Mike White, Senior Research Fellow in Arts and Health in the Centre for Medical Humanities at Durham University, writes: Australia’s Institute for Creative Health, formerly known as the Arts and Health Foundation, is launched this week in a haze of publicity. The name change smacks of the same kind of self-aggrandizement that led last year to the USA’s long-established and respected Society for the Arts in Healthcare declaring itself to be henceforth the Global Alliance for Arts and Health, unilaterally asserting its leadership of an emergent international field. The Institute for Creative Health is self-styled and is not based within an Australian university, and under its previous moniker it should not be confused with Arts and Health Australia which organizes annual international conferences. I am all for bodies that affiliate and represent the broad spectrum of practice and research in arts in health for advocacy purposes, but I am concerned that ideological interests are starting to assert the remit and goals of our mission.
In an article in the Australian Hospital Review Michael Brogan, the private sector chairman of this revamped organisation that is aiming to represent the arts and health sector on critical issues declares ““We are not asking governments for money to fund this very important work, even though we know that health budgets will significantly benefit by introducing evidence-based arts projects throughout the health sector.” This is no help to ‘creative health’ practitioners who are struggling to validate their work in austere times. What is the point of gathering good evidence of the benefits of arts in healthcare if it does not persuade policy-makers and the public that it is a cost-effective component of health provision worthy of state funding? Brogan’s belief that the private sector alone could fund arts and health programmes opens the door further to the privatisation of health services. How could we accept the validity of arts and health research that is funded by vested commercial interests? Is this something Brogan hints at in stating that the Institute’s objectives include “developing policies to supply a community that will allow the trading of information”?
Two years ago, the Centre for Medical Humanities held an international ‘critical mass’ meeting on arts and health. Its main conclusions were that open access to research information is essential and that the development of international guidelines on good practice, artists’ exchange and research collaborations will require careful negotiation of the cultural parameters of arts development in community health as this work becomes a small-scale global phenomenon.
Brogan’s argument that official Government recognition in Australia will open the arts and health field to sponsorship is not borne out in the UK experience of declining state and private support despite a 2007 Deptartment of Health review that concluded: “Arts and health are integral to health, healthcare provision and healthcare environments, delivering real and measurable benefits across a wide range of priority areas for health, and… there is a wealth of good practice and a substantial evidence base” (Department of Health. A Report on the Review of the Arts and Health Working Group. London: 2007). Such a statement would not be credible without the emergence of an inter-disciplinary research base to arts in health; something the Institute of Creative Health currently seems to lack in its hurried business plan approach to practice-evidence-policy-sponsorship.
Thankfully, the UK’s newly launched National Alliance for Arts and Health is going forward with a looser federal structure enacted through the regions with their somewhat differing takes on what makes for the advancement of arts and health. Our multi-disciplinary researchers’ network for arts and health that is currently being progressed through an ESRC-supported seminar series is also a welcome development.