Friday, 22 November 2019

a fragile art

At a low ebb, I went on a journey with a group of strangers, down a sprawling green misty morning valley. Like a band of medieval courtiers high on spirits, the sort of which I can not imagine. I’d read two books - no - drank them up in a reverie of my own, transporting me back to a different time - black death and ritual and language - so beguiling and ‘other’, it took time to let them both (different/similar), sink in. Slumped and inward looking, the Kiasma wasn’t doing it for me. I’d found a chair - the attendants chair in fact - and faced the screen of something large and contemporary, all the while looking backwards into myself - Bassackwards. Then an almost stranger, almost friend stopped, all smiles and full of life. “The fifth floor - you have to go to the fifth floor,” she told me with urgency. A smooth Finnish corridor carried me up and I wandered - stupefied - until it hit me and I sat for over an hour - like many others - trapped by a beguiling piece of work. That’s where my reverie became something communal and dissipated - turning into some foggy group trip. 

When an art thing - whatever that thing is - works for you, it transforms the atoms momentarily. A friend, not so very long ago, described taking ecstasy at a rave, and feeling all those other hundreds of people connected by a communal bliss. Zadie Smith described something similar as joy. A retentive man in many ways, I’ve never taken ecstasy, but here I was emotionally changed by small fragments of poetry by Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir beautifully transformed aurally and cinematically in slow-time by Icelander Ragnar Kjartansson. A simple haiku-like line threaded through time over and over: Once again, I fall into my feminine ways. I can’t describe the artists’ tricks here, as it would do no justice. The piece is called The Visitors (2012). It lasts just over an hour - way longer than 280 ill-conceived characters. There is so much about this I shouldn't have liked - but it was completely intoxicating.

Those books: the unlikely titled Nobber and more prosaic To Calais in Ordinary Time by Oisín Fagan and James Meek respectively, are quite something - dark and hallucinogenic, both. But this reading is a solitary thing and the propensity to tears of a little bliss, in such a public space as a gallery is quite a powerful communal thing.

The sky remained a constant flat grey in Helsinki, a chill wind promising something harsh not too soon. Following the flurry of interest in the recent launch of the WHO synthesis on arts and health a couple of weeks ago, I followed in the echos of that great evidential fanfare as guest of Arts Promotion Centre Finland (Taike); someone to gently challenge the evidence we know we have in rubles and tonnes. My presentation was to celebrate the evolving real time work unfolding across Finland these last five years and more - all work enabled by Taike and I wanted to assert the voices of people in this great research frenzy. The artists and the people - whoever those wonderful, different and vital people are who lead and take part and create new things and thinking - those people who will define what value is beyond the new reductivists. 

There are too many people to thank, too many new friends and allies - but to my hosts Johanna M. Vuolasto and Kirsi Lajunen the warmest thanks for your generous hospitality and your remarkable vision. There are strong synergies between Greater Manchester and Helsinki and wider Finland and I look forward to nurturing these possibilities further. It was wonderful to see Dawn Prescott and her remarkable colleagues creating profound work with young women/girls experiencing the extremes of mental anguish and feel the recent echoes of Kat Taylor and further back in recent history, Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt in all this Manchester/Helsinki mix. In my presentation I'd mourned the loss of libraries and librarians in the UK - with around 500 libraries and 9,000 librarians having been 'lost' in the UK since 2010. In a taxi in Helsinki however, my taxi driver pointed to the extraordinary and giant beautiful library in the heart of the city, and said - "you see that, it is our library, but we call it Helsinki's living room". Perfect.

Just in time for a general election.
'John Pilger's new documentary, THE DIRTY WAR ON THE NHS, "goes to the heart of the struggle for democracy today", he says. Britain's National Health Service, the NHS, was the world's first universal public health service. Designed to give millions of people "freedom from fear", the NHS today is under threat of being sold off and converted to a free market model inspired by America's disastrous health insurance system, which results in the death every year of an estimated 45,000 people. Now President Trump says the NHS is "on the table" in any future trade deal with America. Filmed in Britain and the United States, this timely, compelling documentary touches us all and reveals what may be the last battle to preserve the most fundamental human right.'

I really do think it's time to vote...

