Wellbeing has become a hot political issue. Now it’s going to be measured, so that the nation’s wellbeing can be tracked along with more traditional economic measures of how society is doing. The Office for National Statistics is in charge of working out how best to measure it, which is no mean feat.
A set of proposed domains has been put together by the ONS and as part of a consultation exercise we all have the opportunity to respond. Yesterday, I received two emails from former colleagues who are heavily involved in arts for wellbeing, drawing attention to the fact that the proposed domains make no mention of the arts or creativity. This is clearly a huge oversight, and leaves me slightly tempted to make dreadfully judgemental assumptions about the worldview of statisticians, but that would be short-sighted of me.
Art is the most important vehicle we have as a society to understand ourselves, our relationships with others and our place in the world.
Personally, I’ve always known, in an intuitive, guttural way, that the arts matter. Art is the most important vehicle we have as a society to understand ourselves, our relationships with others and our place in the world. Moments of celebration, bewilderment or desperation often only really make sense and come to take on their full meaning because we can connect to an artistic expression of what’s happening in our lives. Art brings things to the surface that nothing else can, whether it’s being moved to tears by a perfectly played piano, feeling the real meaning of war by looking at a painting, or laughing with liberated abandon when we recognise our own foibles in another’s artistic utterance.
Certainly, art helps us through. But that’s not to say it’s just a luxury. In my view it is a necessity. We need art in order to pose questions and propose solutions to them, to challenge, protest and defend. At the peak of an impassioned chat about what’s wrong with the world, a good friend of mine once said to me that ‘the true test of everything is the arts’. In these times of multiple crises, we need the arts more than ever, to help us understand problems and come up with solutions. It’s not just about wellbeing, it’s about survival.
We need art in order to pose questions and propose solutions to them, to challenge, protest and defend.
So, of course arts and creativity should be included in the ONS wellbeing domains. But, even assuming enough people say so in the consultation, we need to be clear that these new measures are only ever going to be capable of sketching the vaguest picture of where we are on the wellbeing spectrum.
I quite frequently get my knickers in a twist about the inherent problems of measuring things. If you ask people questions, they answer them, but there are lots of reasons why the answers often don’t really mean much: desirability bias (saying what you think you should say rather than what you really think), suggestivity (ask someone if something is dangerous and you’ve planted the seed that it might be) and reductiveness (with complex things like attitudes, or wellbeing, the answer is often ‘it depends’, which can’t be captured by the bipolar response scales favoured by statisticians).
One of the huge challenges facing the arts is the obsession our society has recently developed with having an evidence base for everything. You can only fund your interactive art workshop for, say, young people in care, if you can prove that it ‘works’, according to one arbitrarily defined ‘outcome measure’ or another. I passionately believe that we should take steps to ensure that the things we do with and for people are effective ways of doing what we’re trying to do, and in that sense I am a firm believer in evidence based practice. But, what constitutes good evidence is a crucial political question. In the case of what ‘counts’ as an indicator of wellbeing, the exclusion of the arts is one example of the injurious ways in which we can easily get it wrong.
Filed under: Arts and Society, Enterprise, Social Brain, Social Economy
As part of the RSA’s rolling programme of internship opportunities, we are pleased to announce that we have three new paid positions opening up in early 2012. These are designed to give successful applicants the chance to experience what it is like to work within a fast-paced research organisation, to get to grips with emerging theories and concepts in different fields, and to hone their abilities in everything from fundraising, to project management, to the research itself.
We hope that our internship opportunities are different to those of similar organisations. In addition to being paid, they are also intended to be flexible enough to meet the needs of people facing more difficult circumstances, and to accomodate individuals of all ages, from younger graduates to those wishing to try something new midway through their career. What is most important to us is that the internships are reciprocal; we want to add value to you, just as much as we expect you to add value to us. Indeed, we aim to have long-term relationships with those who work for us, which is why we offer one year’s free Fellowship to all of our interns.
The three new opportunities are as follows:
Enterprise and Social Brain Internship – working with the Enterprise team on a new piece of work looking at the competencies people need to thrive in a 21st century workplace, and with the Social Brain team on a number of their emerging projects.
