Arts in Health ‘Critical Mass 2’ – An Actions Packed Sequel

Mike White, Senior Research Fellow in Arts and Health in the Centre for Medical Humanities at Durham University, writes: Two years on, we have convened our second Critical Mass meeting to explore the development of international collaborations in community-based arts in health. The first one was held in Durham in 2011, and our sequel to it took place in Bristol on Sunday as a lead-in to the first major UK arts in health conference this century. Before diving into the hurly-burly of that, we invited 20-odd participants to join us for a day at Emmaus House, a congenial venue in Clifton more used to religious retreat but providing an aura of contemplative reflection that suited our day-long inquiry into the guiding question “What are the entry points for collaboration in research and practice in community-based arts in health?” We invited participants from Australia, South Africa, USA, Ireland and UK, about half of whom had attended the first ‘Critical Mass’.

Out of a focused conversation through the morning we grouped our responses to our guiding question under the following ‘entry points’ determined by consensus from our discussions:

  • Actions going beyond conversations
  • Having an open, inclusive approach
  • Personal and purposeful exchange
  • Applying shared values
  • Face-to-face exchange
  • Building an international network and knowledge exchange
  • Creating early career opportunities
  • Telling and exploring the international story

The rich detail that lies behind those statements was conveyed in a round-the-room re-cap of what has been achieved on the timeline we created at the first ‘Critical Mass’, and by hearing what the newcomers to our group had been working on of relevance to international collaborations since the Durham gathering. We astonished ourselves, and here are just a few examples:

  • CMH postgrad Anni Raw’s collaboration with Ana Rosas in Mexico City has led to one district authority making a commitment to supporting around 130 arts-led health and well-being programmes with young people.
  • Margret Meagher of Arts and Health Australia’s collaboration with Elaine Burke, who curated Hull’s spectacularly successful ‘Larkin’s Toads’ public art installation in 2011, has led to a similar project ‘Hello Koalas!’ which will place large artist-designed koala figures in hospitals and community settings in Australia and UK next year.
  • In 2012, CMH and DADAA piloted the first in a series of exchanges between Western Australia and North of England for young emergent artists working in community health settings
  • Dominic Campbell who has until recently led Ireland’s nationwide Bealtaine Festival of creative ageing is now providing advice to organisations in Netherlands, Finland and Australia on developing similar initiatives.
  • Kate Wells’ bead craft project with Zulu women has led to a vast collection of bead artefacts promoting HIV awareness being housed at the Univerity of Michegan’s gallery and museum, and a second book being commissioned about the work.
  • CMH is guest editing special issues of the Arts & Health journal and UNESCO e-journal on Culture on the subject of international work in community-based arts in health, to be published later this year.

Our conversations yesterday suggest a wealth of new connections opening up and primed us for our participation in the ‘international’ theme of the conference on Wednesday, both through ‘open space’ sessions and when Mary Robson and I will be sharing our thoughts on ‘Critical Mass’ in a keynote presentation.

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