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.

Monday, 25 October 2021


In the third of our four guest postings around lived experience, today sees the candid personal story of Ruth Flanagan, who shares her experience of cancer and of the liberating nature of arts in her life. As ever, I can't thank Ruth enough for sharing her experience. 

Ruth Flanagan
Illness has always been a large part of my life. I have early childhood memories of sitting bored for hours on end in the doctors waiting room whilst my mum had her monthly injection. My one and only grandparent, a single memory of her lying sick on the sofa dying from lung cancer. My Mum, again; heart attack, angioplasty, sepsis, dementia, Covid, broken pelvis, the exhausting privilege it is to care for her. 

My own illness came at the age of 15, after a year of chronic pain and misdiagnosis. Cancer. The late effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy present me still with a rolling continuum of ailments, failures and diseases. 37 years old, a separate different cancer diagnosis, unrelated. “You have just been unlucky twice” said my consultant. 

I have used the arts for many years to manage my experiences of illness. During my childhood cancer I would draw repeatedly my re imagination of Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’.

My work as a designer maker has led me into a passion for using the arts to enhance wellbeing for myself and others, specifically through pattern design upholstery and book printing.

I have a passion for arts health, the improvement of cancer services and coproduction. I am proud to be one of the North West regional champions for The Lived Experience Network (LENs) The LENs is a network of people who believe in the benefits of creative and cultural engagement to individual and collective wellbeing. I work with the LENs network in the North West to ensure that the voices of those with lived experience remain at the heart of the arts, health and wellbeing movement.

I believe that Arts engagement can help with the self-management of long term illness and I want to share my lived experience of using the arts to empower people to manage their own wellbeing as suggested in the All Party Parliamentary Group report ‘Creative Health’: To highlight ‘the transformation of the healthcare system from hospital centred and illness-based to a person-centred and health-based system’.

An example of my Arts Health work included working with the Macmillan Cancer Improvement Partnership (MCIP) I managed an arts project to design and upholster a chair.

The chair was produced to leave a legacy of the people affected by cancer whose volunteering work was a key part of the cancer improvement scheme. The chair was also designed to inspire others to volunteer in the future. I worked with volunteers to co-produce a wing back chair with co-designed fabric. The chair went on display at The Christie, Wythenshawe Hospital and Trafford General. You can see more HERE.  

It is only natural now that I want to focus on wellbeing. I go to the allotment, I swim outdoors, I write, I make prints, I catch mindful moments on film. I create.

I believe the arts shouldn’t be an extra or little luxury – but something that is woven in to the fabric of my life. 

I wasn’t “unlucky twice” I’ve been lucky twice and the arts have helped me.

Ruth Flanagan. Twitter @un_luckytwice

A research partnership project led by More Music and the International Centre of Community Music
How do partner-practitioners in the Music for Health in Morecambe project understand and communicate its value and why? This report shares findings from ‘Working Together’, an action research project designed by More Music and International Centre for Community Music (ICCM), led by Dr Ruth Currie.

Last week I shared news of a research event over in Morecambe and I'm pleased to share their report HERE.

 “This report shares the learning from our collaborative research. It suggests that knowledge-exchange processes have value for how partnerships can work together across policies and perceptions of music’s role in challenging health inequalities towards place-based social action.”

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Owning Who I am Now!

First of all - thanks for your lovely messages.

. . . 

Following on from last weeks guest blog by artist Sue Flowers, the second contribution to this series on lived experience and the arts, comes from the contemporary artist and former clinician 
Shanali Perera who shares a very different personal story. Shanali is a North West Regional Champion of the Lived Experience Network. 

. . . 

Owning Who I Am Now
Shanali Perera
Based in Manchester, I am a contemporary artist, educator, writer, and retired clinician living with a rare condition called vasculitis. 
The start of my illness was in 2009 during my specialist training in Rheumatology. Unexpectedly, my life rhythm got interrupted…I felt like the speed train I was travelling in, just derailed! What happened to the usual ‘movement and flow’? What took over?’ The sinking feeling, I was imprisoned and my freedom to move robbed, overpowered me.

It was a very humbling and transformative experience for me to end up as a patient in my own specialty of training. At one point, I was seeing the everyday struggles patients go through, at the next point, I was living it. The shift that took place moving from a clinician to a person with unexplained symptoms and then to a vasculitis patient was a challenging transition. There was a huge switch in dynamics. I suddenly felt ‘wow, I don’t feel like a person anymore. I’m a patient'.
Shanali Perera 
My condition affected my hand function amongst other things, which limited their use. So, I started using an app on my phone to draw when I had to retire prematurely and give up my career in rheumatology. It took years to get on top of my management and break free from illness dominance that took over my life, distorting my identity.