Arts and Social Change Internship – assisting the Arts and Social Change team to carry out an evaluation of their work in Peterborough and to develop new pieces of work as part of the nascent arts and society programme.
Connected Communities Internship – providing extra capacity to the Connected Communities team and assisting them with a variety of on-going research projects which look at the relationship between social networks and well-being, health and other life outcomes.
The internships will begin sometime in early February and will last for two months. The deadline for applications is Tuesday 10th January. Interviews will be held approximately w/c 23rd January.
Last week I attended the launch of the UK Arts Index at the House of Commons hosted by the Liberal Democrat MP, Don Foster. Brought to life by the actor Samuel West, a Trustee of the National Campaign for the Arts, who are one of the authors of the Index along with Audiences UK, it was introduced as a new annual health check for the arts. The Index uses robust, publicly available information which has been gathered from 2007/08. And there is a range of twenty indicators from ‘financial inputs’ (including lottery, Treasury, business contributions) to ‘cultural and community outputs’ (like attendance, participation and satisfaction indicators) which enable a final index figure to be arrived at, along with a series of headlines that outline any marked changes in the indicators over the years. Mark Brown’s Culture Cuts blog illustrates these headlines rather neatly.
as the ‘triple squeeze’ really affects arts organisations; that is, the time when funding decisions by Arts Council England and local authorities will actually hit home and audiences continue to have their disposable incomes squeezed
The Index has been designed as a way of comparing between the English regions and much was made of the comparative levels of Treasury investment in the arts. From the 2009/10 figures investment in London was £22.43 per head and in the East region the same calculation gave a figure of at £1.89. There is a danger here in simple statistics as you do need an explanation alongside to help unpick the meaning and bring the story to life. East-based Matthew Linley helpfully looks at the findings here and what it means in terms of satisfaction of arts provision. Matthew also outlines that it is next year’s Index that will prove interesting in terms of telling the story of the economic impact on the arts as the ‘triple squeeze’ really affects arts organisations; that is, the time when funding decisions by Arts Council England and local authorities will actually hit home and audiences continue to have their disposable incomes squeezed.
The Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, and his counterpart the Shadow Minister, Dan Jarvis were both in attendance and welcomed the inaugural Arts Index. Mr Vaizey stated ‘the Arts Index will be the first time that this information has been brought together in this way and I’m sure it will be a helpful tool for the sector’. I would contend that for this Index to be truly successful it should become a tool that the minister himself and his team can use in their conversations and negotiations within government to as part of the evidence base to make the case for investment in the arts and so start looking for the gaps (that could be filled) in their being able to do this effectively.
I would contend that for this Index to be truly successful it should become a tool that the minister himself and his team can use in their conversations and negotiations within government
In a constructive and collaborative spirit, the NCA and Audiences UK indicated that they are looking to build on this data and add other useful metrics to the Index so it will continue to develop into a more comprehensive, statistically robust picture. The fact that the Index uses data in this way makes the case for the long view on collecting statistics. Over time as further metrics emerge around cultural entitlement, social and wellbeing impacts these so-called ‘softer’ measurements will hopefully also form a key part of the picture.
The full Index is available here (if you are a member) and if not then the Executive Summary is available for everyone else.
Filed under: Arts and Society, Recovery, Uncategorized
Systems often work to protect their integrity, maintaining the relationships and consequences upon which they are constructed. This can lead to deeply entrenched problems where relationships are weak or adversarial, where different components of the system are working to different objectives, and where a significant number of essential components are hidden, unknown and missing.
In the case of problem drug and alcohol use and recovery, we’ve illustrated why this can mean that recovery can be so difficult to initiate and sustain when considered as a system. But recovery is undoubtedly one of those complex ‘systems’ and we’re all tangled up in it. Thing is, we rarely recognise this unless we have been personally affected by addiction or the resulting problems.
From a systems perspective recovery needs everyone to work towards a shared goal. This doesn’t have to mean that there has to be absolute agreement about what recovery is, or that there needs to be a single definition that all must agree with, or a single journey that everyone must travel. No; it can be flexible to allow for the personal recovery process, for appropriate goals, for a localised approach dependent on local resources and assets.