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Super Fast Augmented Anxiety

Your blogger is away at the moment and on a retreat with colleagues from the University of Sydney exploring collaborative research and new thinking around performance, the arts, health & social change for the journal About Performance #18: Perform | Health | Care. I've been very honoured to be the international guest of the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies and speaker at the Sydney Ideas event on Monday alongside my collaborator Vic McEwan and Dr Claire Hooker,  Indigenous mental health clinician Akeshia Dart and perinatal mental health specialist Dr Nicole Reilly, both from the University of Newcastle. Thanks to Prof Paul Dwyer for this invitation.  For those of you interested in my quick fire presentation, you can find it by clicking on the film below, or listening to the podcast HERE. 

RECOVERISM Reimagining LGBTQ+ Mental Health and Wellbeing
Meanwhile back in Manchester a free event called Reimagining LGBTQ+ Mental Health and Wellbeing is taking place on the 8th November. You can find all the details by clicking on the imahge below.

“We need to feel and be felt by other feeling people”,
Will Self – Recoverist Manifesto 2015.

This event will contribute to conversations about LGBT+ mental health and wellbeing, and promote dialogue between local communities, social scientists and artists who have worked in that specific field. The event is part of the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences. The programme comprises the screening of two films made by researchers exploring intersections between Arts and Anthropology: "My Recoverist Family" by Amanda Ravetz (2017) and "This is My Face" by Angélica Cabezas Pino (2019). The films will be accompanied by Photo-Loo, a hands-on experience led by recovery activist, artist and curator, Mark Prest. Full details HERE.

Masters in Arts, Health & Social Change
Just to flag up that Arts for Health and Manchester Metropolitan University will be launching its new Masters commencing in autumn 2020! Want to know more? Of course you do - click HERE.

                              t h i s   i s   i n v i s i b l e 

Sunday, 6 October 2019

About Face & Figuring Out Mental Health

Framing the face: history, emotion, transplantation
● How do you feel about your face?
● Who would you be, without it?
● Would you donate your face, or that of your loved one?
● If not, why not?
Join us for a discussion of the social, cultural, emotional and medical meanings and associations of faces, facial transplants, and identity, followed by a drinks-reception at the launch of AboutFace, a new interdisciplinary project funded by a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship based in History at the University of York.

Cultural historian Fay Bound Alberti will be joined Manchester’s leading portrait artists Lucy Burscough and a panel of experts.
 This is an event I really wish I was taking part in. Click HERE to register.

Then - another event in Manchester that is so dear to my heart.

Figure Out what mental wellbeing means to you at the People’s History Museum. 
Visitors will be able to ‘figure out’ what mental wellbeing means to them when the People’s History Museum hosts an exhibition of artwork by service users from Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (GMMH). 
Service users and staff from the Trust’s Recovery Pathways service will be launching the exhibition on October 8 during Mental Health Week 2019 to showcase the work of the creative wellbeing service, which offers sessions across the city for a wide range of people experiencing difficulties with their mental health. Recovery Pathways Lead, Charlotte Brown, said: “We’re delighted the People’s History Museum has agreed to host the ‘Let’s Figure it Out’ exhibition.

“During the week a variety of artwork will be on display from painting and photography to ceramics and textiles. 
Our service harnesses the power of creative activity to help people maintain or improve their mental wellbeing. Sometimes being in a group with others is enough to start building resilience and our service can be a vital step to adjust after a stay in hospital or a period of enduring mental ill health. We think everyone can benefit their mental wellbeing by taking part in creative activities, that’s why we’re offering creative sessions for people to try throughout the week. They are completely free and there’s no need to book – just drop in and try one of our activities for yourself.”

The exhibition will run from Tuesday October 8th to Friday October 11th with public taster sessions running throughout the week. Click HERE for details and HERE to read an article by one of the artists, Peter Broome in Big Issue.

I put this appalling picture at the foot of the blog as I can't abide their presence at the top of the page. One had just found out that his actions were unlawful by the highest court in the land, the other that attempts were being made to impeach him.
Models of behaviour.

Words fail me.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

So many things to report on...

New Agency to Offer Support for Arts and Older People  
Today, on 1st October is the UN International Day of Older Persons, so it's great to have such positive news about new developments in this area. 

The Baring Foundation is backing the creation of an agency that will advocate for and support the cultural sector to be more age friendly.  Since 2010, the Baring Foundation has dedicated its arts funding to work with older people. David Cutler, Director of the Baring Foundation said: 

“The Baring Foundation is coming to the end of a ten year programme of funding creative ageing across the UK . We are delighted to award the consortium led by Manchester Museums £250k to advocate for the development of this work, in particular emphasising its importance to English policy makers and funders. The record of Manchester for many years in engaging the arts to make it age friendly makes it the ideal place to take this work forward”

Manchester Museum, part of The University of Manchester, is the lead organisation in collaboration with the Whitworth, Manchester Art Gallery and GMCA (Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the ten GM councils and the mayor). MICRA (The Manchester Institute for Collaborative research on Ageing) is also supporting the programme. The partners have an internationally recognised track record in leading innovative age friendly practice, adopting a citizen-based approach which champions agency, active participation and work led by older people across the arts. 

