Sunday, April 21, 2013

Eno - Ono - Oh No

Brian Eno and 77 Million Paintings  
A couple of weeks ago, I had the call from the BBC to be interviewed for the Radio 4 flagship news programme, Today. The story was embargoed until broadcast, so of course, I could’t really share my mounting excitement!

It emerged that Brian Eno had produced some new work for a hospital in Hove and they wanted me to comment on it and talk more widely about the field. First thoughts were - my mind-set is more around public health, wellbeing, participation and democracy - second thoughts were - all publicity for the field is good publicity. So off I went to Media City primed to talk about all things arts and health - from the conference in Bristol, to the National Alliance, and armed to the hilt with anecdotes and evidence. 

The Today Programme health correspondent Jane Dreaper was delightful, welcoming and had done her research, and we spoke for ages, recoding snippets of conversation that I hoped would be a helpful contribution. There’s no denying Eno’s place in art and culture, so it was good to be thinking about work that is not only generative and visually lush, but that conjoined visual imagery alongside music.

You can get an idea of the type of work this is from the above video, but this isn't the actual work.

That the work was in a private hospital*, did come as a bit of a blow - but Jane and I talked about the NHS and how the arts add something to the quality of patient experience within health settings and of course, I waxed lyrical about the potential of the arts and design in the lives of people with dementia, particularly my ongoing collaboration with designer, Darren Browett. We discussed quality of experience in light of the Francis Report and that work goes beyond the ‘icing on the cake’ of healthcare, and of how the small-scale, but beautifully designed Maggie’s Centres transform people’s experience of serious illness.

Thankfully I had clinical research in mind and some of the evidence from the literature around pain management, reductions in anxiety and stress and of course, what every NHS manager wants: reduced patient stays. With a relatively confident interview under my belt, I returned to the reality of MMU and waited.

Embargoed until the Thursday to coincide with the Eno launch, the feature was dropped following the news of the fertiliser factory explosion in the US. I was told it would be rescheduled for the Friday and when the allotted moment came, I waited with baited breath - what on earth would they use? Then in those last glorious seconds following Eno’s anecdotes and passing conversation with someone being treated for cancer, an ‘excited’ blogger was given his fifteen minutes of fame - well 15 seconds to be precise! You can hear Jane's report by clicking on the early Eno below.


So, what would I have talked about, if I’d have managed to squeeze in an extra couple of minutes - or better still - had the opportunity to share what it is the arts/health agenda is all about?

Being a great one for preparing, I’d scribbled key points that I’d somehow hoped to cover and I want to share some of the things we talked about here.

I shared the work of the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing and how we relate to other international networks. I had exemplars from the region (I am always impressed by my colleagues in the NW) and gave a plug to the international conference in Bristol this June. But more than all of this, I tried to plant the idea of arts and culture being somehow central to how we think about health and wellbeing in the 21st century. I wanted to sew some seeds around primary care, public health and the medical humanities - and I wanted to suggest that some of the more interesting research around music and health, demonstrates that it is ‘self selected’ music that seems to have potency in clinical settings - and this doesn’t even touch on what we know about participation.

Brian Eno is an advocate for long-term thinking and if his contribution to the field is truly something stripped of ego, his deeply considered and beautiful work is appropriate to heath settings and could perhaps suggest a move from passive background music to patient controlled environments. You can read a fuller interview by clicking on the older Eno below. 

There’s always a danger that a big name from the art world might distract from the story that we are trying to tell: that creativity, culture and the arts are a potent force for health and wellbeing. Eno’s 77 Million Paintings for Montefiore and The Quite Room are a different breed to the off-the-peg prescribed mural of Michael Craig-Martin’s, Kids in Oxford’s, John Radcliffe Hospital. For me though, the kind of immersive experience that Eno has created should be accessible to everyone, and although the Montefiore** supports 35% NHS patients, I hope that Eno won't see this as a one-off and might want to explore what impact the work has on people and potentially look to an NHS setting for future collaborations.

Over this last decade, we’ve seen some serious investment in the NHS estate and rich art/design collaborations, but we’re only just beginning to enter a new age of austerity and new political ideologies that inevitably question previous government thinking. It seems a lifetime ago that the Department of Health, in A Prospectus for Arts and Health established a policy commitment to the arts, and with a foreword by the then Minister of State for Delivery and Quality, Department of Health, Andy Burnham MP and Minister for Culture, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, David Lammy MP. Let’s remind ourselves of what the very first page declared.

“The Departmen’s policy is that the arts have a major contribution to make to wellbeing, health, healthcare provision and healthcare environments, to the benefit of patients, service users, carers, visitors and staff, as well as to communities and the NHS as a whole.

As inequalities in health and wellbeing seem to be widening, perhaps health settings might be one of the few places that people marginalised by ill health associated with poverty and reduced opportunities, might encounter beautiful and challenging art. Maybe these encounters offer not only fleeting moments of wellbeing, but an introduction to something beyond the tedium and monotony of functional day-to-day survival, giving those working in these settings, the opportunity for meaningful dialogue and exchange. Cultural inequalities take a bizarre twist when you think that, as the NME reported, Eno's compositions wouldn't be available to the general public, with his people stating: "It's true to say that 'The Quiet Room For Montefiore' is an album that can only be heard in the Montefiore Hospital." 

                                   Oh No!

So for my 15 seconds of airtime, what did I achieve? Aside from some introductions to interesting people in the BBC and further afield - and some very kind email - for me at least, it has made me revisit some of the earlier efforts of colleagues in field and the wealth of research that exists that can be built on, and which illustrates the evolutionary nature of the field: a very rich and very diverse thing.

Of course a peak-time feature like this on national radio, is a rare opportunity for sharing ideas more widely, and with an audience of around 7 million, its an opportunity we should embrace. I’m thankful for my small part in it and only hope it opens more opportunity for more debate.

Two PhD Studentships
The Psychosocial Research Unit invites applications for two part-time PhD studentships approved within the School of Social Work at the University of Central Lancashire. The studentship is tenable for up to 6 years for a PhD (via MPhil route) [subject to satisfactory progress]. The studentship will cover the cost of tuition fees at UK/EU rates. The successful applicant will start on 1 October 2013.

Applicants should bring a psychosocial orientation to their work. Subjects we are particularly interested in at present include the field of socially engaged arts practice, addiction recovery, embodiment, psychosocial wellbeing and psychosocial visual methods. Many of our projects are embedded in community and third sector settings. However, we very much welcome applications from candidates with other interests. Full details at:

* Late News: Did you know that the Montefiore Hospital offer a wide range of cosmetic procedures and you 'can experience state of the art body sharpening and skin tightening? This April, they'll be holding two, yes TWO complimentary cosmetic surgery events, where you can ask as many questions as you like!

** Even later news: Montefiore hires TOP AWARD WINNING CHEF, Mark Haddock - (sorry Hancock). James Dempster, the Commercial Manager at the Montefiore Hospital, said:  “We are making every effort to ensure our patients are as comfortable as possible.  With our theatre-style*** open kitchen and a sushi-bar, food plays a key role in the hospital."

*** good grief - this gives a slightly macabre slant on harvest festival! 

Thank you...C.P.