Sunday, September 23, 2012

celfyddydau + diwylliant = pŵer

I am thrilled to have been asked to give the keynote at the opening at the 4th Art of Good Health and Wellbeing, International Conference in Australia. You can see my abstract below, but a key to this paper is that it will be two-part; building on work that I’m supporting in Lithuania and critically for me, it will include the input of international delegates in Australia, to develop it further into a coherent exploration of current socially engaged practice. Whilst I’ll present at the start of the conference, I’ll be gathering the diverse stories of practice and research over the week and developing the paper further as a journal article. 

A small scale global phenomenon: revelation or revolution?
Following the publication of Arts & Health, an International Journal for Research, Policy and Practice in 2009 and its introductory essay; The State of Arts and Health in England, it appeared that the arts/health community was on the brink of a new era of critical thinking and global connectivity. By unpicking the ‘state’ of the field in England in terms of research, policy and practice, this co-authored essay painted a picture, that over the intervening years, has arguably changed beyond recognition. Building on the work of partners from the political, health, cultural and arts sectors, this new paper, I’ll attempt to reappraise the field in light of the changing political landscape and global financial downturn, drawing parallels between countries where arts/health is an emergent field and others where it is perhaps more established. Through shared observation, experience and experiment, this paper will  identify new opportunities, challenges and possibilities in participatory arts and public health, and ask; are we part of what Mike White describes, a small scale global phenomenon - and if so, are we part of a gradual enlightenment or a cultural supernova?

So if you want to be involved in this, it will be great to meet up. Please feel free to get in touch before hand if we need to arrange this.

Last week I mentioned that I was blogging from Lithuania and what an exciting, beautiful and progressive country it is. As well as visiting the recovery cafe Mano Guru, I spent time in Kaunas and on the streets of the old part of town, I felt something of the beating heart of Lithuania, its cafes, bars and people. Quite exquisite. Following this, I spent time at the Pamenkalnio Galerija in Vilnius with colleagues planning one of the three exhibitions exploring our relationship with death and dying, which will be held over 2013 in Manchester, Vilnius and Bogota.

I was a guest of the Director of the British Council, Dr Artūras Vasiliauskas who convened an extraordinary group of ministers, politicians and key decision makers, to explore the potential of inter-departmental developments and policy in arts and health, and over a very productive evening, we explored a long-term strategy for just how we might achieve this. This is very progressive and builds on the ongoing arts, health and wellbeing projects rolling out in Lithuania, and which I am privileged to work with. The research and evaluation of this work will be available in early 2013 and updates of its social and political impact will be shared here.

Whilst I’ve been away, I’ve noted the emerging stories about prescribing, particularly the revelation that up to a million people in the UK have preventable headaches that are ironically caused by taking too many painkillers. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), have produced guidelines for treating headaches. Prof Martin Underwood, from Warwick Medical School, who led the NICE panel, said: 'This can end up getting into a vicious cycle where your headache gets worse, so you take more painkillers, so your headache gets worse and this just becomes worse and worse and worse...It is such an easy thing to prevent.' This may seem like a relatively benign story, and one that reflects a society where we believe we can ‘cure’ anything by simply reaching for a pill - after all, that’s far easier than getting up from our desks and exercising, or else, pulling ourselves away from the computer - perhaps having a swig of water instead of that bag of crisps. Isn’t there something too, about tolerating some of the aches and pains that non-serious illness throws at us? Like our internet lifestyles and our diets; the medication is peddled to us by the most powerful and pernicious of all the industries - the big pharmaceuticals.

I know I’ve laboured this point before, but I really feel its a central part of the story of what arts/health is about. Whilst we constantly pressure ourselves to ‘evidence’ the impact of our practice - our researchers, blindly looking for the ‘gold standard’ of the measurable outcome; we’re just following the myth of what constitutes evidence, mistaking what the medical fraternity take on broad as empirical evidence, only as Dr Ben Goldacre forensically reveals, to be largely, a pharmaceutical smoke-screen. In an extract from his new book, Bad Pharma, Goldacre unpicks the story I explored in A Brightly Coloured Bell-Jar in 2010; that the anti-depressant Reboxetine, developed by Pharmacia, (now Pfizer) had its negative data held-back from the medical community (and public alike) and was in fact, doing worse than those on other drugs or placebos, doing more harm than good. Perhaps even worse, is that the ‘academic papers, which everyone thinks of as objective, are often covertly planned and written by people work work directly for the companies (Pharmaceuticals) without disclosure.’ In this article, Goldacre blisteringly exposes the often subjective bias in trails. Even more alarming is his exposure of GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) marketing of Paroxetine, (an anti-depressant) and use in children’s mental health.

‘While the company knew the drug didn’t work in children, it was in no hurry to tell doctors that. Worse, nobody knew how bad the side-effects were because it didn’t reveal its worrying safety data.’ You can read this full extract by clicking on this photograph

Ok, ‘of your high-horse’, you might say - but this is relevant, seriously relevant. As a final comment on this work, its worth noting Goldacre’s position that this pharma control of data is the polar opposite of good science, and which I’d suggest also defines good practice in arts/health.

‘This is the opposite of science, which is reliable only because everyone shows their working, explains how they know that something is effective or safe, shares their methods and results, and allows others to decide if they agree with the way in which the data was processed and analysed.’

Like Dr Richard Smith, Ben Goldacre illuminates endemic corruption within the sometimes, fictitious world of evidence based medicine when it is controlled by big industry. Reaching for an aspirin to help with your headache, is the tip of an iceberg, and as our well-being is increasingly pathologised and reduced to a prescription, we should be more confident of the place of culture and the arts in the armory of preventative medicine - but also as a vehicle for voicing our outrage at bad science.

Hey Ho...

And so to new opportunities, the first of which ties neatly into last weeks exploration of just what a 21st Century Library might look like, in relationship to arts/health/community/wellbeing.

Community Ownership & Management of Assets Grant Programme (England)
Local Community groups, Parish Councils and Charities, etc can apply for grants of up to £100,000 to help them take over the ownership of public assets.  This includes preparing to implement Community Right to Bid coming into force in the autumn.  Under the Community Right to Bid organisations will be able to bid to buy publicly or privately-owned land and buildings for community use. Communities will be able to get support to acquire and manage assets such as:
  • Village shops
  • Pubs
  • Community centres
  • Heritage buildings
  • Allotments
  • Libraries.
Community groups will be able to bid for pre-feasibility grants of between £5,000 and £10,000 to help build the internal capacity needed to take ownership of assets. Organisations that can show evidence of plans to take over land or buildings can apply for grants of between £10,000 and £100,000 to help undertake feasibility studies to take on asset ownership and management.  The Grant Programme is an integral part of the Community Ownership and Management of Assets (including Right to Bid) Support Programme, and will offer advice and funding to support organisations throughout the process of identifying and acquiring community assets.

Before applying, organisations will need to speak to the Community Rights Advice Service. The advisors at Locality will help you assess if your contract-readiness and which grant is most suitable for your organisation. Only applications that have been referred by the Community Rights Advice Service will be accepted. Read more at: 

If you’ve reserved a place already, I’ll email out the details of the venue for this Thursday evening’s networking event on Tuesday. There are still as many places as we want for this, so if you want to come, just email me.

Arts Council England, Capital Small Grants
Yesterday we opened our Capital small grants fund to applications. The programme is designed to address the needs of organisations whose development plans do not involve large-scale work (awards will be between £100,000 and £499,999) and is one of a number of measures the Arts Council is putting in place to support organisations become more sustainable and resilient businesses.

We understand that like any trade, artists and performers need the right tools and facilities to effectively deliver and develop their craft. And audiences need places where they can properly interact with the art or performance. Our Capital investment programme is a very practical way of helping to develop the arts infrastructure in this country so that organisations can flourish and continue to produce the excellent work that audiences want to see.

New national resource to be launched in Manchester 
Age of Creativity is the new website for artists, practitioners and organisations working in the field of arts and older people. Valuing Older People is delighted to support the launch and recognise the website as a fantastic tool to support national older people's arts engagement programmes, as well as a great resource for the extensive Manchester cultural programme for older people that VOP and partners have developed over the past eight years. 

The website is being launched at a regional workshop on the 8th October in The Lord Mayors Parlour, Level 2, Manchester Town Hall. The day will be a hands-on exploration of how the new site can benefit practitioners making it easier to share inspiration, collaborate with others along with finding opportunities for new projects and funding.  To sign up, just visit this link to book your place: 

To see a bit more about Age of Creativity, visit their holding website at or see the Facebook page at

Nominet Trust - Digital Edge Programme (UK)
The Nominet Trust has announced that it is inviting applications for funding through its £2 million Digital Edge programme. The programme aims to support projects that use new technology to engage young people in new, more meaningful and relevant ways and enable their participation in building a more resilient society.  As part of this programme, the Trust has identified four key areas where they believe young people face the greatest challenge and digital technology can be used to greatest effect.  These are:
  • Digging deeper into the problems and addressing the root causes
  • Exploring the changing landscape and the nature of engagement
  • Renegotiating professional practice
  • New forms of employment and reward. 
  • Organisations that can apply for funding include:
  • Not-for-profits organisation
  • Schools, PTAs, universities or other educational establishments
  • Statutory bodies e.g. local authorities
  • Social enterprises
There is no upper or lower funding limit as the Trust like to encourage applicants to be realistic about what they need to achieve their project objectives.  The next closing date for applications is the 12th December 2012. Read more at:

The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts
The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts is a new fund to support research and development projects that use digital technology to enhance audience reach and/or explore new business models for organisations with arts projects.

The Fund is unique in encouraging collaboration between the arts, digital technolgy providers and the research community in order to undertake experiments from which the wider arts sector can learn. £7million will be made available for projects over the period 2012-2014/5 for projects up to a value of £125,000 (with the majority of projects being considerably below this threshold). 

The Fund's essential features have been successfully tested during the pilot Digital R&D Fund in 2011/12 and the learning from the pilot will continue, allowing some flexibility to the shape of the main Fund.  Eight projects were successful in receiving funding; learning from those projects can be found on the Arts Council's website

The Chandelier of Lost Earrings 
This art work will bring together lone earrings contributed by many people. Each earring is one of a pair, the other having been lost. Without these contributions there can be no chandelier. The project emerged from our long-term engagement with staff at St. Mary’s Maternity Hospital, Manchester. We wish to dedicate it to the staff, to the mothers who have delivered at the hospital and to everyone who has cared for them. Initially the chandelier will be exhibited in our glass Summer House sculpture in the hospital grounds. 
THE APPEAL: please send your lone earring to us by the end of October. We will create and install the sculpture in December. It doesn’t matter about the size of the earring, or even if it is broken, nor does it matter where you live; all earrings are gladly received and will be included. 
Post to 
The Chandelier of Lost Earrings, 
High Elms, 
Upper Park Road, 
Manchester, M14 5RU 
Follow our progress: 

And because there isn't enough music or beauty on this weeks blog, here is something beautiful and quite profound from dear Bjork.

Possibly Maybe...and thank you, as ever...C.P.