The opportunity to be creative and to experience arts and culture is a right at any age. The Agency will investigate the profound shifts needed to tackle ageism and create sustainable age friendly culture and communities. It will act as an advocate to funders and policy makers. It will also connect people and organisations leading age friendly culture across England and beyond. 

In its first year, The Agency will initiate a major investigation into diversity, age and the cultural sector. Older people will lead decisions and identify priorities for the Agency. It will recruit partners nationally and internationally to lead lines of investigation, events and campaigns. 

Esme Ward, Director of Manchester Museum and GM Ageing Hub Strategic Lead for Culture said: “It’s time to build momentum and for imaginative, brave thinking and action if we are going to address ageism and realise the potential of a creative ageing society. I’d encourage those who share this ambition - arts organisations, cultural leaders, policy makers, academics, artists and investors – to step up and get involved.” 

To register your interest in learning more about The Agency, please email

Programme Manager – Arts and Health
£38-50k pa + excellent benefits
Two-year, fixed-term contract


Are you a dynamic, influential and collaborative individual with a proven track record in supporting the development and delivery of ambitious and fast paced programmes. Do you have a passion for practical innovation and improving public services?

If so, Nesta is looking for a Programme Manager to join our Y Lab team, where you will also work closely with our national People Powered Results team to deliver an innovation programme that embeds Arts into the Health and Care system in Wales. Full details are HERE. Closing date: 16th October (8:00am).
First interviews will be held on 25th October.

An extraordinary exhibition is currently being held at the Royal Exchange Theatre. It’s called Classphemey and connects the poetry of Tina Cribbin and images by Abi Finch. Tina explores her experiences of living in Hulme and in collaboration with many people who live in her community, was a driving force behind the Can You Hear Us From Up Here? - work last year. Here’s a small extract from a poem, and a work illustrated by Abi Finch below.

A reminder I still exist.
In a world of invisibility where the likes of us
The side-lined see-through creatures
Are mere shadows on the streets of austerity

WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION - call for Arts & Health papers

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released a fact sheet on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being in the WHO European Region, ahead of the launch of the Health Evidence Network (HEN) synthesis report on arts and health on 11 November. The report represents the most comprehensive evidence review of arts and health to date. It maps the global academic literature on this subject in both English and Russian and references over 900 publications, including 200 reviews covering over 3,000 further studies. Download the fact sheet below.

Public Health Panorama, WHO/Europe’s journal, will also dedicate a special issue to arts and health in the WHO European Region in early 2020. The journal has put out a call for papers,  underlining WHO/Europe’s growing engagement with the positive associations between the arts, health and well-being. The deadline for submission is 21 October 2019. Click this LINK above or email for more information. Click on the diagram below to see a 'factsheet' if you're into fact sheets. 

If fact sheets aren't your thing here's a lovely jargon-free song. Enjoy...

Thanks to everyone who has sent thoughts/feelings/aspiration after Yardsticks & Dreamscapes. Much more on that soon...

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Broken Ghost

Ghosted? I’m behind the times with such use of language.
Sounds a terrible thing though - all this abandonment and loss - being cast out into the void.

I’m stuck into a book by Niall Griffiths called Broken Ghost: almost finished it but am needing to share possibly the most vivid and lyrical portrait of contemporary life I’ve read in many years. I’m unnerved by its prescience and a little haunted. Seeing that TATE Britain are offering up a huge William Blake exhibition, I can’t think of anything I’ve read recently that conjures up that shimmering mysticism imbued in Blake’s work than this book. Part rural idyl, it's the poetic equivalent of Blake meeting Irvine Welsh while gently drowning in bladderwrack. Recovery - addiction - and the possibility of a miracle and the all-pervading power of social media - albeit tempered by the reality of vapid contemporary politics, Brexit and inevitable social collapse. It’s not a barrel of laughs - but it’s the most visceral and vital thing I’ve been consumed by in years. It begins on the Preseli Hills in west Wales where three people experience an oblique and shared vision - and are imbued with an overwhelming sense of wellbeing…

Then there is smug Rees-Mogg posturing for posterity on the front benches of Parliament. I have been repulsed by the way he’s been described in the press as both languorous and languid! WTF? This is just part of his arrogant self promotion. Having consistently filibustered political debates and with his feeble attempts to bamboozle other MP’s with words designed to flummox, (floccinaucinihilipilification* is such a word) the man is dangerous and insidious. But then the way the media refer to the man leading the Tory parties as ‘Boris’ -this friendly bonhomie repulses me just as much. Let’s stop humanising this flaccid and arrogant liar. Then I suppose as a species, we somehow get what we deserve - the inevitable bogymen of the western world.