It can seem easy when thinking systems, to forget about the people involved in them. Individuals can become impersonal groups. I’m not just thinking about the people on their recovery journey here, but also the keyworkers, the nurses, the service managers, the commissioners, the receptionists, the community group leader, the off licence owner, the librarian, Mr & Mrs J. Bloggs, the sister, and mum. At the end of the day, it’s all of these people who make a recovery system work. And if they don’t buy into, understand or work towards recovery for all, then more must be done to engage, educate and train them. With this in mind last week was a little up and down for me. It’s great to see the Skills Consortium focussing their next national conference on ‘building recovery in the workforce’ but it was awful to see that funding for the Drug Education Forum has been cut. More is needed, not less!
We’re beginning to see the impact of individuals working together in open and generous ways in our Recovery Capital project. They’re taking the time to develop a shared vision for recovery for the city and are modest in their understanding that they need to work together to achieve it. It makes such a difference. Working closely with the CRi implementation team for the new recovery service for Peterborough (starting in January 2012), with the Safer Peterborough Partnership, with local councillors and community organisations and importantly with local people in recovery, we can already see tangible results in the community.
It doesn’t have to be difficult, drawn out or resource heavy. Over the last 3 weeks we have been running some informal activities in the community for anyone in recovery. We have invited someone from the forthcoming service to come along and join in with the painting, make the tea and have a chat.
By week 3 the group have decided to give themselves a name – Free Recovery for Everyone, Everywhere (FREE) – and have prepared a proposal to run a series of activities independently over the Christmas and New Year period for people in recovery in the city. The CRi team have kindly agreed to support the activities when and where the group ask for it. The group are making keyrings to advertise the 24/7 freephone recovery support number that few people seem to know about and will be distributing them across the city. Over Christmas they hope to design a mural for the new recovery service.
I once heard Clive Martin, Director of Clinks say that ‘compassion is a methodology’ when talking about rehabilitation programmes in prison. I think it would benefit the development of recovery systems across the country if we start to understand individual attitudes and behaviours as interventions – thinking specifically about practitioners, commissioners and the wider workforce here – and take the time and provide the space for better engagement, learning, and understanding. Build the relationships, strengthen the links, and make the connections. We’re rightly focussing on how to do this at a grassroot level among people in recovery. More must now be done across the workforce and into the community with community recovery champions at the helm.
Any and all interventions on parts of a system will have consequences on other parts of the system, as well as on the system as a whole. These consequences cannot always be anticipated or planned for. If the intervention itself is generosity, openness and a commitment to recovery, then my hope is that we can be more brave and more daring in everything else we try as we will have created the environment in which the unintended consequences are wholly serendipitous and beneficial for all.
In Tessy Briton’s insightful blog on How Do We Create New Knowledge for Creative/Collaborative Participatory Paradigm?, Tessy outlines some vulnerabilities for this time of emergent shifts in ways of working together and how this reflects changes in our own thinking and behaviour. This link between organisational change, for example, change in how we deliver services and how we reconsider our own personal responsibility in this, is one we are examining within our work with the public services in Peterborough. And Tessy is so right – it is difficult and can be deceptively difficult because it must be about the doing and not the talking about doing – a much easier option. The Wikipedia entry on the principles of positive deviance suggests it is easier to change behavior by practicing it rather than knowing about it. “It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting”. This is the route the RSA team of Citizen Power and The Map are taking with an ambitious cross public sector delivery programme in Peterborough called the single delivery plan. We are most definitely seeing seeing a new participation ‘Creative/Collaborative’ paradigm emerging.
This programme has emerged from a strong set of working principles to help transform communities in Peterborough:
- Outcomes, not organisations
- Addressing the root cause of issues – a preventative agenda
- Innovation – doing things differently for less
- Prioritisation – clear focus, not everything we do
Remarkably, we are approaching this through the arts, utilizing the tools of creative processes to enable discoveries and change with a committed group of 45 senior leaders across the city. It is big, and risky and a bit of a miracle that we got here at all. One of the key reasons we did is through the leadership of Gillian Beasley, Chief Executive for Peterborough , who leads by example in taking a full and active part, identifying the long term aim as being about a mind-set change, urging colleagues to try things differently and not seek immediate and band-aid like solutions.
