Cultures of Health and Wellbeing Conference: A reflection

On 21st and 22nd March, I attended a very eye opening conference in Newcastle’s Great North Museum. It was organised by the Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance, a new organisation whose belief is “that creative and cultural engagement can transform our health and wellbeing, and to provide support, information and networking opportunities for its membership, the wider sector, and anyone interested in the relationship between the arts, heritage, creativity and health and wellbeing.“

This was their first conference as a new allicance.

Naturally I had to go along.

About the Conference

There were many accomplised representatives from museums, galleries, charities and funding bodies at the event. They included Errol Francais, from ‘Culture &’ (who gave an incredible opening speech about the meaning of culture and race) and Neil Churchill, Head of Diversity at the NHS. The main themes of the talk were centred around the benefits of arts in health, how to make them more sustainable and the effects of social prescribing.

Some of the break outs were titled ‘Peer led and person centred’ and ‘Hierarchies and Inequalities’. It was exciting to get a first hand look at the developments in arts and healthcare today, but it seemed to slightly miss the mark. Rather than looking at ways we could better diversity the arts in healthcare, the event seemed to focus on praising the work which had already been done. Of course, it is important to celebrate your work, but this seemed to come at a hinderance to using the opportunity to make an even bigger difference.

Scribing by Artist Fabric Lenny

Scribing by Artist Fabric Lenny

Memorable Moments

Some of the most meaningful perfomances at the festival were when a platform was given to those whose health and wellbeing was directly improved by the arts. These included (but were not limited to):

  • Kelly, from Chilli Studios, who had been directly affected by child sex abuse and used her experience to counsel others through the arts

  • Dr Shangali, a doctor who later became diagnosed with Vasculities, a muscle condition which she was studying as a doctor. She had since left the practice and became a fine artist, using her work to document her experiences of pain.

  • The young people at The Lawnmowers group, a group with learning disabilities who are empowered through art. They perfomed an upbeat drumming piece which ended the festival.

  • The ladies at the Gateshead Care home choir, a choir for those with dementia, who performed a very catchy song which they had co-written with volunteer musicians, called ‘meet me at the clock’.

It would have been incredible to look more at these groups and ways in which their work can be showcased on larger public platforms.

Great North Museum in Hancock, Newcastle.

Great North Museum in Hancock, Newcastle.

Talking Points.

The most revealing section of the conference was the ‘opinions wall’ - whereby any attendee of the conference could voice their concerns. It was sometimes saddening to hear healthcare professionals talking about artists 'volunteering their time’ to help others, which annoyed quite a few people! A big take away for fellow artists/ designers I met at the event was how we could show that the work we do is important and therefore needs payment.

It would have also been nice to have more diversity in the event, both from young people and other ethnicities. It was a shame that the conference tickets were so expensive (upwards of £100!!!) which therefore resticted access to those whose opinions could really do with being heard.

Overall, the event was very eye-opening, but not in the way I had hoped. I met lots of fantastic people, made new contacts and learnt that this sector is one which needs to continue to push itself in the ways it works for diversity and access. I’m excited to see what happens next year!

Shout out to my new friends (the only young people at the event) Lizzy, Conni and Angela!

Sophia Luu