#LiveWellMakeArt: Creativity sets you free

| Anna Eaton

By Steve Goslyn

LiveWellMakeArt (LWMA) is an informal network of arts professionals, health professionals and activists, academics and people who care passionately about the health and wellbeing of Greater Manchester.  They have been working together for two years as a social movement. They want ‘a healthier Greater Manchester where all its people can share the benefits of engaging in and enjoying the arts and creative activities with each other, and to make our streets, neighbourhoods and communities better places to live’.

On 22nd May, at the Turnpike Art Gallery in Leigh, LWMA held an event as part of a programme funded through Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s ‘Great Places’ initiative. It explored ways in which the arts can address the challenges of social isolation and loneliness through building stronger social connections.  The event coincided with the first anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing atrocity marked by a poignant minute’s silence, but also with renewed pride that Manchester remains unbowed, and that the performing and visual arts continue to play a leading role in reflecting and amplifying the spirit of the city.

A highly participative, high energy event

The Turnpike Gallery/Library, a 50-year old brutalist-style building, was developed in the 1970s at a time when civic pride ran high and when the local mining industry was declining.  It remains a beacon of learning and creativity for local people, hosting some of the attendees at the event including the Fallen Angels Dance Theatre, who work with people in recovery from addiction; and the Leigh Film Society a volunteer-run community cinema.

The event was introduced by Donna Hall, Chief Executive of Wigan MBC  and Greater Manchester’s lead officer for culture, arts and leisure. Donna talked about how through the Wigan Deal the Council has invested £10m in community led initiatives through its Community Investment Fund.  This year, its sixth, has a specific focus on cultural education.

A highly participative, high energy event saw participants creating poetry about how they feel about the concept of community and about isolation.  Amongst others, they heard from Dr Kat Taylor, Senior Clinical Psychologist, who as a Churchill Fellow explored arts and health initiatives in Finland and the US and is on a mission to share her findings and best practice with practitioners and advocates in the UK.

Elaine Unegbu, a retired nurse, spoke passionately about her volunteer role as one of Manchester’s 140 Age Friendly cultural champions who spread the word about the value of getting involved in art and culture: “taking part in activities, making new friends, influencing policy and having fun”.

We heard about how many local arts organisations are challenging the pathologizing of lonely and isolated people and coming at things from a strength-based approach – listen to people, building trust, helping social networks to form and enabling people to open up to the potential of having more say over their lives. “Creativity sets you free” mused a participant in an initiative run by One Manchester housing association and The Royal Exchange theatre involving people living in high rise social housing flats.

LWMA’s strength is in its members who contribute to sustain the network which gives space for creative and constructive dialogue about between people involved in arts on the one hand, and health policy makers and practitioners on the other.  Nick Dixon from the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, speaking at the event, likened this to meeting on a bridge between different worlds, and gave participants a renewed optimism that many people in the health system were open and enthusiastic about exploring new ways to collaborate.

As would be expected from Manchester there is a diverse and creative arts sector, but there are gaps and challenges. We heard that artists can struggle to practice, funding is scarce, and there are barriers to community involvement in the face of deep social inequalities.  Alan Higgins, public health consultant, and one of the LWMA founders, reflected that policy makers and the public now broadly accept that physical exercise is good for your health, but there is still an uphill road to fully make the case for participation in the arts benefiting health and wellbeing.

What next?

LWMA are taking their show on the road over the next year highlighting different social themes across Greater Manchester. Culminating in a final event in Manchester City in early 2019 to coincide with the World Healthcare Congress Europe 5-7 March.  In gaining momentum, the LWMA movement has the ambitious aim of Greater Manchester leading the way in establishing arts at the heart of health and wellbeing; and as the saying goes, “What Manchester does today the rest of the world does tomorrow”.

To find out more search #livewellmakeart

Further reading

http://www.artshealthandwellbeing.org.uk/appg-inquiry/Publications/Creative_Health_Inquiry_Report_2017.pdf

http://europehealthcare.org/why-manchester/

https://www.wcmt.org.uk/fellows/reports/arts-healthcare-pioneers-informing-and-supporting-greater-manchester-devolution

Photo by Debby Hudson

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