Sunday, 4 August 2019

These first 100 days...

The Arts as a Painkiller
Very interesting (at last) to read comments from international journalists and commentators on just how irrelevant the UK is becoming in the eyes of the world. With a temporary 'charismatic' leader in office and his Secretary of State for Health wedded to the idea of social prescribing, (offering up artists as deliverers of free social cures). I hear too, that the vain-glorious PM, (with no mandate from the population) has offered up culture as one of his 'ingredients' for the UK's future success. As well as Carrie Symonds (his girlfriend) being a history of art and theatre studies graduate, he has appointed one-time-communist turned Tory/Brexiteer, Munira Mirza as the director of the No 10 Policy Unit. Oldham born Mirza is way, way smarter than her boss and has said some troubling and very astute stuff around arts/health in the past. Read her essay The Arts as a Painkiller in this collection HERE. Over these first hundred days, my overarching concern is that we may shortly be blindsided by apparent investments in our communities of interest. After pledges to plough 
£1.8bn into the NHS, it all sounds positive and like a lot of money, but let's not forget that the NHS actually has a current backlog of around £6bn of repairs or replacements that need carrying out. Don't be lulled by career public servants and philanthropists looking for a quick fix, efficiencies and some feel-good news stories. Be on guard - be very on guard.

The PM and British Royal Family in their Sunday finery

A Greater Manchester Arts, Health & Social Change event - HOLD THE DATE!
On the evening of the 10th September the Manchester Institute for Arts, Health & Social Change will be hosting a free event for people living and working across the city region. It will be between 5:30 - 7:30pm and full details will be available on the MIAHSC website shortly, but you can book a place on Eventbrite right now. As ever it's a free event, so please only book if you intend to come. Thanks.

Deputy Leader of the Labour Party on Brexit and Global Talent
The Creative Industries Federation is delighted to host the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Shadow Culture Secretary, Tom Watson MP, at Somerset House from 9.30am - 11am on 11 September for an important speech on Brexit, global talent and the future of the creative industries. Full details and registration are HERE. 

World Suicide Prevention Day
START would like to invite you to our ‘Vigil & Procession of Remembrance’ on World Suicide Prevention Day, Tuesday, 10th September, 2019. The vigil & procession is in remembrance of those that we have lost to suicide, but also in support of those that have lost their loved ones to suicide. Unfortunately, those that have lost loved ones to suicide are often isolated and marginalised in their grief from the stigma that surrounds suicide. We will be gathering at STARTs Wellbeing Centre M6 5BZ, at The Procession will then make its way at 6.30pm to the lawned area out Salford Museum & Art Gallery, M6 4WU where at 7.00pm the Vigil will take place. If you would like a loved one’s name added to our Remembrance Roll which will be read as part of the vigil or would like to carry one of the 126 flags with each one representing one of the lives lost to suicide in Salford over the last 5 years, please email Dennis Baldwin HERE. 

From singing together to being read to in a library, an arts participation scheme is transforming lives in Denmark.
With social prescribing very much on the agenda, here's an article from the Guardian that highlights work happening in Denmark.
'In a whitewashed studio in northern Denmark, 11 unemployed strangers are embarking on a hearty rendition of Yellow Submarine. Jonas Thrysøe is not one of them. At least, not yet. The 36-year-old has agoraphobia, rarely leaves the house and can’t think of anything worse than a group singalong. And yet by the second chorus he is putty in the choirmaster’s hands. “I swore I’d just stand at the back and listen,” he says. “But the mood was infectious.” 
Out of work and in his second year of sick leave because of anxiety and panic attacks, Thrysøe had become isolated. “I’d avoid situations where I thought I’d get anxious, until I ended up avoiding all situations. It was a vicious circle,” he says.'

It's an interesting article, but the reporting of it offers some odd assertions. While suggesting that provision for arts on prescription/referral in the UK 'remains patchy' - some of us would welcome diversity of delivery, as a one-size fits all standardised and scaled up provision could be quite a bleak mealy mouthed affair. Just think how mindfulness has been co-opted as new capitalist spirituality. 

On top of this, the Guardian article suggests that in contrast to the UK, 'Australia has had a national arts and health framework to promote integration of the two since 2013.' As someone who has worked in Australia over the last decade, I do know how disjointed and sometimes fractious these communities of interest can be (not dissimilar to the UK) and frameworks and strategies are only of use and interest if taken up and adopted.

