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Arts & Health in the here and now

There's a feeling in the air. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but its certainly a shift. This 'thing' that we’re all part of - this Arts and Health - well, how can I start this off - put it succinctly - we're evolving into a movement.

We may be from an arts background, perhaps a specific artform - we may be working on the frontline in healthcare - a cleaner, a doctor, cook or nurse, but then we might just be a member of the public - a regular (or irregular) human.

All I know is that whether we’re formally part of some alliance or network, or a sole-trader - a socially engaged artist or therapist or researcher - it seems those walls, that sometimes have corralled us in to narrow silos, are shaking at their foundations. It may be ripples from our governments' 'austerity' measures that's causing a chain reaction, or it may simply be, we are more confident in who we are, and what we believe.

Certainly in England, with the collapse of a sub-regional organisation like Arts for Health Cornwall, at the same time as the growth of the National Alliance for Arts, Health & Wellbeing - it's an uncertain and ever changing landscape. The emergence of an All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health & Wellbeing promises glimmers of hope for wider policy developments, but the reality of survival for organisations competing for the same pots of money, is real and challenging. Perhaps though, we may be too dependent on those glassy eyed civil servants who dole out state-sponsored decrees on what constitutes 'quality' in the arts. Maybe it's time to rethink how we are funded and who determines cultural value? I leave that question open.

We should however, keep our eyes out for the slick opportunists who are waiting in the wings - spotting a hole in the market to plug with their commodified quick fixes - standardising what it is we do and believe, into something to market, that's devoid of meaning or integrity. Keep your eyes out for those selling snake-oil in a time of 'austerity'. Keep sight of your own values and don't be wrong-footed by the cult of materialism.

We have a real place in 21st century healthcare, but more than simply ameliorating against ill health, through our long-term participation in the arts in all their guises, we are part of a much wider cultural and public health shift, across the life-course, and potentially affecting positive generational change. The evidence is out there and our time is now. Let's influence decision makers, create challenging work, and realise that we are part of something far bigger than our individual selves.

We are a social movement populated by people who not only want social change, but are central to how that change comes about.


Arts For Health Manchester Metropolitan University

Clive Parkinson is Director of Arts For Health and facilitates the North West Arts and Health Network. He is a member of the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing.

These are his own viewpoints.




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