Regaining the freedom to finally ‘Own who I am now’, what I look like, and what I am about, to be and move forward as Shanali, helped to unlock myself from my own imprisonment.

Art helped me understand and accept what I was going through by giving my illness visibility. It gave me a sense of purpose and helped me regain some of that control I had lost. My art is the best way of expressing the ‘essence of who I am and what I am going through’. An honest and true representation of me and my lived experience with illness, pain, and change. It helps me to make the invisible visible to myself and others as it continues to capture the movement of endurance, resilience, and empowerment.

Now, my mantra is that I am not the illness – I am a person first. The illness is only part of me, an accessory I wear around me.

Shanali Perera 
From my experience, adapting to find ways around limitations plays a central role in rebuilding confidence. Regaining a sense of control, a sense of purpose became a significant component that inspired forward movement with my life and work. And I'm very keen to share with others how:

. art helped me to transform my illness experience into a more meaningful way of living, moving from a clinician to a patient, to becoming an artist and a person again;

. beneficial art can be as a self-management tool on top of all the other medications and therapies to cope with pain and all the other daily challenges that people with illnesses are confronted with;

. expressions of illness experiences can highlight what goes on behind the curtains for the patient, giving health providers, a deeper understanding of what people really go through and what impact illness can have on a person's image and identity; the stereotyping and stigma that is attached; start seeing more of the face behind the illness, not just the person with diabetes or vasculitis.

I strongly feel that using the arts may help us to tap further into the human aspect of medical practice. My aim is to connect with healthcare providers, junior doctors, medical students as well as patients and the public to give them this message.

. . . 

Thanks you so much Shanali and next week, we'll hear from Ruth Flanagan.

. . . 

Alison Kershaw

The artist, curator and activist, Alison Kershaw died this week. A driving force behind Pool Arts and Victoria Baths Arts, Alison has given so much to so many people with warmth and with tenacity. Of the many people I’ve known who were deeply embedded in the arts and mental health community, Alison got things done - and everything she was part of had such integrity.

Photo: Roger Bygott
Alongside her partner Adele Fowles she was half of the artist collaboration Another Adele and when the Manchester International Festival threw open the invitation to the citizens and workers of Greater Manchester to be part of its opening extravaganza - What Is the City but the People? - the three of them strode out along that catwalk, part of that great city-scape - of people and place. So many people will miss everything about her.
Alison Kershaw - a brilliant woman. 

. . .

How might community music work tackle poisonous health inequalities?
More Music and the International Centre for Community Music Present (ICCM) 'Working Together - Music for Health in Morecambe.’ Join the team from More Music and the ICCM as they reflect on their recent
partnership-led research, in a free webinar on Thursday 21 October at 2pm. They will discuss the value of critical research in developing community music partnerships, to improve health inequalities in Morecambe.

More Music Winter by Robin Zahler
Music for Health in Morecambe is a programme developed by More Music to help improve mental health and wellbeing. More Music piloted three social prescribing projects in Morecambe. With Bay Medical Group local GP practice and social prescribers, they are running a weekly community sing a long for anyone aged over 60 aimed at combatting isolation and loneliness. With CAMHS and A.C.E. (a charity who provide free counselling to young people), they run a young people’s singing for positive mental health group, singing out any stress in a safe inclusive group. With West End Impact, a Morecambe community faith charity, they run ‘Drumming for Health’, working with marginalised people who live with issues arising from homelessness, chronic illness and depression. 
This work will be featured on BBC NW Inside Out this Monday 18th October. Want to find out more, or book a place? Click HERE.
"We know 'Music is medicine', More Music have been leading this for 25 years in Morecambe, what does a new way of working together for community health look like?" 
Andy Knox, GP and Director of Population Health for Morecambe Bay Health and Care System

A Book of Ours. Photo: Noora Mykkanen

A Book of Ours
Last week I made brief reference to A Book of Ours being launched. You can find out more by reading the short article Noora Mykkanen in The Meteor by clicking HERE.

. . . 

The Contemporary Visual Art Network North West (CVAN NW)
CVAN NW are currently trying to steer the network towards more socially engaged practice and are trying to build a new vision based on the impact of the arts across 3 key areas:
Health & Wellbeing
  • Place Making 
  • Climate Justice.
Do you want to help them build a better and more representative future? We're working on our future strategy& need your input. Grab a brew, click on HERE and share some feedback to help their much-needed research.
Deadline Sun 24 Oct.