Wonderful artists opportunities for Bealtaine - deadlines fast approaching
Artist in Residence in a Care Setting - Call for Artists of all art forms
Age & Opportunity has created an opportunity for care settings and older people living in or attending those settings to engage creatively with an artist over the course of a number of months. Age & Opportunity also wishes to offer an opportunity for an artist to develop their specific skills in relation to working in arts and health settings. In 2019, six artist residencies of this kind will be offered. The application process is two-part: care settings have applied and been selected for this unique opportunity based on an open competition and artists are now invited to apply for a residency in one of these specific care settings.Please read the guidelines below carefully before completing the application form. Deadline is Friday 9th August.

Bealtaine Tour 2020 - Open Call

After a successful call out for 2019, Age & Opportunity once again invites applications from performing artists and theatre producers for an award for work which will tour, during May 2020, as part of the Bealtaine Festival. Age & Opportunity will provide a platform (through the Bealtaine Festival) and additional financial support to a tour which chimes with the mission and aims of the organisation, and the Bealtaine Festival, prioritising work which fulfils the assessment criteria and is radical, challenging, humorous or irreverent. Full details are available in the guidelines document below. Deadline is August 16th.  Details for both are HERE.

Monday, 29 July 2019

How Many Times

As this blogger happily ages in front of your very eyes, I’m thrilled to welcome new blood into the seemingly frenetic world of arts, health and social change in all its forms. I want to direct you to two blogs this week - the first being an entry from Clare Devaney who is delivering key work for the Manchester Institute for Arts, Health & Social Change and her blog - ‘Getting to the matter of Greater Manchester: How long is a piece of hope?’ In reality Clare has been pushing the social change agenda for years, so it’s great to have her with us here. It’s a great read and relevant to those of you beyond Manchester.

My old (but not that old) mucker at Arts for Health - Kat Taylor has uploaded a new post to her own web page, Art Thou Well. Kat is leading arts and mental health work for the Greater Manchester’s (GM) iTHRIVE Implementation team and her blog can be found here.

Although they have distinct differences, there’s something similar that runs through both these postings - and that’s, that there have to be new ways of understating how the arts influence change and be part of something bigger than the individual (that the arts also have intangible qualities too). So words like hope and love might creep into the tangled language we use. This isn’t to say that certain ways of aggregating more universal factors aren’t important, (see how I avoided standardised measurement and scaling-up?) but our shared thinking and action has to be critical of the cult of reductionism and gross domestic product. God knows, it seems that arts/health is increasingly dominated by the oh-so-plausible utilitarian doyens of arts-friendly scientific objectification! Obliquely on that note, here are the Flaming Lips.

So it is, that the European Office of the World Health Organisation have a call-out for submission of papers for a special issue on "Arts and Health in the European Region", which will be published in March 2020. It aims to showcase: 

. leading examples of arts in health research and clinical practice programmes, interventions, and evaluations;

. case studies where health policy-makers have implemented arts in health policies;
. examples of good-practice in arts and health at a country, regional or local level.

Full details are HERE.

Monday, 8 July 2019

The Silent Edition (almost)

ACE 10 year Strategy Consultation 2020 - 2030
Over the last 18 months, Arts Council England have gathered a wide range of research and evidence and spoken to over 5,000 people to help shape their new strategy. Take a look at the timeline for collecting our evidence and developing the draft strategy, and view all of the evidence and research they've published. If you follow the link below you can see their proposed vision and outcomes for the next ten years, now they want to know what you think. The consultation on their draft strategy 2020-2030 is open until 23 September 2019 and you can also sign up to a workshop taking place across the country. Click HERE for details.

In 2009 at the first Arts and Health Australia conference, as well as giving a keynote, I invited people around the world who couldn't attend, to submit a five minute film that we’d share at the conference in a session that I rather unimaginatively called, Show and Tell: Film, Sound and New Media Critical Showcase. The response was great with films submitted from the US to South East Asia. I have very fond memories of a film from Chicago based Snow City Arts about young kids in hospital creating a space adventure - superb. One film that really transfixed delegates was from Breakthrough and called Bell Bajao. It specifically asked ‘men and boys to take action against violence against women – not to ignore it, but to interrupt it. It tried to change the narrative where violence against women and girls is seen as a woman’s problem into one that is everybody’s problem. They undertook this work in India at two broad levels – creating a compelling and cutting-edge mass media campaign that reached a large number of people across the country and  engaging in grassroots mobilisation with young people and community leaders.’ Breakthrough have been pursuing this agenda for 20 years and continue to be a world leader. You can find more out about their vision and ongoing work by clicking HERE. 

