by Mari Elliott
A couple of weeks ago (6-12 February) I was in and out of hospital like never before. Don’t rush out to get me Get Well Soon cards though! I was actually attending some very exciting events there. +Culture Shots was a week-long series of creative events run by museums and galleries in Manchester’s University Hospitals.
But why hospitals?
The reason for this unconventional venue was because the sessions were designed to give visitors the “chance to discover how culture can enhance your own life, your professional practice, and your patients’ health and wellbeing” and were aimed at hospital patients, arts practitioners, health workers and hospital staff.
With increasing amounts of research being carried out into the impact of creativity, culture and the arts on health and wellbeing by groups such as MMU’s Arts for Health and the development of the Arts On Prescription scheme, it suggests that the arts are gradually being recognised for their benefit to public health.
Museums and galleries in the North West have been heavily involved in getting the arts recognised within the health sector. Indeed, museums/galleries such as Whitworth Art Gallery, Bolton Museum and People’s History Museum, to name but a few, have been instrumental in advancing the cause through their work with vulnerable people ranging from adult mental health groups, (formerly) homeless groups, children with chronic illnesses, and elderly people.
In the +Culture Shots session How Can Museum Artefacts Help Patients?, which took place in Galaxy House on Thursday 9th Feb., Professor Lynn Froggett from the University of Central Lancashire talked about the projects run by six museums and galleries in the North West which set out to make a difference to health and wellbeing. Among the projects she introduced was Manchester Museum’s collaborative project with Start – Health Rocks – which looked at ways in which the museum’s collection of fossils and minerals could inspire a creative response in adult mental health patients. The work led by Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery in Carlisle in partnership with carers and care homes was also inspiring. The projects aimed not only to provide an opportunity for care home patients to take part in creative activities, but also offered training for health care professionals to run their own activities with clients, thereby enabling carers to be self-sufficient in offering creative activities and also enabling the activities to go on beyond the timescale the museum could invest. Given that the talk was only given a half hour timeslot, a lot of material was covered and sparked some interesting discussions from the artists, health professionals and museum staff present. For a more detailed report on the work carried out by museums and galleries, take a look at this document – Who Cares? Museums, Health and Wellbeing Research Project.
My interest was also piqued by Outside Art, a session in which Bryony Bond, curator at the Whitworth introduced to us the gallery’s Outsider Art collection. For those of you who are unfamiliar with outsider art, it was a term coined by art critic Roger Cardinal in 1972 as the English alternative to the French art brut. Cardinal’s definition differs from the original French, however. Whereas Cardinal describes outsider art simply as art produced by self-taught or non-institutionalised artists who have little or no contact with the mainstream art world, Jean Dubuffet’s art brut refers more specifically to art created by individuals with mental health problems that existed almost completely outside of society.
Among the artworks Bryony showed us were works by Johann Hauser and Oswald Tschirtner, both of whom were interred at the Artists’ House at Gugging, which was a sanitorium and care home at the time. Founder of Gugging, Leo Navratil, was particularly interested in the psychopathology of expression and allowed patients to draw as a form of self-expression. He later went on to publish a book titled Schizophrenia and Art (1965). The Artists’ House still exists, although now it is structured as a social care centre for people with chronic psychiatric illnesses, and will apparently only stay open as long as its current residents remain. The Artists’ House is interesting because it not only encouraged patients to draw, but also sold the works created and reinvested the money into the maintenance of the sanitorium.
The interesting question raised during this session was whether artists such as Hauser stop being an ‘outsider’ once their work becomes recognised within the mainstream art world and are sold to and displayed by galleries such as the Whitworth. What do you think?
Though I only managed to attend a handful of the events offered by +Culture Shots, I found the variety and content to be stimulating and inspiring. On a personal level, I have a huge interest in the way art and museum collections can be used in different ways for different people, and so I find the application of culture to the health sector fascinating. With funding cuts prevalent in the arts, there’s an increasing sense of worry that projects run in collaboration between museums and health organisations will suffer, but with the rise in academic and scientific interest in the subject, hopefully they will be able to beat the cuts and continue to use culture to help and inspire public wellbeing.
Did you attend any of +Culture Shots?
Do you have any stories/opinions to share?
Please leave a comment below!
PS. You may also be interested in reading this —> Invest to Save: Arts in Health Evaluation