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Connected Culture
Mike White

Connected Conversations Thinkers Roundtable

Posted by Mike White on 21 January 2014

Links and inspirations

The blog at The Centre for Medical Humanities in Durham www.dur.ac.uk/cmh is a fount of information on medical humanities' challenge to the medical establishment and offers inter-disciplinary provocation on matters of health and illness, creativity and wonder.  Closer to home in community-based arts in health, my colleague Mary Robson's website www.maryrobson.co.uk illuminates the role of arts in social pedagogy and the emotional development of children through a model of longitudinal and reflective practice. Internationally, the Siyazama project in rural South Africa is a resonant example of arts in health literacy and community regeneration http://www.siyazamaproject.dut.ac.za and the 'Lost Generation' project of DADAA in Western Australia gives eloquent voice through film to the most marginalised members of society www.dadaa.org.au

For publications, I always recommend Health Is For People by Michael Wilson (Dartyon Longman and Todd 1975) which is hard to find but worth the search, The Re-enchantment of Art by Suzi Gablik (Thames & Hudson 1994 ) and The Gift by Lewis Hyde (Routledge 1979).  Together those books gave me the philosophical templates for community-based arts in health.

 

A current initiative

A few years ago I invited around 20 international colleagues (an equal number of practitioners and researchers) to explain what were the principles and values that informed their interest in community-based arts in health and their current lines of enquiry. I then made a subjective assessment of the key and recurring points they made. This was not intended to produce a credo or manifesto, but simply to identify what might constitute common ground for collaborations. The recurring points were:

• We have a sense of crossing professional boundaries – in hybrid and unconventional roles – with a tendency to generalism and/or inter-disciplinary collaboration rather than specialism.
• We have a commitment to social justice – addressing health inequalities through a nexus of collective creativity, health education and citizenship.
• We are activists, creating and connecting the field.
• We seek transformational change more than instrumental effects.
• Some of us thrive on complex connections; others strive to disentangle complexity – either way, we try to turn complexity into revelation.
• We focus on relationship-building through shared reflective practice.
• We are interested to connect the diversity of global practice of arts in health through a better understanding of process and context.

These several points have prompted many face-to-face and ‘virtual’ conversations I have had with researchers and practitioners since then, and in which I have come to see that effective international collaboration comes from learning from different contexts and looking through different lenses. These conversations 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?

At a ‘critical mass’ colloquium on international arts and health held at Durham University in 2011, it was resolved that a helpful development might be the establishment of an international media centre able to translate across cultures and healthcare systems and present community-based arts in health as an increasingly global phenomenon that is sharing its ideas on practice and clustering around a common research agenda.  From emergent collaborations we might, for example, collectively test out hypotheses around what makes for flourishing and extend concepts around arts in health 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 felt we could show that international collaboration articulates a new world of arts in health practice which demonstrates value and captures imagination.  To assist that process, as we grow an evidence base from research-guided practice there needs to be some relaxation of intellectual property so that findings can be accessed and redistributed globally.

The research agenda for arts in health is vast as there is now a broad spectrum of practice and it is still innovative and curious. We must not stifle that emergent vision and potential by only seeking a proven evidence base for arts in health that is narrowly defined through 'control' based intervention within the dominant medical models of our healthcare institutions and national cultures.  This reduces the whole arts and health field to being some kind of ancillary treatment in healthcare. As I saw at an international arts in health conference in Bristol in June 2013, and where I held a second 'critical mass' meeting, the emergence of small cross-national collaborations brings a renewed significance to narrative-based research because of the need to respect and reconcile differing cultural nuances in the application of creativity to health promotion. Finding common ground here precedes the challenge of identifying the relative medical and cost benefits across different systems of health education and welfare. The 'healthy living' stories we generate and exchange are the basis for international practice in arts in community health.

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