I am a freelance artist/educator based in Swansea, South Wales. My practice focuses upon arts for well being working with Welsh based arts organisations, charities and local government engaging people and communities who are on the edges of society. In October I received the wonderful news that my application to receive a freelance artist’s bursary to attend Engages A Social Prescription International Conference had been successful.
I have been asked by Engage to write a report about my experience at the conference. The context of which I have written the report is with reflection to my practice as a freelance artist living in Wales, in particular Swansea, of which has been a city that has felt the social and health care cuts very deeply. It’s at a time where the arts are being sized up, measured and battling to stay heard. However, people in my community are passionate and value the right to be part of, enjoy and experience arts and culture as a fundamental core to community principles and well being.
The conference opened with Alistair Hudson the director of the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery, he spoke about the DNA of the Whitworth building being built in a time of prosperity and the industrial revolution. Its purpose to house arts and culture which was held in very high regard. Swansea is also a postindustrial city where these buildings still stand however many of them of derelict, ghosts of the industrial past but thankfully some are still living and breathing and places of arts and culture. However, these grandiose buildings can sometimes come across as intimidating places creating invisible barriers. To overcome this, we need to make these places more accessible by breathing life back into these physical legacies, sharing the stories of why they were built and by whom, to identify the role models and pioneers within our communities and to develop engagement about what goes on in them and how it can benefit our well being, bring people together in a shared creative experience.
Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester
Hudson touched on the perception of art in the industrial revolution and how it has changed, from art being seen separate to the world and modern art being a token of capitalism and an untouchable commodity. Only recently David Hockey sold a piece of his art for $90 million. Does this reflect the integral value of that piece of art or what individuals are willing to pay?
The question raised by Hudson is how do we make culture in a time of such uncertainty? is Art about social change? he finished with art is a humanitarian force for the world, we need to be seeding creativity from a young age – Art schools for life.
Clive Parkinson director of Manchester Institute of Arts Health & Social Change, spoke about the fundamental rights to have access to the arts and embedded into social care – early intervention is crucial. For the arts not to be seen as extra curricula activity or privilege. The value of art as a social prescription to self-medicate through art and therefore reducing prescription drugs regardless of labels and diagnosis.
Art provokes deep thinking – Parkinson quoted “A people’s art is the genesis of their freedom” by Claudia Jones 1959. He also touched on the negative portrayal by the media, a tabloid reported Arts prescription – Taking the Picasso. These portrayals of doubt cast a light upon preconceived ideas of art, which need to be challenged. More open discussions across the professional bodies, academics, policy makers and local communities need to share their doubts and concerns, so stronger and more informed partnerships can be formed and nurtured.
He finished his inspiring speech with “Art is a Human Right”. And a quote by poet Sam Guglani – We are mortal beings fragile finite creatures with some meaning attached to us. The arts tell us this truth very starkly and hold important questions for us against the hubris of science and ostensible progress.
The next part of the Plenary focused upon community engagement – Tactile to Virtual. With presentations from Rachel Massey, Professor Karen Ingham, Clare Reynolds and member of Man Up theatre production Jamie.
Rachel Massey from Yorkshire Sculpture Park spoke about A Leap of faith, which engaged with women from diverse backgrounds who had experience of trafficking, domestic violence or mental ill health. The project used creative expression and equine assisted therapy. During the Q&A’s a poignant question was asked from the audience, what was the legacy of the project and did the project create a void? Massey replied emphasizing the wellbeing process of the project and how it had empowered the women to rediscover who they were to remember what they loved about themselves. The project allowed them to focus on nurturing themselves to become stronger and regain trust, feeling a sense of belonging and challenging themselves in a positive environment.
A Leap of Faith – Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Professor Karen Ingham shared her findings of Virtual Embodiments, using virtual reality to tackle mental health issues. Ingham stated her role was as a mentor, arts facilitator. The focus group aged between 18 to 24 years old. Participants took part in an immersive 3D experience, creating a powerful visualization of their state of mind. Digital images were produced in a physical space, capturing the fluidity of embodied mark making. The feedback from the young people were positive as they were in control and authors of their own journeys. This nonverbal expressive platform provided a space to share what they were experiencing in a positive way. The technology was inclusive as the young people were able to engage with familiar platform being digital natives.
Clare Reynolds – co –artistic director of restoke.org.uk – shared the project Man Up – a theatrical production about male mental health. Jamie an inspiring member of the group shared his experience of his involvement in the group. A remarkably young man who joined the group to overcome his personal challenges and experiences of being transgender. He is a testament to the impact of finding your voice using the arts. He said that the production took place in a working men’s club a place he had thought of as one that would not nurture him but reject him, however his fears turned to fulfillment. Jamie shared with the audience his experiences of “being with the same sex, being part of men, sense of belonging, soft & gentle…………I couldn’t of got that experience anywhere else. I now have 30% more friends on this planet”.
Man UP Theater Production
In the Q&A to the panel a question was asked to Reynolds regarding how did they recruit for the Man up Production and she explained that a lot of time and marketing expertise were involved in producing the poster/flyer – the hook being we need your help. Engagement for projects can be likened to an enigma to getting it right. Using words such as art, drawing, wellbeing can create barriers and how we present community arts projects can be very challenging, our flyers/posters are the shop fronts to engagement.
The focus of my parallel sessions were facilitating arts in care home settings, Jon Dafydd Kidd from – cARTrefu – creating artists in residents, in partnership with Arts Council Wales and supported by Age Cymru. Kidd shared the ethos of the project being of legacy and the arts being embedded with the care home settings, with Staff feeling they are able to facilitate arts sessions after the artists have completed their sessions using the arts tool kit. This is so essential that residents can continue their interests directed by themselves long after the artist has finished with their projects. The Q&A’s that followed spoke about the importance of best practice for artists, as CARTrefu implements mentors for each artist, along with reflective journals. This is crucial for continuing professional development. Due to the nature of the individuals and environments artists are working with it can often lead to disclosures, need to sign post, confidentiality/consent. Artists must feel safe, equipped and supported to give the correct advice and support where necessary.
On the second day the Marsh Awards for Excellence in Gallery Education were presented to six individuals by Professor Rod Bugg. All six artists/educators/curators shared their experience of how they engaged their communities through arts education. Italian Artist Marco Peri shared his approach by using movement – using the body as a key to bring people closer to art. He emphasized the movement of emotions, physical stimulus. And breaking the code of behavior particular in how we interact with art in galleries/museums. I found this so inspiring and gave me ideas how I can relate this back to when I am working with adults with learning difficulties at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea.
Jude Wood – freelance artist whose recent project Arts Together engaged with parents and their children. Wood emphasized the importance of providing a space for families that was non-judgmental but a supportive environment where children’s behavior was not judge, a place where parents could interact with their children creatively through team work, problem solving, bonding and being together.
I came away from the conference feeling more connected, and very excited to say the least. I am passionate about the arts and have seen how it can make positive changes to peoples live. Art is not prejudiced, its nonjudgmental, it doesn’t care for labels or pigeon holes. It wants to challenge you, hear your voice, sooth, listen, share and inspire.
Thank you Engage and The Whitworth Museum and Art Gallery for such a special couple of days!