School of Interrogation
Manchester International Festival
I see a number of members of this arts and health network are facilitating events as part of School of Interrogation between 5th and 20th July. Tania Bruguera’s powerful, provocative and inspiring new work draws us nearer to those who’ve made this city their home, inviting us to discover and embrace the diversity in our midst. During MIF19, the school will offer over 80 classes on a wide-ranging curriculum that includes food, customs, ethics, politics and many other forms of knowledge – classes given by local people originally from countries around the world, from Zimbabwe to Tibet. These are not only instructional lessons, but something more personal and vivid. Each teacher will pass on their own experiences, sharing skills, knowledge and culture in a different kind of communal integration and learning experience in the heart of Manchester. Click HERE for full details.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

A big welcome to Clare Devaney

I’m thrilled to welcome Dr Clare Devaney to the Arts & Health team. Clare is an experienced researcher, strategist and communicator and a strong advocate for socially engaged practice. She is founding Director of Citizen-i Ltd, a platform for citizen-led research and civic innovation. As a Research Fellow with the Royal Society of Arts, she led its “Heritage, Identity and Place” between 2014-7 and its “Citizens and Inclusive Growth” programmes in 2017. You can find out much more on her personal website HERE. Over the next 12 months Clare is working with me on the development of the Manchester Institute for Arts, Health & Social Change and associated collaborations. Great things ahead.

Steven Poole's word of the week in the Guardian focus on a word familiar to all of us in the arts/health community - Craftivism. Poole describes how: “The online knitting and crochet platform Ravelry banned patterns for MAGA hats and other pro-Trump creations that, it said, promote “white supremacy”. Could this be an example of what is known as “craftivism”: the use of crafts to advance a political agenda?” Read on HERE. This is one for Sarah Corbett and the Craftivist Collective to embrace.

From Western Australia this week, a small film from DADAA (Disability in the Arts, Disadvantage in the Arts, Australia) and artist Patrick, a 32 year old Aboriginal man who was born with Down Syndrome. The short film above, gives you a taste of his work and the way DADAA continue to support artists reach new heights. Great stuff and wonderful as ever to see DADAA thriving.

Assisted dying in Victoria
As the state of Victoria in Australia embraces Assisted Dying, it is great to see intelligent and considered responses from the Palliative Care community. In his own words, Dr Will Cairns who “is on the verge of retirement from his medical career, first as a GP, and subsequently as a specialist in palliative medicine,” writes HERE.

World Destruction
As the leader of the ‘Free World’ begins circling Tehran in preparation for implementing his next self-appointed global policing policy, (land-grab) and our silly little island prepares to anoint its own affable, charismatic, popularist (but far more machiavellian than the good old British public are prepared to accept) ‘leader’ - your blogger clings on to anything remotely positive in this world.

Women with Moustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity
I came across a remarkable book by Afsaneh Najmabadi, called Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity (2005). It sheds light on notions of male and female beauty under the Qajar dynasty (1785 – 1925) in her native Iran. At the beginning of that period, male and female ideals of beauty were remarkably similar. In a lecture to accompany the book, Najmabadi revealed images of women with “heavy brows and faint moustaches – considered so attractive that they were sometimes painted on or augmented with mascara – and young beardless men with slim waists and delicate features. In 19th century portraits of lovers, the genders are barely distinguishable, identified only by their headgear.” This is completely fascinating work and the image below is from the photo archive of the Institute for Iranian Contemporary Historical Studies and shows two Qajar women standing as a couple. The bilingual website SharheFarang focuses on collecting, documenting, and presenting visual material from Iranian daily life and culture. 

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Your blogger is away #2

This last couple of weeks I have been the guest of the artists Vic and Sarah McEwan over in Birrego - just outside of Narrandera in New South Wales. Their home and workplace - The Cad Factory - has been my home too and I extend the biggest thanks to them and Holly for making me so welcome. I’ve been invited out here as part of a piece of work that The Cad has organised with funding from Create NSW to do two things - co-facilitate a residential workshop with people from all quarters of Australia exploring arts, health and social change - and begin conversations around suicide and grief which is looking towards a major experimental and performative arts event in late 2020. Those initial conversations have begun with Wiradjuri Elder, Auntie Lorraine Tye (and LS) - and I can’t thank them enough, alongside everyone I’ve met in my time out here. Powerful conversations moving towards something really quite profound. Thank you JJ in Lt and YM in Jp for kick-starting this difficult and collective conversation. Therein lies the key.

Normal blog service resumes next week, but for now a very early Nina Hagan film where you get the taste of what was to come. Quite wonderful.


Monday, 3 June 2019

Your blogger is away... here's a holding slide and a song, which may change from time to time

Sunday, 26 May 2019

One Man Band...