Connections Through Culture - Southeast Asia Mobility Programme

The British Council are delighted to share with you a new mobility programme Connections Through Culture. In August 2019, Connections Through Culture will be launched in Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. Please share with your networks, with apologies for any cross-posting.

This programme aims to develop exciting cultural exchanges and collaborations between artists, arts professionals and arts organisations, and to support long-lasting relationships between people from East Asia and the UK. Celebrating the diverse cultural expression in both regions, the programme offers support, information, advice and networking opportunities for professional development. Grantees both from the UK and the East Asian countries benefit from the inspiration gained from exchanging ideas and sharing their cultural history.

Connections Through Culture UK-Southeast Asia is on its pilot call. Grants will be offered every three months.

Round 1 application: 

26 August to 26 September 2019
Results out: 28 October 2019 
Grant travel should be between January to March 2020.


Yardsticks & Dreamscapes this Tuesday evening - only five tickets left for this Manchester-focused work. Details here.

* the action or habit of estimating something as worthless

Wednesday, 4 September 2019


Good morning everyone - and welcome to another blog posting! I was forced to search this blog the other day to remind myself of someone, when I saw that it consists of what seems to be a billion, billion words stretching back to September 2009. Then I stumbled on a few I'd put together on the previous Arts for Health blog stretching back to 2006. The whole thing makes me feel slightly dizzy - all those hours tapping away on my laptop. Lovely to see responses to blog postings from Mike White too. OK - too much nostalgia in search of lost time.

Why no mention of politicians, fantasists, bullies and psychopaths today? I need to hold my breath for a while before I commit...


Next Tuesday I'm thrilled to be working with Clare Devaney, and welcoming acclaimed photographic artist & urban explorer @NotQuiteLight 
& the sonic artist, journalist & activist @Olie_Martin to our interactive exploration of new ways to view & measure our world! Yardsticks & Dreamscapes: Beyond Measurements in Arts, Health & Social Change across Greater Manchester is taking place on Tuesday evening and you can find details and register HERE.   

Let’s Talk About It…
SICK Festival, which runs from 25th to 28th September, is exploring a range of issues around Death & End-of-Life Care this year. Deeply personal and at the same time universal, week two of SICK! takes a frank and honest look at death. The ethics, the inequalities, the tragedy, the grief, the wonder, the humour - the experiences of death and dying and everything that surrounds it. Guaranteed to not only make you think, but make you think again about your relationship to the emotions surrounding end of life care, death itself, and the process of grieving for those of us left behind. World premieres, UK premieres new perspectives, fresh thinking and world class entertainment for you, your friends, family, colleagues and teams. Many events are free, with the rest ‘pay between’ so you can pay what you want for advance tickets. Pay as little as £5, or pay the full £15 to fund access for others, or pay anything between the two. You choose.
(Image above Mats Staub) 

Manchester’s first dementia-friendly music festival, celebrating the creativity of people living with dementia. Music has the power to connect: with loved ones, the joy of the present moment and with memories. It can help people to feel happier and less anxious. The So Many Beauties project offers. creative music-making opportunities for people living with dementia. On BBC Music Day 2019 The Bridgewater Hall will host Manchester’s first dementia-friendly music festival. The festival will provide a safe space for people of all ages to explore different musical activities. No previous musical experience is required to enjoy the day!

We’ve teamed up with Camerata, Music in Hospitals and Care, Bridgewater Hall and RNCM to put on a dementia friendly festival on BBC Music Day, Thursday 26 September. There will be relaxed performances of lots of different types of music, music making sessions where people can explore playing accessible instruments and create new music on the spot, performances of music created with people living with dementia, panel discussions and information available from a wide range of dementia related organisations both local and national.  It should be a really lovely, uplifting and celebratory event. It’s a free ticketed event and tickets are available from

Big thanks to Dawn Prescott for hosting Professor Kamei and Professor Ueda last week.