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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA



What has the pandemic brought into sharper focus for arts and health?

AATA and VIBE friend Katherine Taylor lives in Lancaster and works in Lancaster & Morecambe CAMHS as a senior clinical psychologist, and across Greater Manchester managing the new Arts, Culture and Mental Health programme with GM #THRIVE, part of the national transformation of children's services.

This blog began to help record and share Kat’s 2017 Churchill Travelling Fellowship, following a research role at Arts for Health, Manchester Metropolitan University. Her work in the field of arts and well-being came about in many converging ways. As a child she was interested in emotional well-being and worked in mental health research as a graduate. She began clinical psychology training in 2010, and for her thesis studied the role of creativity in bipolar disorder, because of the known links, and partly due to her own experiences of engaging creatively to manage extremes of mood throughout her 20s.

Kat has worked in several university psychology research departments including the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research at Lancaster University, notable for its service user involvement, and on the Dementia & Imagination research programme.

As a ritual to mark the end of 2020, here’s my Christmas selection – worldwide, but with a Mancunian twist – of resources, news, and reflections on arts and health, and two special treats at the end.

A big thank you to those who have signed up as Ambassadors for the GM i-THRIVE Arts, Culture and Mental Health programme. The fact that this featured in October in the Royal Society for Public Health is testament to a changing landscape for arts and health…

What did 2020 bring onto sharper focus for arts and health?

The beginning: Culture Unites and Soothes

Public art in Laphinlahti, Helsinki, an asylum turned Wellbeing Centre

Music as extraordinarily bonding

Music was an instant connector, aiding expression and coping across the world. We saw Italians singing from their balconies as the lock-downs began. Music is enjoyable, but there are also many serious applications. Read about the powerful psychological effects of music that can improve your health and well-being.

If you prefer to listen, I discuss this in a podcast with TopMedTalk on the the arts and music in clinical settings following the WHO’s 2019 review on the role of arts and culture in health.

New York: Healing Arts Initiatives Emerge to Support a Struggling Frontline.

The “Music for The Soul” series launches, with big-name acts treating frontline healthcare workers to private concerts.

“The Way I See It” Creativity Helps UK Kids Process Lockdown

Google Arts & Culture teams up with Arts Council England to display art made by young people to process the pandemic. With children cut off from school arts supplies, the Arts Council, working with its partners, managed to distribute over 36,840 Let’s Create Packs to children.

Creativity addresses isolation, distress and boredom

As the virus and its effects spread, cultural content commonly engaged people on-line and there was a sharp increase in demand for cultural content. For a collection visit April’s post, Culture at a Distance: Arts for Health in Isolation.

Early on: Inequalities

Greater Manchester Creative Care Kits

Recognising that 22,000 young people across Greater Manchester are not online, the first Creative Care Kit initiative saw charities, businesses and arts organisations join forces to distribute Kits to those who may isolated and lonely during a difficult time. A second Creative Care Kit was distributed in autumn.

Each kit contains 36 pages of activities and tips on protecting mental well-being and a set of art materials. As well as providing something to do, the kits help create a sense of connection in the absence of face-to-face interactions.

Building Back Fairer: the Covid-19 Marmot review

Marmot’s report Build Back Fairer was published recently, highlighting inequalities which have been further exposed by the pandemic.

Regionally, the Greater Manchester Population Health Plan seeks to address such inequalities and explicitly embeds the arts into its vision. This report acknowledges that engaging in the arts can help people to make social connections, enable self-expression, create the conditions for social action, and enable people to have more power over their own lives.

Throughout: Health, Mental Health and Social Determinants

UK Study Indicates Arts Engagement May Protect Mental Health During Lockdown

UCL’s COVID-19 Social Study tracked weekly arts engagement and mental health of 72,000 UK adults since March. Data suggest that people spending 30 minutes or more on creative activities reported lower rates of depression and anxiety and greater life satisfaction. Researchers also found that exercise and outdoor activities are among the strongest predictors of well-being – and among the strongest predictors of poor mental health is high news consumption.

Collective Resilience: How we’ve protected our mental health during Covid-19

Published by the Collective Psychology Project, this report cites the arts as a major protective factor for our mental health during COVID-19.

The development of social prescribing

Network MARCH is helping to transform our understanding of the role of social, cultural and community assets in mental health: Their top 10 achievements.

Young people and mental health

Isolation and disruptions to everyday life are disproportionately affecting the development and maturation of children and young people (you probably know this from your own experiences! But see reports from the UN and the Mental Health Foundation).