There is the inevitable temptation to make a plan of action and not take advantage of the opportunity to explore, reflect and observe patterns of behaviour in one’s own working life and act instead upon this. To make this manageable, we are in small cross sector groups of 6 – representing health, the fire service, enterprise, police, council services, the voluntary sector and facilitated by someone with a background in how arts can make change. We have all identified behavioural changes and lines of enquiry that can address the changes we want to make and are now at the stage of designing ‘experiments’.
We are trying to find our way without a road map, as Wikipedia says, – acting our way into a new way of thinking. It is transparently a ‘top down’ approach at the start, given the roles of the participants, but remember this is led by a commitment to a personal and organisational change in working practices. We are doing ‘bottom up’ and ‘from the middle’ approaches in other programmes in the city. And over the next year, we hope to uncover some of those key factors Tessy refers to. So far, the toughest thing is just keeping our nerve, holding on to a fragile confidence that working with those we don’t normally engage with and trying experimental approaches together is worth doing.
Technically speaking there is not actually a blog roll up yet. But stay with me, this is what I am working on and the reason for this missive. The more I dip my big toe into the world of social media the more you realise that there is a whole load out there for the taking. I don’t mean in the illegal download sense, no, why that would be wrong, I mean in the sharing of information, views and news sense. I’m in up to my waist now and keen to go further.
Excitingly as the number of blog posts here at the RSA increase (and you may have noticed some changes with our blog appearance lately), the more readers there are coming to check out what is being said and being mulled over. There are also more bloggers out there than ever before and I’m here to reach out. I’m creating an ‘arts and society’ blogroll. I pledge to keep it updated and make the blogs suggested ones that we think are genuinely interesting, perhaps provocative, generous and with something great to say (no pressure there then) all contained in a short and sweet dedicated area just to the right hand side here where different blogs will come and go.
So how to compose this list then, well I have a few ideas already and in going through an organic process of finding out what is out there, seeing what I read myself, tweeting on this, looking at online newspapers and asking colleagues I arrive at the next step in that process… asking you. I’ll just jump straight in with it – which arts and culture, social commentary-type blogs would you recommend taking a read of? Got one you write yourself? One that makes you think? I’m all ears. And eyes.
Last night I braved the mountain that is the Angel underground escalator (and somewhat of a personal nemesis) to head on to the City University’s ‘Interdisciplinary Centre for Creativity in Professional Practice’ seminar on creative catalysts. Their speaker was an Icelandic artist/architect by the name of Illugi Eysteinsson and his energetic presentation and style of communication made it much more of a two-way conversation than that of the traditional passive observer vs presenter. But what I wanted to share was some of the key ideas that Illugi proposed about approaches to managing creative community projects gleaned from his 17 years of working in community arts settings.
Illugi advocated four considered steps:
1. ‘a piecemeal approach’ that is to say slowly, slowly, softly, softly. Build confidences, test abilities, find out what people are capable of and start to lead and coax the group.
2. Next ‘de-mystify creativity’. He says that people believe that art is an unreachable thing, something not for them but for other more educated people. By showing that creativity is within everyone the mental barriers start to fall.
3. ‘Validates an individual’s uniqueness’. Appreciate unconditionally whatever a participant does and has to offer. Everyone can make a contribution.
4. Lastly ‘create an environment to express’. This is a challenging one, aim to create a mutual bubble for the group somewhere where is it safe to explore ideas and make ‘mistakes’ and can move from the position of leader to steward.
In real life projects with community groups who by their nature are so diverse, ranging from for example a group of Kurdish women to a group of adults with learning difficulties and their carers, that there is a tangible skill in being able to manage all the external factors present which impact on the project being successful or not. Illugi highlighted that consideration needs to the given to cultural and linguistic differences, the skills and abilities of the group and the expectation and values systems that people hold so that individuals participating can get the most out of the experience as possible.
The point that Illugi made in the case of himself, was that he brings knowledge and passion for architecture, of form, shape and colour – takes this creative process and through this gently explores concepts such as design, construction and scale. Ultimately though it is the creation of the final product (in one case an amazing map of central London made to scale using food created by many different community groups) which is the thing. The photographs of this food map were truly amazing but what also appeared to have been created were stronger relationships within these groups, a greater confidence, an opportunity to express themselves in ways they had before, and for their families and friends to see them in a different light.