Director of Cartwheel Arts (full time)
The long standing Director Rick Walker is retiring after two decades with the company. They are therefore looking for an experienced leader who is passionate about the social impact that participatory arts can make in low income neighbourhoods and marginalised communities, delivering creative excitement and positive outcomes for both individuals and groups, and in bringing about a socially just society. This is their mission:
Cartwheel is committed to promoting social inclusion, cohesion, diversity and regeneration through community participation in vibrant, innovative, high-quality arts projects  building healthier, stronger, safer communities.
We call this Art for a Reason. More details are HERE.

Sunday, 10 October 2021

#WorldMentalHealthDay - or - Aus her Krankheit eine Waffe machen

To celebrate World Mental Health Day and the rich lives of people affected by the stresses and anxieties of being alive in the here and now, I’m chuffed to bits to have a some brief accounts of the life experiences of four of the north west regional champions of the Lived Experience Network (LENS) who are a critical part of the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance. So over the next four weeks, there’ll be a blog with each of the contributors telling something of their story.

The work that each of these artists pursue reflects a myriad of lived experiences linking mind and body and care - and much more - so no binary divisions here - just beautiful and complicated thinking about what it is to be human, with all our differences and similarities. My biggest thanks to Sue Flowers, Shanali Perera, Ruth Flanagan and Danielle Chappell Aspinwall who are pictured below.

This first posting is by Sue who is a driving force behind Green Close, an artist-led organisation located in the village of Melling in rural North Lancashire. You can find out more about her work and Green Close HERE. Both images of the 
Embroidered Cardigan and and the writing below are copyright of Sue Flowers 2021.

. . . 

My Injury by Sue Flowers 

Lived experience is such a strange term, especially because all of our experiences are lived in some way or another. But for those of us involved in LENs (the Lived Experience Network) it has a very specific meaning –referring to our experiences of illness, healthcare and often some fairly harsh realities of facing complex conditions and how these are managed.

Another thing that unites us is our belief that the arts can play a significant role in enabling better health, better healthcare systems and inspiring hope for individuals when they most need it. I think all of us involved in the network truly believe in the power of the arts to help and heal and we also understand that they can provide a much-needed portal to giving voice to the unheard (too often harrowing) stories of individuals as patients caught up in a healthcare system that has lost its way in focussing in on truly person-centred care.

My passion for the arts came as a child and I have spent my life working creatively, using the visual arts as a form of empowerment and understanding for others. However my passion for using the arts to affect positive social change within the mental healthcare system didn’t come until much later, when I witnessed how broken the system really was.

I have two close relatives with bipolar disorder, one aged 83 and the other 26: and having first experienced a relative with psychosis when I was just 23 I felt pretty well versed in what to expect when the younger one first became unwell. The problem was it wasn’t the actual mania of the illness that damaged his sense of self it was the way he was ‘treated’ and sadly abused by the services that were meant to protect and care for him. I witnessed him being held in seclusion unit for 15 days, not being allowed to shower or clean his teeth, and unfortunately I witnessed him being put into a headlock and held face down by members of staff when he had done nothing more than walk towards a closed door. 

I understand that people in altered states of reality can become aggressive and violent – but in this instance – there was an appalling abuse of power on a vulnerable young man who was compliant. At that point my heart broke. I wanted to do everything in my power to affect positive change and use my skills as an artist to help people see and understand some of the difficulties people with mental health conditions and their families face.

So, I became a part-time peer supporter on a mental health research study led by experts from Lancaster University REACT - the Relatives Education & Coping Toolkit. I was shocked to discover that the trauma we had faced as a family ran the length and breadth of the country as I worked to support others in navigating a confusing, underfunded system – where people are left until crisis point before any action is taken. Reading and responding to the individual traumas, heartbreak and collective suffering I vowed to try and find a way to make a difference.
I knew that when I worked creatively with groups I tried to facilitate platforms of equality, where every individual and every idea mattered; where difference was positive and so – called ‘failure’ was the absolute gift of knowing where to go next.

All of this was second nature to me as a visual artist and so I have chosen to take a pathway that wears my ‘lived experience’ on my sleeve – I am delivering creative mental wellbeing programmes and talk openly about our experiences of mental health and the systems that damaged us. I understand that the complexity of some emotions cannot be put into words and that sometimes other modes of expression are much more useful.

