WE NEED ART... BUT FOR WHAT?
...asked the sign as Global Health Disrupted arrived into Hobart International Airport. The most recent Museum of Old and New (MONA) exhibition was curating an experience that challenged human understandings of art, from the way we consumed to to the way it was produced.
One of our missions here at Global Health Disrupted is to understand how the arts can be used to improve the Global Health world. Is it simply a vehicle of communication and public engagement? Or can we use it to challenge perceptions of health and wellbeing at a more profound level? We seem to inherently recognise the value of the arts in health, at least at a superficial level, but really what can it do for our health? And, how can we measure this impact?
The first task for our intern, GG, was to take a plunge into the world of the arts and health movement in the UK.
This burgeoning movement is shifting from the fringe and gathering mainstream attention. Hospitals are collaborating with curators. Patient advocates discuss space and colour, as well as cost and access. Healthcare design is not only focused on the human, but on nature as well.
We seem to implicitly recognise the benefit of art in the health world, but how can we measure it?
On the 19th of June a 3 day international conference was held in Bristol on culture, arts and well-being. As it was my first time at a conference I was very excited and interested by the variety of attendees. Speakers from Public Health England (PHE), doctors and dance troupes were each given an equal opportunity to express their opinions and ideas about how best to integrate the arts and health more fully. A large part of the conference was dedicated to the impact of the arts (drawing, dancing, theatre etc.) on the health and well-being of people around the world. Whilst scientists and artists alike may scoff at the idea of merging such radically different fields, the combination of arts and health is rapidly expanding.
One of the keynote speakers was Duncan Selbie, the Chief Executive of PHE. His speech addressed the top reasons why people do not come into work, joint pain and mental health issues, and talked about how getting people into work benefits them and alleviates mental health problems. Despite fierce grilling about how the current system in Britain does not adequately support people who are less able, Duncan responded well and emphasised that he wants everyone to have a chance to work. He went on to talk about making a strong commitment to art and culture being a part of the new PHE labs in Harlow, with the front of the building visibly displaying artwork. While he could not commit to the exact amount of the budget that is dedicated to involving arts and culture in the building, the idea of combining arts, culture and healthcare facilities is not a new one. Various studies have shown that art scenes depicting nature can alleviate stress and anxiety for patients as well as staff in hospitals.
Another keynote speaker was Dr. Nayreen Daruwalla, the Programme Director for Prevention of Violence against Women and Children, Mumbai (India). I had the pleasure of conducting an interview with her and her colleague Dr. David Osrin after their speech and Q&A. Nayreen spoke about co-directing Dharavi Biennale, a participatory arts festival held in Dharavi (one of Asia’s biggest slums). The aim of the festival was to encourage communities to participate in arts projects in order to start conversations about the health issues faced by the people living in Dharavi themselves. The various “artboxes” in Dharavi consisted of a local mentor artist, scientists and participants devising a theme and a product (a skit, drawing or even a sculpture). During the Q&A, Nayreen was asked the inevitable question that any scientist would ask: did your project manage to change health behaviours? Her response was to point out that it is hard to change health behaviours during the course of such a short project, however she did highlight that the artbox on multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) was a great case study. A song was created about MDR-TB, but the mentors running the artbox struggled with how their work was impactful when poor ventilation and overcrowded housing were the real issues. To combat this, they focused on how to identify TB in its early stages and highlighted the availability of early reference clinics. As people in Dharavi were unaware of the clinics, therefore the artbox did have an impact on the local community. Directing a festival that was visited by over 10,000 people is a tremendous task, however the biggest challenge according to Nayreen had everyone at the conference in stitches. Apparently the planning and logistics involved is nothing compared to the artistic moods of the mentor artists!