Beyond the Toolkit 1

Beyond the Toolkit was an Arts & Humanities-funded symposium organised by Falmouth University in collaboration with Arts for Health, Cornwall.  The event was held in Falmouth University’s Academy for Innovation & Research (AIR) building at the Penryn Campus, Cornwall on the 19th and 20th February, 2014.  Here is the introduction to the symposium:

Creative expression can make a powerful contribution to wellbeing and the healing process, and its benefits are recognised as social inclusion, economic growth and health promotion. Attempts to define the success of the mechanisms through which these might occur, however, tend to rely on straightforward models of impact assessment. This has resulted in a standardised ‘toolkit’ approach that may be replicated across differing contexts, art forms and audiences, but which neglects the material and experiential qualities of creative practice.

Beyond the Toolkit explores these benefits with an emphasis on the particularities of crafts practice. It focuses on problems of understanding and evaluating the experiential affects of creative making, and foregrounding the value of qualitative evidence that is all too often overlooked by policy makers.

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Creative expression can make a powerful contribution to wellbeing and the healing process, and its benefits are recognised as social inclusion, economic growth and health promotion. Attempts to define the success of the mechanisms through which these might occur, however, tend to rely on straightforward models of impact assessment. This has resulted in a standardised ‘toolkit’ approach that may be replicated across differing contexts, art forms and audiences, but which neglects the material and experiential qualities of creative practice.

Beyond the Toolkit explores these benefits with an emphasis on the particularities of crafts practice. It focuses on problems of understanding and evaluating the experiential affects of creative making, and foregrounding the value of qualitative evidence that is all too often overlooked by policy makers.

I’m going to spend a few posts writing about this event and its ramifications for craft and for this project.  There were several significant points of connection for me, often made because of a nexus between the position of two speakers.

The first of these recognitions came on the first day with the combination of Sarah  Newton  (MP  for  Truro  and  Falmouth  and  the  current  Vice  Chair  of  the  All-Parliamentary  Group  on  Social  Care) – she gave the introduction – and the keynote  address  by  Clive Parkinson (Director  of  Arts  for  Health  at  Manchester  Metropolitan  University).  Clive’s speech was entitled “Blasting  and  Bombardiering:  Arts,  Health  and  Wellbeing”, and in it he shared  some  thoughts  and  ideas  about  arts,  health  and  wellbeing  in  the  context  of  the  current  global  economic  downturn,  through  a  personal  exploration  of  research,  policy  and  practice  building  on  the  Manifesto  for  Arts,  Health  and  Wellbeing.

Both of these speakers are experienced and committed lobbyists for Health and social care, and Sarah Newton showed that she was aware of the importance of the arts as a component of this social care.  However, the thing that stuck in my mind after her speech – and I know in others’ minds as well – was her assertion that she could not go into Parliament and speak about the power of knitting or embroidery – she’d be laughed at (more importantly, dismissed, not listened to).  Immediately it struck me that the problem was not only one of proving that arts had a significant role to play in well-being, but the  more problematic one of getting past the layers of misogyny, privilege and neo-liberal power structures that constitute not just this government but government in general.  The first was achieved, at least for me, in the symposium, and I will write further about the exciting developments that are making craft more than hypothetically good for us.  The second:  let’s just say it was a sobering moment in the speech.  And I don’t have the answer to it.

Clive Parkinson’s speech was multi-valent, a rarity for symposia like this.  He played a film with soundtrack as he was speaking.  He explained this was as much for his time-keeping as anything else.   Clive describes himself as  a  passionate  advocate  for  culture  and  the  arts, and says that hrough  facilitated  networking,  practical  support,  training  on  the  ground  and  political  lobbying,  he  has  succeeded  in  gaining  strategic  support  and  a  greater  understanding  of  the  potency  of  the  arts  in  the  UK  and  internationally.  This speech was much more utopian and, being multi-media, managed to convince sensorily as well as logically (if utopia is logical*).  Arts and culture are significant and necessary, not just for people who are ill or need help, but for everybody.

What I took from the combination is that we need the utopian vision to propel us forward into action; but we also need to be reminded of just how vast the undertaking might be, especially if it is going to require change and movement from those in power.

Next post I am going to talk about the combination of the work of Monika Auch and Betsan Corkhill, which provided another rich seam of thought.

*I think it is, btw.

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One Response to Beyond the Toolkit 1

  1. tristiane says:

    Reblogged this on one stitch at a time and commented:
    It was a inspiring event and I feel very privileged to have been giving the the opportunity to show and share my work during this symposium.

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