...and more on that soon!*
On Death, Dying and Grieving
A strange old week with a few moments of grief - up close and personal, diffused and by six degrees of separation. In Lancaster I took part in a piece of new immersive work with the artist Fabiola Santana under the title - A Home for Grief. It was a completely unexpected treat which exposed some profound and unexpected reflections, yet at the same time brought me up close and personal with other people's experiences and aspirations around the process of dying and of caring for each other. In short, this Lancaster Arts commission was a guided exploration - part aural - part psycho-geography. Confronting and gentle. While I embarked on this (over an hour long) process, someone quite unknown to me, but close to someone I love, died very suddenly - and because of their youth - very tragically. The reverberations of this loss have been felt quite elementally. Like a ripple moving underground that erupts unexpectedly. Soil and stone, wind and water.

For many years I've been following the work of two very different activists who are embroiled in the business of dying: in the US, Katrina Spade and her recompose project, and hailing from Australia, Dr Philip Nitschke and his latest explorations around ways that we might die with dignity and at a time of our choosing. These are two very different people, pursuing very different agendas around how we live, die and return to nature. It is thrilling that Katrina has announced "that natural organic reduction – the contained, accelerated conversion of human remains into soil - has been legalised for the disposition of human remains in Washington State." Her press release provides some key facts.

"The Recomposition Science Project, a research study at Washington State University which the company co-sponsored in 2018, previously found that natural organic reduction is an effective and safe alternative to burial and cremation.

Natural organic reduction with the Recompose System offers an additional choice for after-death care that is natural and sustainable. With significant savings in carbon emissions and land usage, it addresses increasing demand for green alternatives:
• Recomposition uses 1/8 the energy of cremation, and saves over a metric ton of CO2 per person

• If every WA resident chose recomposition as their after-death preference, we would save over a 1/2 million metric tons of CO2 in just 10 years. That’s the equivalent of the energy required to power 54,000 homes for a year.

Recompose offers an alternative choice to cremation and conventional burial methods. Our service-recomposition - gently converts human remains into soil, so that we can nourish new life after we die." Superb, progressive and very, very impressive work. More details are HERE. I've never been a great one for the cult of Ted Talks, but what the hell - here's Katrina sharing her thinking.

Perhaps poles apart, Philip Nitschke has launched the world’s first 3D-printed euthanasia pod ‘The Sarco’ which he showcased at the Venice biennale 2019 at Venice Design. The machine is the creation of Amsterdam-based Euthanasia activist, Dr Philip Nitschke and Dutch industrial designer, Alexander Bannink. Find out a little more in the film below.

Philip describes the aim of the Sarco "is to allow a rational adult the option of a peaceful, elective and lawful death in an elegant and stylish environment. The Sarco capsule is detachable and can be used as a coffin for burial or cremation. The mechanism within the base is infinitely reusable." "The invitation to exhibit in Venice came quite unexpectedly" said Dr Nitschke today.  "It takes a courageous curator to be prepared to exhibit an object which has such a serious real life use." What conjoins these two very different and very radical thinkers is their belief that things can be different and their continuous drive to turn their vision and ethical beliefs into practice. 

Facing inwards and outwards: challenging inequalities within Greater Manchester
The Manchester Institute for Arts, Health & Social Change is publishing a range of guest blog-postings and podcasts over the next year or so. For our first foray into encouraging new thinking around the broadest arts, health and social change agenda, PhD candidate Frances Williams went to the launch of Wigan's ‘cultural manifesto’ - under the banner of The Fire Within and with the curatorial eyes of Al & Al  is a hybrid  of 'public event, exhibition and also catalyst for investment.' You're bursting to know more - so go straight to it by clicking HERE.

This brand-new theatre piece has been created through a programme of public engagement and creative enquiry into the lived experience of young onset dementia. Throughout 2018-19, Manchester Camerata has engaged with multiple dementia support groups across Greater Manchester to capture and tell the stories of younger people living with dementia. Shining a light on both the positives and negatives of living with dementia, the groups have considered how it affects someone of a younger age and their family and friends. The piece takes the audience through the journeys of four people. Each have been affected by young onset dementia – a mother and son, and a woman and her loving wife. Manchester Camerata’s ‘Dementia Voices’ project is being toured across Greater Manchester from 19th – 29th June 2019. To find venues click HERE.  

SANE launches creative arts scheme to inspire people affected by mental illness    

Individuals affected by mental illness are being given the chance to fulfil their creative potential under an exciting new initiative. The Creative Awards Scheme has been launched by the mental health charity SANE with the aim of improving the quality of life of people with mental health problems, their families and carers, by helping them to pursue the visual arts. The scheme will make grants to individuals to enable them to engage in creative and educational activities such as taking an evening course in photography, or creating a piece of art. The scheme is open to anyone with a diagnosed mental health condition or anyone acting as a full-time carer to submit proposals for works of visual art. The awards will range from £75 to £300 to cover or contribute to the cost of materials such as paints and frames, attending training courses, or supporting the provision of replacement care in the case of carers who apply. Click HERE for more.