Culture, Health and Wellbeing :: International Conference, Bristol, 2013

Have just got back from the Culture, Health and Wellbing International Conference 2013 in Bristol. Organised by Arts for Health South West in partnership with the Royal Society for Public Health and on behalf of the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing England.

Wow, what an awesome and inspirational experience.
Being new to the discipline, I  deliberately set out not take copious notes, as I had done at previous health related conferences, but rather to sit back, relax, and absorb the new direction of my career.  I took a few notes but only where I really needed to take action or for references.

I'm not the best at writing, and my recall is rather limited but I will attempt to bring out the things that resonated with me, and share them with you here.

The opening addresses Professor Richard Parrish, Chief Exec of the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) started by informing us that there were 350 people from 22 countries at the conference and then went on to say that

"Arts have a key role to play in healthcare"

Following on from this came John Wynn Owen, also from RSPH quoting the Arts and Humanities Research Council (2010) by saying that:

"The arts and humanities touch peoples lives because they encompass the things that make life worth living, contribute to the level of a countries civilisation and enhance quality of health, wellbeing and help cope with challenges and change"

The final session of the morning was delivered by the delightful David Leventhal, programme manager from Dance for Parkinson's Disease who transformed the room by getting us to do an hand dance.  David told us that we see in Parkinsons many of the things that are part of the natural aging process - limit movement, rigidity, memory loss, depression etc except it is condensed and often comes on much earlier.  Dance is powerful for helping with chronic disease because it helps with movement and expression and storytelling.

Later on, I went to a breakout session delivered by Ali Brown and her colleages from Knitiffi, a collective of knit artists who also work with staff and users from the Milestones Trust.  We sat around knitting and crocheting for a while which was a welcome break from the intense listening from the hours before.  I had a lovely conversation with an artist called Lucy Burscough who told me all about flax weaving and the work she was doing with Manchester Museum.

 Later a woolly wrapping appeared on a tree in College Green and I was delighted to see my crocheted flower in amongst the knitty lovliness.  It made me smile, and I felt good about myself.

 In the evening we were treated to a drinks reception at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery where I managed a bit of Banksy bagging along the way to the museum and at the museum, much to the delight of my grafitti loving son:

Naked man Hanging from Window
Paint Pot Angel at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

The second day kicked off with a beautiful performance by Sizzle Ohtaka, an usual and, difficult to describe, sound made by her voice and audience participation.  It made my arms shivver, and was she was very captivating.

 Following this, a very thought provoking presentation by Lord Howarth of Newport who delivered personal and political reflections on arts, health and wellbeing and suggested that 'more needs to be done through public policy to ensure that as many people as possible have the opportunity to benefit from the therapeutic experience of the arts' and suggested that we make that small part of our world a better place and that local discretion and innovation is to be encouraged, something I believe I am doing through the work I do within the group I work with my friend, called the Knitting Guerillas from Birstall.

Also on this morning we were treated by a performance, 'Bewitched', by the Irish Chamber Orchestra who translated the experiences of stroke into music.  Song lyrics converted into song.  It was quite moving and thought provoking.

On the final day we were invited to voice our ideas on "What needs to happen in the next five years to build a thriving international arts and health sector?"  The key things that resonated with me were that there needs to be more mapping of services - to find out who is doing what and where. Service users (that's you and me) need to put more pressure on service providers to support the arts for health agenda. More evidence to support arts for health and how that evidence is used with someone suggesting that a digest is needed to bring together the review of evidence rather like Cochrane Collaboration review process used by health professionals. 

I throughly enjoyed this conference.  I did things that, at other health conferences I have attended before, would have been seen as a bit weird. I danced, I sang, I crocheted, and made a beach from a box.  Instead of feeling exhausted and overwhelmed at the end of the conference, I felt tired but stimulated and happy in the knowledge that the path I am treading, the arts for health path, is something that I really want to do.  I know it will be good for my own personal wellbeing to help others with their personal wellbeing too.

On the Beach with a tabletop theatre for two by Once
Homeward bound and my chance to indulge in a spot of creativity whilst reflecting
Finally, I would like to say that it would not have been possible for me to attend this conference without the support of Creative Leicestershire and the grant I received, as part of the mentoring programme for professional development, last year.  Their support over the past year has been invaluable to me.  Also a big thank you to Kathrine Brown from the wonderful Beauty and Utility Arts, for sharing her experience of working in arts for health and for putting up with me for a 3 whole days (and a bit) and putting up with my 3 nights of snoring!

Thank you x

If you would like to experience some of the speakers presentations and performances, you can access recorded webcasts of the meeting at this site: