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Arts and Health Australia

Arts and Health Critical Mass Debate: Vision for the Future in Australia and Internationally

Session Chair Margret Meagher, Executive Director, Arts and Health Australia.

A panel discussion on international development of research and practice in community-based arts in health.

In June this year, the Centre for Medical Humanities convened a ‘critical mass’ meeting in Durham of its international partners in community-based arts in health. Leading practitioners and researchers in this field came from the UK, United States, Australia, South Africa, Mexico and Ireland to reflect on shared issues in applying arts practice to healthcare and medicine and to explore how meaningful international research collaborations can be developed that also involve local communities.

Over a weekend of four half–day sessions we explored our understandings of community-based arts in health in a global context, identified key issues for international collaboration in both practice and research, and envisioned what success would look like in five years’ time with a practical timeline to get us there. We saw that effective international collaboration comes from learning from different contexts and looking through different lenses. But we kept returning to questions of whether there are different types of language we should use to frame advocacy arguments for arts in health to participants, partners and policy makers. Must everything be recalibrated for context and cultural diversity, or are there global metaphors for arts in health and a shared set of values and principles? A kind of retro-fit question posed at the outset of our meeting was “what is the problem to which we think we are the solution?”

It seemed from the emergent collaborations of those at ‘critical mass’ that we might, for example, collectively test out hypotheses around what makes for human flourishing and extend these into global practice, ascertaining their relevance and application. ‘Flourishing’ ups the game on considering what makes for health and happiness – it can cope with ambiguity of circumstance and sees in both philosophical and social justice perspectives that it is not possible to flourish at the expense of others. We might show that international collaboration articulates a new world of arts in health practice which demonstrates value and captures imagination. A word that became currency at our meeting to describe impact and dissemination was ‘viral’, in a benign and organic sense.

The panel presented views from several of those who took part in the ‘critical mass’ on the opportunities and challenges it presents, and invited discussion on how we might move forward on meaningful international collaboration in arts in health.

Introduction by Sally Basser, Office for the Arts, Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra - National Cultural Policy
Panel Discussion chaired by Mike White