In the Arts and Society team we are developing a new project called ‘Making Culture Work’ that will explore all of the value that is created across a creative project – from all the different people involved be they artists, the participants, the project leads or the commissioners. It will enable artists and non-artists to be clearer about the social outcomes and benefits of their work as well as the creative ones and be able to talk about them confidently. Two fabulous fellows are jointly working with us on this, John Knell and Mandy Barnett, and John will be blogging about Making Culture Work soon, so watch this space…
Last week I watched Imagine: Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman with double persona of Grayson Perry talking about his latest exhibition which is on at the British Museum until February next year. It was wonderful hearing Grayson talk about his art, and the personal meaning and significance behind his artistic choices – and the endearing Alan Measles. As a result of this the depth of understanding or critique it is now possible to have with the show will be greater, more informed and will also act as a nudge for me to go along. So why isn’t there more programming like this? And I don’t mean that the format should have to follow the style of Imagine – a programme that is broadcast at 10.45pm when most people are calling it a day and heading to bed though iPlayer may have changed all that, it is also I’d say aimed squarely at one type of audience – an already predisposed, highly literate one. And sure you could go along to Grayson’s talk but this only really works if you happen to live near where they are taking place. But TV, that is for the masses, in your home and in your face.
Hearing Grayson talk about his own views on galleries, what he considers to be bad art and how the placing of objects in galleries in order to give them significance and importance they’d not have otherwise, makes me think how vital and compelling it is to hear artists’ opinions and in the case of ‘Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman’ whether the visitors attending the British Museum would find this exhibition all the more enriching and insightful if they too had seen the Imagine documentary on TV.
Though television is undoubtedly a compelling medium, the drug of the nation and all that, could a greater, more varied line in accessible programming on art really make a difference to the quality of debate and to audience figures in the real world? The Turner Prize nominees are currently showing their wares at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead and in a wonderfully refreshing way after you come through the exhibition on your way out, you are directed past a café. The Turner Prize café is a comfortable place of chairs and tables, pencils, notepads and reflection – and people who have just experienced the same show as you. What this social space invites is a place to contemplate further what you have just seen with the means to pour out on paper what you might be thinking and a wall to post your observations should you wish.
But what I loved about this relaxed arrangement is that all this accompanies a perfectly sized big screen showing a 10 minute film on a loop interviewing the nominees Martin Boyce, Karla Black, George Shaw and Hilary Lloyd. This is thought through further as on each table sits a neat, moveable, volume-adjustable speaker. The sharing of tables encourages conversations to strike up between strangers as the Turner Prize goers swop thoughts and emotions augmented by their new knowledge gained from the film.
For the film focuses on the artists and their work – which for me resulted in being able to put a face of a regular man or woman to those sculptures, video installation and enamel paint I’d just seen. Someone who looked like anyone one of the people around me. It was the immediacy of being able to do that which is what makes it work, your thoughts and emotions are so fresh, you need to respond. The art becomes more accessible and real as you hear the honest, down to earth account of what inspires these artists to create and how they feel about what they do create. After all, this is what the judges will know.
When one of the nominees, Hilary Lloyd said ‘there’s this idea that you should somehow have to understand art and ‘get it’. I don’t think it is like that’ the man opposite me palpably relaxed. The interviewer asked her what her installation is supposed to mean, to which she replies laughing ‘can you answer it and I’ll see if I can agree.’ Which compelled the man to write on his ‘shlurp and churp’ pad.
there’s this idea that you should somehow have to understand art and ‘get it’. I don’t think it is like that
In the film you also get a glimpse of the wider body of their work, the rooms at BALTIC are small with such few examples of the artist’s work that it is hard to feel immersed in any one of them. The film helps to change that too.
As visitor numbers at BALTIC may well have hit 50,000 in the opening fortnight I wonder what impact the café has had on people’s experiences. Judging by the wall, visitors are keen to engage with the work and express their opinions. It is fascinating to read these insights and work out who the people’s vote would award the prize to. Here are a few of these.
