Kathleen Edmonds: Arts, Creativity and Wellbeing: the impact that the arts can have on individuals and communities

Glyndwr UniversityKathleen Edmonds CREST PosterThe purpose of this research project is to examine the perception of the social professions on the impact that the arts and other creative activities can have on individual health and well-being. The social professions include youth work, education, health, and social care. In my current roles, training students for the youth and community profession, and as a gallery educator at Tate Liverpool I am concerned about the lack of recognition given to using the arts and other creative activities in enhancing learning and skill development, and in promoting cultural wellbeing. Opening Doors: The Art Gallery as a Resource for Learning was established in the mid 1990’s by Adrian Plant, a community curator at Tate Liverpool and Sandy D’Silva, a social worker and freelance trainer. It introduces participants to modern and contemporary art and empowers them to work in new ways with groups and individuals. It was developed out of the belief that art and visual imagery can be used to open up communication and to aid understanding of self and others (Haworth, V, 2007:1-2).

The research I am undertaking is with a selection of the cohorts from the 2009-2011 Opening Doors course, to review post course, how they have utilised their learning in actual practice, and what their perceptions are of the impact this has made on their cultural well-being, as well as that of their clients. Cultural well-being is defined as:

“…the vitality that communities and individuals enjoy through participation in recreation, creative and cultural activities and the freedom to retain, interpret and express their arts, history, heritage and traditions” ( New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage 2005).

The arts council on its website states that the arts are central to a government that places a healthy society at the heart of its agenda, because they provide social and economic benefits and aid general wellbeing (Arts Council, 2011). The political context of savage cuts to arts and public sector funding in the social professions is central to the purpose of this piece of research because it is believed that the small amounts of money spent on the arts reap large rewards in terms of the impact on individuals and communities. (Higgins, Guardian, 2011). Opening Doors takes as its philosophy the work of Natalie Rogers who believes that by using the expressive arts (movement, art, music, writing, sound and improvisation), an individual can become more self aware and through this process, connections can be made with others, allowing the individual to feel empowered in a community. This is further enhanced when an individual forms collaborative partnerships in the wider world, connecting them with other cultures in a more enlightened way (1993). This research will look at how effective Opening Doors has been in facilitating such connections.

The research question is: How do practitioners conceptualise the impact of art and creativity on their practice? The project will examine this through exploring sub questions: How have they utilised their learning from the Opening doors course in actual practice? What are their perceptions of the impact this has made on their own health and wellbeing? What are their perceptions of the impact this has made on the health and wellbeing of their clients?

The project is an example of participatory action research (Selener, 1997, in Robson, 2002) where organisational change and improved practice become possible through practitioners active participation in research. This research will provide an opportunity for the professionals involved to voice their opinions on how theory has been translated into practice and to assess its impact .This will identify what strategies are most effective in order to inform future practice in other arts, education, health and social care settings and will contribute to sustainable communities through participation in the arts.