Everyday Creativity: Why the Arts need to Rethink What Matters

Global public health expert Michael Marmot warned recently that the pandemic will make health inequalities worse. If this is the case, then how can we ensure that the arts become part of the solution? The 2017 Creative Health report outlined the extensive range of ways in which the arts supports health outcomes, yet the report conceded that only a “small modicum” of the potential contribution of the arts is currently being realised. So why are we failing to grasp the full potential of the arts in contributing to good health?

The WHO Health Evidence Network’s first Scoping Review on Arts, Health and Wellbeing synthesized evidence from over 3,000 studies. It identified “a major role for the arts in the prevention of ill health, promotion of health, and management and treatment of illness across the lifespan”.  

But, despite progress, the fundamental processes underpinning the relationship between the arts and health are not yet well understood. Moreover, narrow, and often circular, definitions of the ‘arts’, limit awareness of their potential in this sphere, and often reinforce democratic deficits in access to publicly funded culture.

Yet the pandemic appears to have transcended this, as we see everyday creativity being played out in real time. Thousands of people have developed and showcased their creative skills in a huge variety of symbolic and productive forms, helping themselves through the stresses of lockdown. It’s this concept – of everyday creativity – that we need to focus on defining, in readily understandable terms.

These are extremely challenging times for the arts sector, but there are great opportunities too. If we can grasp the nettle of what David Jubb calls “fundamental structural change” and put the nurturing of creativity in people’s homes, communities and work environments at the heart of cultural policy, the rewards could be considerable.

It’s not clear what appetite there is for such a radical change, but do we know that times of great stress can lead to shifts in the paradigm. As we begin to shape an unknown ‘new normal’, we need a big debate, drawing in perspectives from across research disciplines, policymakers and wider society.

The initial goal should be to reach a shared, science-based understanding of the central importance of everyday creativity in our lives. Beyond that, we need to map out a Whole-of-Government approach, designed to place everyday creativity at the heart of a resilient, sustainable, caring society that supports, protects and nurtures the health and wellbeing of all its citizens. 

Nick Ewbank is the Chair of the ISR External Advisory Group. He runs the cultural regeneration consultancy Nick Ewbank Associates.


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The Arts and COVID-19: A Time of Danger and Opportunity?

Darren Henley (2020), the CEO of the Arts Council, refers to the pandemic as: “the most serious challenge to (the) existence” (p.1) of the arts industry since the second world war”.

With the closure of all cinemas, theatres, live music venues, studios and dancing spaces, the arts industry in the UK faces a very uncertain future. So much so that Arts Council England have now redirected all its grant funds to an Emergency Response Fund for individuals and organisations who will be most at risk from the fall-out from the pandemic.

While this is happening, people in lockdown are faced with the need to connect through the arts in ways that have not been present before. From online dance, music and theatre performances (e.g. English National Ballet, Albert Royal Hall and Hampstead Theatre) to interactive sessions of how to draw and paint, how to dance or how to write poetry (see Royal Academy, Dancing Alone Together, Poetry Society); the internet is filling with options of things to ‘attend to’ or to ‘participate with’ whilst at home.

In addition to online options, dancing in the streets and in court yards, playing music in front of one’s house or singing from one’s window are new ways of connecting through the arts that are surfacing because of the pandemic; not only in the UK but all around the world.

At EHU’s Centre for Arts and Wellbeing we are undertaking research projects on the contribution of the arts to one’s wellbeing.  For example, through the ‘Arts for the Blues’ project (Karkou et al in preparation; Omylinska-Thurston et al 2019; Parsons et al 2019; Haslam et al 2019) we have found therapeutic benefits in the use of creativity and the arts for those struggling with loneliness and depression. In the current lockdown situation, this is relevant to all of us.

Remaining active through arts-making, learning new skills, or engaging in mindful (or not) indoors movement, all have the potential to vitalise us.  Finding opportunities to express feelings that are difficult to talk about through singing, drawing or moving in the presence of or with our loved ones over the phone, zoom or Skype, may be ways of strengthening and resourcing ourselves.

It may also be the time to stop, think, reflect and re-focus, making plans for new ways of being that are more relational and certainly more meaningful and rewarding.   It is possible, that with appropriately co-ordinated activities that combine research, public and personal initiatives, the arts can make contributions that offer re-vitalising experiences for all of us.  So let’s stay in – and dance!

Professor Vicky Karkou is a Professor of Arts & Wellbeing at Edge Hill University.


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Note: all comments are moderated before posting. Not all comments will be posted. Please avoid language that could be viewed aggressive, abusive, political or similar. The moderators decision is final.