line workers who put patients’ lives first, and to capture the social solidarity and support our community gave to us.
 The successful artists will respond creatively to the aspirations, recommendations and themes arising from Finding Words, a recent consultation report. It recommended creating external spaces on three sites and a number of echoes elsewhere. Key comments include: ‘A place for quiet contemplation’, ‘A focus on growth and hope’ and an interest in engaging the senses, nature, seasonality. It is anticipated that the successful artist will include an element of creative consultation as an aspect of the commission and work strategically to meet the project aims across sites.

Tender publication date – Tuesday, 04th January

Deadline application– 12.00 noon, Monday, January 17th 
Anticipated start date – Wednesday, February 16th
Project completion date – Monday, October 31st

The deadline for applications is date midday on Monday January 17th, 2022. 
Applications will only be accepted through the eTender Wales system. If you do not have an eTender Wales account, the Health Board strongly advises that you register as soon as possible.

More details on the Wales Arts, Health and Wellbeing Network website: HERE.   

Sunday 31 October 2021

Art with a purpose...

Value All, Equality, Diversity, Stay Safe, Cleaner Air, Pull yourself Up’.
Danielle Chappell Aspinwall
For the fourth instalment of blog postings by artists with rich lived experience of different but connected natures, todays is by Danielle Chappell Aspinwall, who is a Fine Art and Social Practitioner, with these two roles interconnecting through people, place, nature and wellbeing. Originally from Blackpool, and now living in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, her socially engaged practice explores being neurodivergent as something that positively influences her art practice. Danielle has provided us with links to three short films. Check out her website HERE and take a look at her MA degree show work HERE.

Donkey Fest, Drawing with stitch (close up)
Art With Purpose: Reconnection, Motherhood,Resilience
Artist and Community
A Neurodivergent and Autoethnographical Approach
Fine Art and Social Practitioner, Danielle Chappell Aspinwall, interconnects people and art through, place, nature, and wellbeing. Advocating for positive change, unity, and accessibility, she opens up conversations around mental health awareness, hidden disability and subtle ways to preserve our planet with reuse, recycle, remake and relove.
Focusing on proactive ways to promote sustainability, reducing landfill towards climate emergency. Using autoethnography in her approaches, she reaches antidotes and systems that art, conversation and reflective practice can empower individuals and communities. Being neuro-divergent, her energy and personable welcome shines in the creative practices and roles she undertakes. She says:

"Art has purpose, to connect, give voice, bring unity, lift spirits and raise awareness for the greater good, not only art can improve social connections, ignite conversations, reduce loneliness. Art within humanity can reconnect people to nature, without the two, we wouldn't live in harmony. Why not take action to make a different no matter how smaller the act, all acts can equate to positive change, inclusion, unity and a hopeful future.”

Danielle's 'Art for Purpose' ethos, fuses her passion of advocacy to share unity, inclusion and awareness to remove barriers within the workplace and education systems, to benefit the neurodivergent community and disability groups, giving voice to make a difference, to reduce future suffering of discrimination and exclusion, as well as sharing open deeper understandings of disability within society, highlighting the positive attributes that being #Neurodivergent offers into society, the community and the workplace. Exploring positively through social dialogue, socially engaged practice, projects, public art, social media, as well as community workshops, Danielle aims to lift connections through welcomed imperfections within her bubbly personality and humour.

The importance to remove the stigma attached to hidden disability, reducing the exclusions for inclusive adjustments, enabling access to an opened inclusive wider world, will offer new norms of hope and more opportunities within an inclusive society from a disabled perspective, making a difference for future generations to come to reach further aspirations, higher confidences from deeper inclusion and resulting in healthier mental health and wellbeing. 

In 2020-2021 Danielle was a mentee at Signal Films and Media working on the #SourceProject, #WestCoastPhotoFestival and her #HatsOffRunFreeOurFavouritePlace project on juggling motherhood and being a creative artist with and around the children, letting go of anxiety and postnatal depression. See the website HERE and click on the film above, to find out more.

My biggest thanks to Danielle and to Sue Flowers, Shanali Perera and Ruth Flanagan for sharing their unique lived experiences these last few weeks. I'm sure that their stories will inevitably resonate with many of us.