S07: FEATURED SYMPOSIUM: The Role of Arts and Culture in Improving Health and Strengthening Communities

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By September 4, 2019 No Comments

Authors: Christine Eade

Year: 2019

Event: 2019 TheMHS Conference

Subject: FEATURED SYMPOSIUM: The Role of Arts and Culture in Improving Health and Strengthening Communities

Type of resource: Conference Presentations and Papers



Christine Eade manages The Pod Coventry City Council’s award winning mental health social brokerage and cultural hub. The Pod builds individual, organisational and societal capacity for creativity, innovation, regeneration, compassion and activism. Their approach asserts the importance of CULTIVATING authentic CONNECTION with the city its creatives, entrepreneurs, CHANGEmakers & quiet activists.

Hannah Graham is a Producer at Coventry City Of Culture 2021 (UK). Working alongside charity organisation Grapevine, Hannah is developing creative interventions that spark social action to tackle mental health issues in Coventry. Previously she has worked closely with communities, grassroot organisations and regional cultural venues to develop co-produced art programmes.

Lynne Seear is a senior arts manager and writer. Since 2014 she has been Manager of the Arts in Health Program for Children’s Health Queensland. Previously she worked at the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art where she was Deputy Director, Curatorial and Collection Development. In recent years Lynne has focused on the importance of the arts to health and well-being through the activation of transformative environments and programs, particularly within communities and healthcare.

Ally Kelly is the Chief Executive Officer & Founder of Mind Blank Ltd, aiming to reduce the risk of suicide in schools and communities through interactive theatre. Through research and program evaluation she aspires to support community arts programs and grassroots initiatives make a more sustainable impact in Australia.

Coventry City of Culture 2021 Trust is building a citywide creative programme that has a strong focus on social justice, tackling inequalities, improving mental health and strengthening communities. The programme will be outcome driven and seek to support community networks to use the spotlight of 2021 as a catalyst for change. There are many short-term initiatives for arts in health that are set up to make the case for why we need to systematically unite on issues such as mental illness. We are making the case for making no more cases. Considerable research evidences the value and benefit of culture and arts for health. Advanced research into which art forms most benefit a range of mental illnesses is underway in the UK. We can wait to know all the answers, or we can create a call to action within our city.

Our vision is of people, working together in Coventry and Warwickshire with the energy and confidence to tackle challenges and take opportunities. Working with partners across the city, we hope to help all kinds of people experiencing the impacts of poor mental health including isolation, poverty and disadvantage to build better lives. We want to get at the root causes of problems that won’t go away – not just treat the symptoms - working with systems and services like the National Health Service (NHS) and local authorities to see how together we can understand and tackle the real problems, for good.

There is ‘no health without mental health’ and yet we know that at least one in four British adults will experience some kind of mental health problem in any one year. A significant proportion of those will also experience long term conditions and that’s without mentioning that the three out of four people who do not directly experience mental illness, will undoubtedly be affected by it though a family member, loved one or a friend. Mental health problems are increasing, influenced by a wide range of social, economic and environmental factors they place an enormous strain on individuals, families and local communities. As a consequence, national policy now demands that mental health be treated on a par with physical health. We also know that good mental wellbeing plays an important role in the promotion of both physical and mental health.

In the build up to 2021 and beyond we are keen to develop greater artistic interventions that are co-designed with people in Coventry. We know that this begins with groundwork, with conversations in the community and conversations with those working at policy level. Some of our activities will begin small with a plan to spark social action and grow into bigger movements of change. We know arts funding can be unsustainable, we know that programmes with short term delivery can leave communities and individuals feeling at a loss upon completion. This is why we are keen to empower people to work with us, whether they represent the one in four or the three in four, we feel there is a part for everyone to play. We plan to design and deliver programmes that will have sustainability and lasting impact beyond 2021, led by communities who are truly committed to working together for good.

We know we cannot do it alone, so we seeking to develop new creative programmes with a Coventry wide mental health network of community agencies, charities, businesses and NHS providers, to help find creative approaches to anxiety, depression, loneliness and isolation as well as reducing stigma and widening debate and conversation, with a focus on creating greater understanding and improving lives.

The programme will be rooted in local communities and enhanced by the work of the wider producing team as well as the wider creative sector in UK. This is a long-term programme of work to engage citizens in undertaking positive activities, helping them develop their own responses to the challenges they face in their daily lives. We hope to widen the focus of activities to encompass all sections of society, at risk of exclusion from arts provision, but for whom access to arts activities could enhance wellbeing, social inclusion and strengthen communities. Through our partnership work, we want to foster an ecology of positive risk taking, encouraging people to come together to experience how social connection through arts and culture might benefit their health and wellbeing.

Locally we are working with charities who place social action and movement building at the heart of what they do. But in order for us to work across a city that faces many inequalities, we will draw on exemplary projects and frameworks that have proven results, both nationally and internationally. We are keen to build an international partnership with mental health agencies, charities and networks in Australia and have invited organisations here with us today to begin meaningful exchanges in this work between the UK and Australia.

ThroughTheMHS Conference in Brisbane we would like to:

1) Deliver a snapshot of arts in health and communities, bringing the UK and Australia together to demonstrate the impact of innovating with art led programmes, mobilising communities and bringing arts into the health setting.
2) Provide a case study of how the local authority in Coventry (The Pod cafe) are innovating in the community with social activism, sharing a newly commissioned film to demonstrate a ‘10 years on’ impact story.
3) Share examples of art and mental health projects in the UK and beyond, considering what challenges and opportunities joint partnerships present when working across the cultural, health and voluntary sectors.
4) Initiate collaborative conversations around Social Prescribing and arts for health in the community - providing examples, academic research and personal testimonies to create provocations and a call to action for delegates.
5) Close the loop. Beyond offering a space for questions and answers, we want to help delegates to think about the tools and tips they might need to know moving forward from the symposium, signposting to research and organisations to support the next steps for those interested in taking things forward.

Learning Objectives

Learning Objective 1: In learning about the role that artists and the arts/culture can play to tackle issues around mental health attendees will see how the arts can help strengthen communities. Participants will gain understanding of the importance of creativity in tackling some of the connected issues around mental health, familiarise with best practice, make new partnerships, understand where to get information, why major research trusts are investing in artists and be inspired by current activities that promote social inclusion and wellness. Through participation in break out groups, attendees will develop their own arts and mental health action plan and be able to take away actions to implement.

Learning Objective 2: We want to demonstrate through this programme how embedding cultural provision and artists as part of the wider social prescribing can support delivery of better outcomes. We want to present innovation happening in local authority services, as well as explore and identify the role and best practice of artists in/the arts for national health providers. We want to push further than purely attendance or engagement with music and the arts. But show how culture can provide tools, be embedded in planning for health care environments as well as through social prescribing mechanisms.


Liz Gaulton, Director of Public Health and Wellbeing, Coventry City Council

Jonothan Neelands PhD, DSc, FRSA, Academic Director for Cultural Partnerships | Professor of Creative Education | Warwick Business School | University of Warwick

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