On the 20thSeptember arts and health professionals converged on Walk the Plank’s beautiful building in Salford to discuss arts and healthier living. Esme Ward – Director of the Manchester Museum – and Michael Eeckelaers – a GP and Clinical Lead for Greater Manchester Population Health – started the day by sharing their perspectives on arts and health. For Esme, the focus on what arts can do to improve health and wellbeing requires institutions to also consider how they ensure an ethos of care and self-care is in place for those delivering such initiatives. Michael reflected that arts and ‘social prescribing’ – or prescribing non-traditional approaches to healthcare that might involve art, singing, gardening, walking etc. – are beneficial where he has seen more conventional approaches to health fail.
The event provided opportunities to hear from those currently involved in arts and health initiatives, to participate in small group discussion, as well as a singing workshop led by Jennifer John to illustrate the power of song! Case studies were drawn from a range of approaches. For example, Rachel Jones from START (an organisation using creativity to improve mental health) led us through some of the possibilities of offering music, craft, stop animation and art to service users. She also reflected on how some people can be initially resistant to creative work, but that continued encouragement can break through this barrier and lead to success. Nicky Duirs – who has worked in hospitals for over 30 years in arts and health projects – shared her thoughts on the challenging context in which this work takes place in acute hospitals. She said ‘people come and go, it’s noisy – you have to be both tenacious and flexible to integrate art in that environment’. From a global perspective Clive Parkinson – Director of Arts for Health at MMU – shared a project led by academics at the University of Sydney using verbatim theatre and film to address the mental health crisis among young health professionals.
Many of these themes resonated in the small group discussions. In particular, it seemed many were led to reflect on how being an artist working in health care contexts can be challenging in terms of your own wellbeing and your identity as an artist.
After lunch a ‘dream time’ panel set out their answers to the question ‘what would you do – if there were no limits – to strengthen the contribution that art can make to healthier working?’ Responses echoed earlier papers and discussions in the day that stressed the value of arts to engage and support where more traditional approaches to health might not. Clare Mayo (from Salford Clinical Commissioning Group) raised important questions around arts in health, asking ‘how can we measure the impact of art?’ and ‘How do we test out projects, see what works, and scale it up?’
In the final small group discussion of the day, we were left with some interesting and provocative reflections and questions to engage in, including:
- The need for a map that clearly shows facilities, services and referral routes;
- What might the move towards ‘social prescribing’ mean in terms of the capacity of arts groups/organisations/institutions to offer services?
- Are there current or future funding opportunities that could allow professionals from arts and health disciplines to start initial, ‘no strings attached’ collaborations?
On a personal note, it was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about what is happening in arts and health across Greater Manchester and to make some great new contacts with other arts practitioners interested in this work.