Mike White writes: I recently attended Arts and Health Australia’s 3rd International Arts and Health Conference, The Art of Good Health and Wellbeing, in Canberra.  This event is rapidly becoming the global forum for research and practice in arts in health and I’m amazed by the productive dialogue and practical collaborations that have resulted for CMH from my attendance. This year my keynote focused on a re-conceptualisation of arts in health in response to the current changes in health policy and infrastructure in the UK, and it took as its starting point the web article I did earlier this year for the public art agency Ixia.  I also participated in a mentoring day for arts and health practitioners and led an international panel of speakers who reported back on the critical mass meeting we held in Durham in June.

Canberra is a spacious but eerily quiet capital city with its Alphaville architecture interspersed by tamed wilderness, and this quiet was further accentuated by a two-day ‘lockdown’ consequent on Obama’s visit to the Australian parliament. The conference venue, the National Gallery of Australia, with its exemplary collection of indigenous art  proved an inspiring setting for discussion of arts in health in an Australian context, though it was a surprise to run into a 1:10 maquette of The Angel of the North in the gallery’s new sculpture garden.

This year I detected a common thread in conference presentations in the importance of dignity in patient-centred healthcare.  For example, Evelyna Kan’s forceful presentation on her arts development work with homeless elderly of Hong Kong took this theme into the realm of human rights, and the Arts Health Institute’s mission in Australia to bring improvisational comedy into care homes for patients with dementia impressed with both the quality of engagement and research.  Film producer Simone Flavelle, who visited CMH in June on an artist intensive, launched a digital web-based evaluation of her long-term project with special needs clients titled Lost Generation.

There were a couple of interesting research-based presentations looking into the possibilities of ‘performative’ evaluation in which participants enact the impact of a project on their health outlook. Clive Parkinson of Arts & Health at Manchester Metropolitan University, who also took part in a CMH seminar this year, gave the opening plenary address on the design development of the Maggi centres in the UK and the issues they raise for maintaining dignity in both acute and palliative care.

After the conference I took part in a two-day seminar to scope an Australia Research Council study into the characteristics of community-based arts in health.  My colleagues in this study are Peter Wright from Murdoch University in WA and Brad Haseman from the Queensland University of Technology, and we are studying the work of Big hArt a cutting-edge participatory arts and film-making organisation working in communities at risk.

Arts and Health Australia later arranged for me and colleagues from UK, Ireland and USA to give presentations in Sydney at the National Gallery of New South Wales, the College of Fine Art and to the ministerial advisory committee on ageing at Parliament House.

Next year’s Arts and Health Australia conference will be in Fremantle and there are ambitious plans for international collaborations in arts in health that will be showcased at this event. The 2013 conference is already earmarked for Sydney and there are likely to be follow-up symposiums in China and Singapore.


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