STRESSING THE IMPORTANCE OF CREATIVITY
“Health is about fulfilling our potential as human beings and part of that potential is our creative potential,” says Jayne Howard. “If we don't fulfill that, it contributes towards all sorts of ill health.”
Cornwall Arts for Health was formed as a charity in July 2001, but didn't become active until 2004. “I was their first director - we've been very active and grown hugely since then,” Jayne says.
In the Arts for Health office are several posters, by people who have been helped by the Arts Response project. “I feel like I was starting a new day,” reads one. “I feel a sense of belonging,” says another. “I felt like I was in a black hole before I started the programme,” and “Every Wednesday was like opening a door into a new world.”
No wonder that this organisation has won two esteemed awards: the Guardian Public Services Award, 2009 and the GSK King's Fund Impact Award, 2010. “The King's Fund is very prestigious in health terms so it's hard for the NHS to ignore that,” Jayne explains. “The King's Fund gave us great training and development which has helped us a lot. The recognition of these awards gives us a lot of confidence and can be a shortcut for people.”
One of the many ways Arts for Health has helped is in changing GP surgeries. “A lot of waiting rooms are often overloaded with notices, dingy, and if you're already anxious they don't make you feel better,” says Jayne. Truro Health Park is a new building which brought together 2 GP surgeries plus a range of health services. “We were involved from the beginning to integrate art into the design of the building,” explains Jayne. “We asked people from the local estates and they said they wanted a sense of the outside and the inside. They really wanted running water which is a very therapeutic life-giving source but there are problems in a health care building with infection control, so we've created artworks that give the illusion of water. When the light plays on the glazed sculptures, it gives the effect of rippled water on the floor but they're not overpowering works of art – they are much more subtle.”
Another area where they have wrought change is in hospitals. “We have found that if people can see nature they recover more quickly,” Jayne continues. “We can't always provide that but we can create the effect of a natural environment and think about the light. In hospital people are over stimulated with some senses and under stimulated with others: there's usually a lot of noise and visual distraction but it's not very interesting. But they are often under stimulated with touch, smell and taste, so it's about trying to improve the sensory aspect.”
Arts for Health have two part time staff as well as Jayne who is full time, “but we have contracts with about 20 freelance artists who deliver work for us.” The artists aren't art therapists, but have to be able to communicate and empathise. “There isn't any specific training but we are looking for a real generosity as an artist so they can share their skills and expertise in order to allow other people to find their own creativity,” explains Jayne.
The type of creativity offered depends very much on the evidence available. “We've seen that singing, dance and creative writing have real benefits for people with dementia, so we try to give people a choice of what media they work with,” Jayne says. People can be referred via a GP or there are leaflets in libraries, surgeries and health centres as well as information on the website.
“Arts Response sessions are for people suffering a range of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. They run in Truro, St Ives, Perranporth and Bodmin so if people ring up they can just go along,” Jayne says. The sessions take place in a safe environment, with an artist and a volunteer, and people are encouraged to be creative.
“Some of it is about being with other people with similar issues but it's more about being able to create something, and people are often amazed at what they can do,” Jayne explains. “This has a huge impact on their confidence and self-esteem which can translate to other areas of their lives. It's not about being judged.”
Focusing on the creative aspect can have other benefits. “It can allow people to talk about very difficult things and move on,” Jayne observes. “Textiles work very well as it doesn't feel scary but it frees up the mind so people talk and share. One group said it was the first time they'd laughed together and had fun because they weren't just talking about their problems.”
Arts for Health have numerous projects underway, including Memory Cafes for dementia, arts for stroke rehabilitation, a group for siblings of disabled children, and work with the homeless. It might sound like a stressful job but Jayne beams. “It's the best job I've ever had. It brings me into contact with lots of creative people and I like the fact that we can be seen to make a difference for individuals – that is really lovely. The fact that we're quite small means we can be very flexible and quick to respond.”
But, as ever, there is a downside. “Funding is always an issue.” Jayne sighs. “To have security of our core funding would free up a lot of time. Also, the evidence around arts and health is out there but it's patchy and I would like more awareness of what we do.” But she has plenty of plans for the future. “What I want to see in all of our key areas of Cornwall is a regular weekly creative opportunity for people who are experiencing problems. And it's there when they need it, and it's free. We've started but we have quite a way to go.”
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