Mike White writes: The most resonant image, for me, from the post-modernist jamboree of the Olympics opening ceremony was that of hundreds of children bouncing on NHS beds. Daring to epitomise our national values at a global sporting event in a concern for the health and imagination of children produced a populist tableau that will haunt the Secretaries of State for both Health and Education for decades to come. Sure there was sentiment, even some of the proud socialism in which the NHS was conceived, but it was so much more substantial and provocative than the Disney Nuremburg we’ve come to expect from Olympic openings. It was a massive declaration for arts and health as the bedrock of healthcare, expressed with a sweeping confidence that the viewing public would understand such an association.
When England’s new National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing is launched in October it should try to harness the energy and appeal of this image, because it is potentially a breakthrough in advocacy for the arts in health field which has been too easily marginalised and silenced in its thirty year modern history. Because before all the complexities of research and evaluation are grappled with for so-called evidence-based policy, the fundamental contribution of the arts to health is that they assist the re-visitation and re-orientation of health service values, the morale of staff, and the rites of passage of patients. All this came through for me in the unlikely venue of an Olympics stadium, and there may indeed be a global message in it because as health inequalities expert Michael Marmot’s report to the World Health Organisation Closing The Gap (2008) noted: “Evidence is only one part of what swings policy decisions – political will and institutional capacity are important too. But more than simply academic exercises, research is needed to generate new understanding in practical, accessible ways…recognising and utilising a range of types of evidence, and recognising the added value of globally expanded Knowledge Networks and communities”. That spectacular representation on Friday night of the host nation’s social values coupled with Olympian ideals may help open a breach in the sceptical barrier of healthcare policy and admit arts in health as a small-scale global phenomenon with an imaginative contribution to healthcare and tackling health inequalities.