So is television the answer to rich public engagement? Develop audiences on TV and they will go out and seek the real, the live and the physical experience? Could programming that also includes those without a degree in Fine Art be a way to draw people into the world of an artist and alternative ways of seeing the world around them?
What I do know right now is that it’s hats off to BALTIC for their lovely Turner Prize café and their very friendly staff.
This is my very first blog post (inside and outside of the RSA) and it seems fitting that my opener is on a subject about which I am fiercely passionate.
As one half of the Recovery Capital Project internship team, my focus over the next 3 months will be to come up with organise a range of artistic (I use this term loosely) activities to engage and inspire current and former problem substance users in Peterborough. The time-frame is dizzyingly short, but having had a look at the creative endeavours the city already boasts, I feel confident that we can pull this off.
The idea that artistic expression can be an effective way to spark, support or even sustain recovery has become increasingly accepted on the treatment circuit. Art therapy and relapse prevention role-play are often included in the programmes of facilities that take clients beyond detox – although I hear these will be the first for the chop in the wake of spending cuts. Beyond treatment, there are a number of independent theatre companies that champion recovery and produce impressive, widely respected work – just look at The Outside Edge Theatre Company.
But what’s in it for the service-user? I can only relate my own experience, but the creative arts were an invaluable part of my own early recovery. Whilst I might not have taken it wholly seriously at the time, I only have fond memories of the art therapy sessions I attended in my first weeks of treatment. It is the sense of fun, the sudden exposure to colour and the license to create and emote without censure that was so appealing. Others found their artistic home in moderated creative writing sessions, where some of the pieces produced were mind-blowingly dark, beautiful, poetic or a combination of all three. I know of still others who regained their confidence (and their sense of humour!) through participating in the aforementioned relapse prevention role-plays. Further down the line, I was lucky enough to get involved with Clean Break, a theatre company that works exclusively with women whose lives have been affected by the criminal justice system. They support women of a shared experience to develop personal, social, artistic and professional skills and provide opportunities to enter into further education or work placements.
The point is, there is everything to gain and nothing to lose when it comes to getting creative in early recovery. Whether it is an opportunity to share your experience, connect with others, play to your strengths, regain self-esteem or just break the isolation of active addiction, the creative arts provide a non-discriminatory outlet. Anyone can get involved and no-one can get it wrong – essential when you consider the shame and sense of judgement an addict might feel about his or her past and present.
My hope is that by bringing similar activities to Peterborough, together with the collaboration of the city’s thriving artistic community, we can start to change the tide of how recovery is experienced and viewed.
Filed under: Arts and Society, Fellowship, Uncategorized
At a recent networks exchange in New York, Fellows from the tri-state network and the Chattanooga network had a blast sharing experiences, stories, and inspiration. There were many conversations, presentations and even epiphanies on both sides.
One of the voices was Toni Gwaltney’s from Chattanooga. Toni has been involved with the Fine Arts and Human Rights most of her life. A brief encounter teaching an Arts workshop with children from our Cathedral school, Holy Trinity Episcopal, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, convinced her that arts education was her calling. So when RSA Chattanooga received a catalyst grant to help launch an arts program for under-served kids in Chattanooga, Toni had found another outlet for her life’s passion.
Toni commented, “As a teacher, the power of the Fine Arts to transform lives is awe-inspiring. For children who have nothing, it doesn’t just merely enhance their academic performance. It can be life-saving. We know we cannot change someone’s life circumstance, but we can help them develop a new vision, a way to a different life path, a way to rewrite their own story. The belief that something…a sheet of blank paper, a few notes on a piano, a handful of lines from a script… can be transformed into something different, something beautiful or meaningful or evocative, translates somehow in the heart and mind as FAITH. The Arts imbue us with Faith: faith in ourselves, faith in humanity, faith in what is possible.”
She added, “I do hope that we can find some way to share the faith with other communities who have been left out of the Arts. Can you imagine if we could put a Visual Arts or Orchestra or Theater program in every poor, culturally deprived community in America? I think the educational establishment would have to take notice!”
More reports on the Chattanooga-New York Networks Exchange can be found on the American Coffee House (www.blog.rsa-us.org) and a full report will appear in the November 1 US newsletter.