TB Agents – Arts and Health South West 2018 by Naomi O’Connor

In December 2018, Theatre Bristol supported three dance artists to attend Arts & Health South West annual conference at the Trinity Centre. TB Agent, Naomi O’Connor, reports on her experience there over the two days.

AHSW was a two year programme of Art Commissions funded by the European Union Social Change Fund in Britain, Lithuania, Italy and Germany. This event was to accumulate and celebrate the opportunity for growth and development in the health sector in the UK. On day one of the conference there was a series of presentations by AHSW funded initiatives.

The work of Dr Kate McCoy and Company, leading bespoke theatre projects across the country with a focus on people in prisons, opens the conference and was very innovative and exciting. The AHSW conference featured presentations by St Mungo’s Many Minds Project. St Mungo’s have only been in Bristol for the last 8 years, I worked within a Carnival Arts funded initiative between St Mungo’s, Cardboard Citizens and the Crisis skylight homeless people’s arts centre in Shoreditch, London in 2007. St Mungo’s are an excellent charity in that they house the homeless people including refugee groups, whilst running exceptional arts and wellbeing programmes to bring their communities together.

This form of arts and health provision is the guiding force of companies like my own, www.LoveActivistDance.com, which use Theatre and Art to bring people together. Many Minds came about because artists sense the isolation or loneliness in their creative process and so work to expand their practice by filling this void in their bellies and the communities they encounter. Poverty is the main contributor to mental health issues in the community. Creative therapies therefore become a vehicle of change for both the artist and client, and empowers the client to lead the evolution of the expressive art process, and drop in and out of the group knowing it is held by the therapist.

Other key groups who presented work in this format include the BDP choir. Bristol-based community art therapy pioneer, Barbara Disney, also talked about her art diary project with mental health service users in Bristol, in Knowle and Southmead. Commissioned by the Department of Health Information (DHI) service for Bristol Recovery Festival 2018.

Art Therapy Groups in BS5

Bristol BASE runs a fortnightly arts therapy group on Wednesdays between 7-8.30pm and follows the catalyst module. After interviewing its founder, an Arts Therapist called Amy was concerned about how to encourage a more diverse range of participants. I think that people from ethnic minorities may think that their background makes it hard for others to relate to them socially and open up in the therapeutic setting for fear that their voices will not be heard, or better still, understood.

AHSW Conference Day Two

Day two focused on fundraising the AHSW fundraising initiative challenge fund for match funded community projects. In the afternoon Art Council England Inclusion, Diversity and Equality  forum led a conference about the UK Arts landscape followed by a debate which focused on the lack of arts leaders/ funding support for artists from ethnic minority groups in Britain, which  reflects in the workplace and strategies to overcome this issue. Both myself and the other Theatre Bristol delegate Rachel De Garang raised the point that we had also found inclusion of our culture identity and heritage a challenge for recognition in Higher Education institutions in the UK, which was effectively weakening the quality of education that artists from all ethnic background receive. This is an added challenge that artists from ethnic minorities face, besides finances, which makes to and made it hard for artists from diverse backgrounds to have a voice in the arts whilst studying and after the completion of their studies.

Arts as a Trigger of Social Change

The support from TB to attend the AHSW conference has given me the motivation (after several rejected community arts funding applications) to find and seek support to finish my Somatic Movement Educator programme in the recommended two years period. I have since been awarded a half scholarship towards my fees on the SME programme by Sondor Movement Project in Rhode Island this February and June 2019. I have a crowdfunder campaign to raise the £2k needed to fund the travel, accommodation and course fees to complete the programme called Tri-Sioux Dialogues so please share widely (I need to raise £100 a day to reach my goal).

Theatre Bristol Agents of Change

I also offer donation-based fortnightly community workshops which incorporate SME principles the at the School of Exceptional Arts, 1 Greenbank Road, Easton, Bristol, to support our community to be the change we need to see.

Arts and Health South West annual conference ran on 13th-14th December 2018. You can find the conference notes here as well as more information about the organisation.

Published January 2019.