Three Minute Heroes

Three Minute Heroes is a music project in East Yorkshire and Greater Manchester making sure young people have their voices heard. Young people express their feelings through creative writings. Those writings/lyrics are then given to bands and solo artists who put them to music and create powerful songs that create an authentic voice for young people.

Three Minute Heroes is a campaign from The Warren Youth Project that supports young people to use creative writing and music to talk openly, confidently and safely about what’s on their mind

The Youth Mental Health Arts & Culture Evaluation Kit

In a unique 12-month partnership between mental health services, arts organisations, voluntary sector organisations and academics, we launched the GM i-THRIVE Youth Mental Health Arts & Culture Evaluation Kit, a useful approach to help explain the effects of taking part in the arts. So far over 40 organisations have requested theirs.

Dance as Uniquely Effective

New York: Dance For PD reaches more than ever during the pandemic. For nearly 20 years, Dance for PD® has provided people living with Parkinson’s around the world with interactive, live dance experiences that engage, inspire and connect. This year, its founder, David Leventhal, has asked what happens when a robust dance for health program moves into the virtual space?

He left us with 5 takeaways:

1. 10 year jump: digital classes and resources are here to stay. 2. Great benefits to programming live, online and by phone. 3. Access and inclusion greatly increased in digital space 4. Teaching artists need training to be effective online 5. Dance organisations need to invest in technology.

Netherlands:Creative First Aid Box tested.

Ballet master and researcher Andrew Greenwood has developed a “Creative First Aid Box.” The tool box contains creative movement and music programs to stimulate physical, mental and social interaction, towards a policy aim in the Netherlands to keep seniors in their own homes for longer. Andrew is working towards dance on prescription, and co-founded Switch2Move in 2020.

The duration: Culture Prevails

Grayson’s Art Club: the exhibition

During the lockdown, one of Britain’s foremost artists, Grayson Perry, brought the nation together through art, inviting a unique record of the pandemic in Britain through personal representations of lock-down. Manchester Art Gallery will display work made by the public, well-known artists and celebrities during Grayson’s Art Club exhibition.

You can watch the series and finale of the exhibition on Channel 4.

As part of Grayson’s Art Club, the Manchester Art Gallery are launching their own art club, encouraging people from Manchester and beyond to make art with a Mancunian twist.

Radio: Music Matters: The Human Connection, BBC Radio 4

A review of how and why people engaged in music and music making during the pandemic, with Dr Daisy Fancourt, author of the WHO 2019 scoping review on the role of arts and culture in health, and World Economic Forum Global Shaper.

December 2020: “An unprecedented year”

Finland: An overview of the current state of arts and health.

The arts and health field has been gaining strength and institutionalising in Finland since the beginning of the 1990s. This 2020 article outlines the current state of arts and health in Finland, through policy, practice, research and education.

Austria: Country launches new organisation, Arts for Health Austria. In December 2019’s the Austrian Federal Chancellery hosted a policy workshop in Vienna, and a year later we gathered in an online global audience at the launch of the Ministry of Culture’s new organisation, Arts for Health Austria. At Dance: New Moves in Healthcare, delegates from around the world were kept engaged and inspired throughout with professionally-led ‘dance breaks’ to stimulate blood flow and rejuvenate concentration.

The Royal Society of Medicine Christmas lecture, ‘The Art of Health

At the end of the year, the Royal Society of Medicine chose ‘The Art of Health’ for its Christmas lecture, significant in a year that saw major paradoxes around arts and culture: at the same time vital to our coping, but challenged as a sector.

The World Economic Forum on the Social Roles of the Arts

Lastly, if you’ve read this far, you’ll probably like this timeline from Arts+Mind Lab of how the arts affected our health this year, and the World Economic Forum’s article on the social roles of the arts, and the science and art of studying them – Art therapy: this is how the arts can shape mental health research.

Finally.. some love

At Christmas and the end of a hard year, I’d like to share with you some love and hope with music from some very dear friends from Manchester days (and nights)

‘Fill the room with love”: The stress-busting jazz of Alabaster de Plume

“The jazz breakthrough of 2020 with an album inspired by work in mental health support – and his gentle, open music can ease all our minds mid-pandemic.”

Honeyfeet’s Ríoghnach Connolley

Ríoghnach plays with Manchester’s Honeyfeet, The Breath, and Band of Burns. Watch Ríoghnach in a 2020 concert here with a “powerhouse voice, a deft way with a flute and a personality that brooks no nonsense.” Ríoghnach BBC Radio Folk Singer of the Year 2019.


The COVID Art Museum opens on Instagram as a place to document and preserve artists’ response to the pandemic.

The Globe Theatre Streams Shakespeare

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