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Bristol’s Health, Culture & Wellbeing Conference 2017: Some Highlights

Bristol’s Health, Culture & Wellbeing 3-day conference provided a strong sense of action and hope for the broad field of arts and health.

A further significant boost to the activity and hope surrounding the arts and health care field is Creative Health, a report launching tomorrow (19th July) from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing. This comprehensive report will detail the evidence around arts and health, and unambiguously state that the arts can help keep us well, aid our recovery and support longer lives better lived.

Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England, and Rt Hon Lord Howarth (Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group Arts, Health and Wellbeing) each spoke about the instrumental role of the arts in improving health and wellbeing, and you can read more about the context of the conference in my last post here.

Conference Highlights 

In her Keynote, Dr Iona Heath spoke beautifully about cultural literacy and caring for the dying. She discussed a keenly debated issue: the expectation that we use clinical tools and scientific measurements, in response to what are essentially existential crises. Her essay ‘How medicine has exploited rationality at the expense of humanity’ is highly recommended. How do you measure the ‘value’ of connecting with somebody in their death? Or of motivating a community to come together to share and create? Or of bringing a person with dementia to an object or painting that somehow frees them to communicate?

I strongly agree that the impact of the arts can be measured and subjected to scientific investigation – but only to a degree. Some of the effects of the arts are beyond science and beyond measurement, and certainly beyond their translation into monetary value. Some things cannot be, and should not be, monetised. Researchers are aiming to try to understand, as well as measure, these effects.

Sessions at the Bristol conference also included Clive Parkinson of Arts for Health at MMU who provided an insight to the “fermenting passion” around Devolution Manchester, a part of which is Live Well: Make Art. In collaboration with Vic McEwan of the Cad Factory,  the The Harmonic Oscillator project provides profound insight into the value of artistic practices and artists in hospitals and clinical settings. You can follow Arts for Health at MMU in Clive’s blog in which he provides a weekly update and news www.artsforhealth.mmu.org.

Members of the Finnish Government gave enlightening presentations on the social change seen in Finland I have previously written about, that has led to the adoption of the arts in healthcare becoming standard practice. For more than 40 years, Finland has had 40 Arts Promotion Managers in Government, whose task is to ensure all citizens have access to the arts and culture with the purpose of improving the wellbeing of all.

One of  the Finnish Government’s Key Projects is about establishing art as a part of social and health sector. There, the impact of culture on the promotion of wellbeing and health is recognised at the political, administrative and structural level. The collaboration between The Ministry of Education and Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is a very important achievement which will aid the UK arts and health movement. The change in Finland has been the focus of my Churchill Travelling Fellowship so far, which prompted this blog.

Delegates were also presented with impressive findings around cultural commissioning and social prescribing from NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group, who reported that since these initiatives were introduced, they have seen a 23% reduction in A&E use and fewer GP appointments made.

Norma Daykin of the University of Winchester shared evidence and best practice from the What Works Wellbeing programme. Norma’s research has explored the impacts of the arts in health and justice settings, music as a resource for wellbeing, and how to design credible outcome studies. The Creative and Credible project is designed to support organisations and practitioners to evaluate arts interventions.

Tomorrow will see the launch of the APPG Creative Health Report from Westminster, and I’ll be attending the Northern launch this Friday 21st at MMU in Manchester.

Kat completed her Clinical Psychology Doctorate at Lancaster University in 2013. She has worked in a range of settings, both clinically and as a researcher, most recently as a Lead Researcher at Arts for Health at MMU. Katherine also works in the NHS in Children’s Psychological Services. Kat has published her work and presented to a range of audiences, from health professionals, to artists, academics and entrepreneurs. Her work includes public engagement and gallery-based exhibitions.

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