And, I have helped myself to heal through my own making and creating of artworks that have helped me process difficulties and I hope in some way they may also try to affect some new understanding.

. . . 

My Injury

My injury is not on the outside
stitches, swabs and bandages 
are not necessary
and surgeons cannot help me.

My injury is not on the outside
I carry my pain within me
no surgeon, operation or plaster
can fix it - it dwells within me.

My injury is not on the outside
it lingers like the memory of an unwanted dream.
Instead, blood that may have spilt across the floor, 
pumps around my veins keeping my injury alive.

My injury is not on the outside, unlike a carbuncle
I can’t have it removed or cut out of me.
I’d be happy to bear the pain and carry a scar
but impossibility comes with this.

My injury is not on the outside
I want to banish it – to set it free.
People say time is a healer; but guilt gnaws and anxiety craves
And so I uncover my injury – it is a part of me.

Thank you for sharing this with us Sue.

. . . 

A Little Light Reading
What books am I reading at the moment that link to mental health? Well, in truth don’t all books have some affect or impact on our emotional and mental wellbeing? Aren’t they nourishment for the soul - pure and simple? I know that through this last 20 months or so - through my own illness and through covid - I have devoured more books than I thought feasibly possible! I listened to a podcast by the writer Jenn Ashworth recently, where she describes the act of writing like breathing out, and that is inevitable nourished by reading itself - which is the breathing inI like this a lot.

She’s one of the authors of 17 short stories in a book edited by Dan Coxton which ploughs all its royalties/fees to the charity, Together for Mental Wellbeing. Out of the Darkness is a great collection of horror, dark fantasy, uncanny and the strange. The book is threaded with, and influenced by, the experiences of the authors and published by Unsung Stories, it ‘harnesses the power of fiction to explore and explain the darkest moments in our lives.’

The other book I’m ploughing through again (and it is a challenging read) is the brilliant SPK Aus her Krankheit eine Waffe machen. Translated as Turn Illness into a Weapon, it is a compelling treatise and account of the Socialist Patients Collective (SPK) in Heidelberg published in 1973 and the still-relevant account of the collective voices and action begins, what described at the time as the ‘anti-psychiatry’ movement. It is a brilliant critique of the medical model of mental health. The extraordinary preface is by John-Paul Sartre. 

One online reviewer (Durakov) succinctly captures something of the books narrative: 

"Instead of helping the ever-increasing body of the ill, capital and its defenders only seeks to make them exploitable bodies again, and it does so by essentially holding them hostage: the ill cannot seek the means of healing that fit their needs and desires, but are forced to travel through prescribed pathways and means defined by the authorities. If they do not do so, they are free to starve or die."

While dominant figures like R.D Laing - from English-speaking countries - dominated the late 60’s rethinking of mental difference, in Germany (SPK) and Italy (
Franco Basaglia) other radical voices were blossoming. Today, and perhaps not as divisive as those free-radicals, there are still passionate voices in this insane world, and at the head of the pack in the UK has to be the psychologist Richard Bentall, who looks to the reasons behind distress and ill-health. Of course, I return to Mark Fisher again and again and again.

Free Arts, Culture and Mental Health Module

For anyone interested in finding out about arts and mental health, there is a great free online module from the GM iTHRIVE project, which you can find more about on Dr Kat Taylor’s blog HERE. Below is a brief introduction to what it’s all about.

‘The new Arts, Culture and  Mental Health module introduces learners to the value of arts and culture for mental health. The module takes around 30 minutes to complete and demonstrates how the arts and creative interventions can be viable options for mental health service provision, shares key resources to raise awareness of the evidence and what options are available, and provides activities and ideas for how to incorporate arts and culture into every day practice. With interactive sections, videos and lessons from how we spent our time during the pandemic, the module also supports understanding of the broader applications of the arts and culture in public health.’

The always extraordinary arthur+martha launch A Book of Ours at Manchester Cathedral this week. A medieval-style, illuminated manuscript that has been written, illustrated and designed by a group of people who have experienced both homelessness and life at the margins of society. The book describes their lives, hopes and dreams over the course of a 2-year project. It's being launched on Thursday 14th October between 2:30 and 4:00. If it weren't for my fragile health, I'd be there in a jiffy. Find out more this rich and beautiful work HERE.

Here's what one participant said about this process:

“I’ve turned something nightmare-ish into something else. That experience of being homeless, which I’ve never talked about. A lot of my friends didn’t know it was happening. But now those memories have become part of something beautiful.”  


