Alison trained in theatre design before pioneering community arts and health projects in the late1980s in urban and rural settings throughout England. Alongside Mike White and Mary Robson, she was at the forefront of the drive to recognise the value of the arts and creativity in promoting individual and community health.
Alison founded Pioneer Projects (Celebratory Arts) Ltd in 1996 and its flagship project, Looking Well, a community-led arts and health centre in a small rural town in North West England. She raised the funds to expand its activities and eventually move into a purpose built home - Looking Well Studios. Alongside overseeing the move from rented premises, she directed the creative work, negotiated the contracts and managed the staff team until 2009 when she stepped down from the management and fundraising role to concentrate on creative direction, her own creative work and future developments in the field.
In 2008 she was awarded the Healthway International Arts and Health Fellowship which brought her to Western Australia to work with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists and health workers in the Goldfields.
Alison remains passionate about community-based arts and health and continues to break new ground, through her local work at Looking Well and her regional and international contacts. The enrichment of the work through international perspectives has benefited Pioneer Projects and Looking Well, in particular the development of a new dementia programme and Alison’s development of DOT, an arts based outcome-monitoring tool with international research potential.
Joining the Dots
In 2008 I spent an exhilarating few months in Western Australia on a Healthway International Fellowship. The experience of working with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists and healthworkers on a diabetes project in Kalgoorlie and Rock Hole Long Pipe, a processional community theatre production in Coolgardie, has had a profound effect on my thinking and practice in the UK. I came home to look with new eyes at my own culture, noticing how much it relies on mechanisms of control and superiority, and, scarily, how many of us have lost touch with the land, mystery, imagination and the intuitive. The impact of these mechanisms on our arts and health practice is visible every day as we try to comply with the needs of the compartmentalised tick box world. My talk will look at how we are attempting to challenge this at Looking Well, our rural community arts and health project in North West England. I will include the development of DOT, an individual outcome-monitoring tool based on the creative process, and the emergence of new community projects in response to local health and social issues that are re-connecting us with our intuitive sense, helping us to understand and respect diversity, and in the process, bringing us together as a community.