A group of health professionals, arts activists, academics and cultural producers in Greater Manchester have been discussing links between arts and health and whether connections between the two can be explored though the idea of social movements. Alan Higgins, the Director of Public Health in Oldham, recently reflected on the second meeting of this group in a blog for the RSA. Community artists and organisations have been prominently involved in what we hope will become this growing social movement and we thought readers would be interested to know more. Alan writes –
Live well: make art
At the core of this work is the conviction that people actively engaging in arts activity will benefit from it personally, will link with others in their community and be more capable of initiating change on their own terms.
Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of the NHS has said: “social movements have the power to tap into the fabric of the country in way that the NHS might never be able to do”. It was no surprise that references to social movements also appeared in discussions on Greater Manchester Devolution. Greater Manchester Devolution
By July 2015, “Nurturing a Social Movement for Change” was one of the five major transformational programmes in the GM public health programme.
(GM Public Health Agreement.) We fretted over the right verb for that title. Social movements have to come from communities, they are self-sustaining, unpredictable and not something that we commission or seek to control. However nurturing suggests we have the ability to set the environment to generate and support social movements.
My association with community arts as a volunteer and a commissioner stretches about 30 years. In approaching health as a social movement, the community arts world offered a different way of thinking. No matter how enlightened a public health practitioner I like to think I am, my approach has been shaped by years of training and working in large public sector institutions. For work on health and social movements to be different input is needed from people who do not think like me or the people I usually talk to.
The first workshop was in November 2015. We invited artists and producers, academics, administrators and health professionals. We wanted to ask ‘What excites you about these ideas?’ and ‘If it went really well, what would it look like?’
The room was full of energy and enthusiastic about the contribution that the arts can play in stimulating change. Among other things we were in agreement that
• Arts can be a catalyst to stimulate outrage
• Arts can engage people in ways that are not accessible through other means and have the brass neck to speak of emotions and their importance to health, wellbeing and life – fall in love again, take joy in people, sing a song, be mindful in a gallery
• Arts can help with defining the right to public space and the right to health.
A second workshop followed as the number of interested people grew. Live Well:Make Art was the theme. Discussion focused on values and principles, using collective intelligence to create a vision and model for acting together. People volunteered to create three projects to test and develop our understanding of what arts based social movements for health, change and being active in your community might mean.
A selection of Tweets with the #Livewellmakeart captures the mood of the day:
• Walking up Oxford Road with a headful of ideas and a belly full of fire
• It is a very brave thing to do bringing people together to find the common goals, brilliant.
• What a most excellent and inspiring afternoon and dialogue
Analysis of social movements suggests that this work will experience conflicting motivations and high probability of fragmentation – it will be unpredictable, there may be conflict and it might fall apart.
We recognise the uncertainty of what we are doing but take assurance from knowing that changing systems is not quick or easy. This may or may not inspire social movements as we hope but there is something worth reaching for and creative possibilities in the attempt to reach it.