If you're kicking your heals and want to titter at your blogger ranting on about all manner of things arts n health back in May this year, here's a filmed conversation - quite odd at times - between me, Miss Death and Jay Katz! Katz, AKA = the Australian musician, archivist, social worker, film critic, radio announcer, and DJ, Jaimie Leonarder. Recorded while I was still on the MMU payroll, I wonder how different this would have sounded if recorded today. Jamie is the most radical social worker/activist I've ever met who worked created a bad alongside people living on the streets. Really quite a remarkable force of nature... 

 Hey Ho

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

NEWS FLASH - Clive Parkinson leaves Man Met

First of all, a big hello and I do hope that all is well with you, and that covid hasn’t had too horrible an impact on you and those you love. If you’re a regular visitor to the North-West Arts, Health & Social Change blog, you’ll know that I’ve been treated for multiple myeloma whilst the pandemic has been wreaking its havoc. What a year - or two!

Any threat to life, makes one consider the value of things, and not the monetary value, but the value of being alive in the moment! And I've been weighing up larger social, cultural, and environmental issues that stretch way beyond the individual. So, mortality a-tip-tap-tapping at my door has made me re-evaluate where I want to put my energies. You can get something of an idea of my perspective on things from the short film I created for the Culture, Health & Wellbeing International Conference in June. Just click HERE or on the image below.  

Bizarrely this experience has rejuvenated both my imagination and the impulse to create. Not at all a bad thing. Alongside these personal perspectives - and after much rumination on my part - I’m leaving MMU and its iteration of ‘Arts for Health’ this month, which I’ve been at the helm of for many a year. This isn’t a bad thing at all, as institutions can contribute to institutionalisation, and we can’t have that, can we?! For any of you who have been in touch about enrolling for the new MA Arts, Health & Social Change, I’m not quite sure what MMU will offer up, though I understand that it won’t be the course I’d originally designed. You’ll need to keep a beady eye on their website. 

So, liberated from the organisation - and with newly invigorated curiosity - I am branching out into the wider world which will enable a more radical approach to what I take on, what I do, what I think - and what I say. I’ll be asking how we might collectively revolutionise our thinking about what constitutes knowledge in this field and who is asking what questions and why? I’ll also be exploring things from a rogue freelance perspective in terms of research, evaluation and training - and action. More on that soon. But let's pause. Nina Simone is sublime. Her ghost lives on in this thing we call the web. Just incredible.

Still working with the
Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance, and the National Centre for Creative Health - as I alluded to earlier this year - I hope to ramp up the development of the North-West Arts, Health & Social Change Network and get new blood in the system. So too, I’ll be driving the Manchester Institute for Arts, Health & Social Change forward - and on both fronts, I’d like to keep you in the loop and inject some vitality into our shared community of interest. Keep an eye on this blog for updates, or on the Manchester Institute pages, or my woefully unpopulated and ropey, personal website. I'm very much looking forward to collaborating with you on all sorts of things.

Here's a shout out to the So Many Beauties Collective and their extraordinary and wonderful free event as part of South Asian Heritage Month on 5th August. Click HERE for details.  

I've been putting songs on this blog since 2009 and today's no exception -so here is a sweet, sweet song from the Almodovar film, Hable Con Ella, (Talk to Her) which just about breaks my heart.

Monday, 17 May 2021

Present Tense

What a lovely response to the launch of A Social Glue last week. Thanks to everyone who took part in the event and all those who contributed to the work - back in the day, Dr Clare Devaney - all those people who talked things through with me - all of you who provided case studies - the forensic eye of Wills and JMcC and the superb designer Georgia Burns. Thanks all.

If you didn't make it to the launch, a film of the things I discussed - alongside the other wonderful speakers - can all be found HERE. The Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance will magically turn my words into a blog posting shortly, so do look out for that HERE.

The full report of A Social Glue, a summary and the Parallel Narratives can all be found on the Institute website, HERE.

For those eagle-eyed regulars to the blog, you’ll be aware I’ve been through the mangle, the wringer, the mill this last year, with my fragile health and whatnot - so much so - that your blogger is booking into a rather smart hotel for a few weeks to have some kind of tonic! Well, perhaps that’s an exaggeration, though while I do imagine myself in some sanatorium in the Alps, it’s Blackpool and the NHS for me, as I book in for a stem-cell transplant. Like some Frankenstein-ish experiment, I’ll be out for the count for a few weeks.

Yet perhaps the Irish Sea isn’t to dissimilar to the Venetian Lagoon and like an old ham, it’ll be more Death in Venice than Blackpool! And though I shouldn’t tempt fate, I can see my touched-up temples running as I slump down in some cholera infected campo - or a deckchair on the Golden Mile!  So - some phone silence from me and positive vibes through the ether are much appreciated and do forgive me this self indulgence. I hope very much to be speaking at the Culture, Health and Wellbeing International Conference in late June. Full details which you can find HERE. My keynote/film will be a meditation on the toxic and unequal world we live in and a rallying cry for change, all imagined from the perspective of my current fragilities and constructed while confined to a hospital bed! 

For old times sake, here’s an old film I made to coincide with the exhibition I co-curated in 2013, Mortality: Death and the Imagination. I wrote an essay called Present Tense which built on a rather famous and wonderful interview between Melvyn Bragg and Dennis Potter. You can read my essay in full HERE. On its journey it takes in some thoughts on religion and science; the numinous, assisted dying and the Euthanasia Coaster. The music for this short film is by Fennesz and is called Laguna. You can get a taste of Potter and more in this brief three-minute film below.
OK - your blogger is leaving the room...

Monday, 3 May 2021


Reimagining the North West Arts, Health & Social Change Network
Just the biggest thanks to all of you who have been in touch about the reimagining and reworking of our network and how we fit in with the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance. I'm overwhelmed with the response to my call-out - thank you. Above all, thank you for the care - particularly from those of you I've never met - which is very lovely. Please do get in touch if you want to part of these developments and I'd really welcome anyone from under represented groups. Just email

Most regular readers of this blog will know that I've been having treatment for multiple-myeloma, which comes to a head shortly with stem-cell treatment, (urgh) but I will be in touch with you all and via this blog and email once that treatment is done and dusted! While consuming all sorts of efficacious medicinal compounds, I've been beavering away on all manner of things, one of which is this big old report, which while focused on Greater Manchester, is something that I hope might be relevant to others regardless of geography.

Greater Manchester: a Creative Health City Region

On the 12th May a piece of work I’ve been working on for some time - for Great Place in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority - will be published.  A Social Glue is a snapshot in time of this fast-growing field of culture, health and wellbeing and its place in Greater Manchester’s ongoing cultural evolution.  

The narrative of A Social Glue offers a platform from which to spearhead a change in the cultural agenda, from one where arts and health is focused on ill health and deficit, to one where human creativity is seen as a liberating social asset and a means to effecting individual and communal change. It warns too, of the dangers of the arts being seen as a blunt instrumental tool, acknowledging the nuance and complexity that creativity opens up.

The last decade has seen a flowering of work in this field - a rich and messy ecology - and A Social Glue explores some key areas of development around the arts, mental health and wellbeing across the city-region and potentially different ways of delivering the Social Prescribing agenda that are able to flex to the subtle divergences of neighbourhoods, communities and local human and physical resources.

Greater Manchester certainly has the spirit and drive to make this happen, building on its rich arts and heath lineage, and the time has never felt more appropriate to connect the strands of health with social and civic life, reimagining Greater Manchester as a Creative Health City Region.

Creativity has the potential to inspire more connected, critical and active citizens, where the arts in all their forms help us make sense of the world and drive change forward, in the cultural sector as elsewhere.  At the very heart of this narrative, we place high value on participatory and socially engaged artists and practitioners, as we do on the people at the centre of our communities and those citizens, activists and emerging change agents who will drive this reimagining of our city-region into reality.  Given the stresses of the pandemic, our attention should rightly focus on the factors that influence everyone’s health, where culture and creativity enable communities and citizens to consider themselves participants in a common venture.

The report, which originally came in at an unwieldy 100,000 words has had its hefty form sculpted down to something more appropriate. Some of those deleted sections will form key threads for a work I'm preparing for a more personal keynote for the Culture, Health and Wellbeing International Conference. This combines issues around the environment, social justice and my own fragile body. Keep your eyes out for that. It'll be called: SEDATIVE or STIMULANT: Consume by 24:06:202. Find out more by clicking HERE. 

But back to the report.

A Social Glue sits a complimentary series of parallel narratives of practice from across the city region. These case-studies were originally collected by Clare Devaney many moons ago, and I am grateful to her and all the individuals and groups who have contributed to A Social Glue. The full and summary report alongside the Parallel Narratives will be available on the Manchester Institute for Arts, Health & Social Change website following the publication on the 12th May. If you’d like to come along to the free launch event between 10:00am and 11:00am, just register by following clicking HERE.