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Arts and Health Australia

Mary Robson

Mary RobsonMary Robson works as an artist, social educator and arts/health consultant in the UK and beyond. Her abiding interests in people and shared experience mean that she uses the arts and creativity to make connections and create networks, help expose choices and latent talents, encourage mutual understanding, enhance the quality of communication and encourage thinking, learning and reflection.

Her current portfolio of projects includes "Roots and Wings", an arts/social and emotional development project in Chickenley Primary School in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, now in its seventh year. The art room there is an epicentre of emotional health and wellbeing in the school and its surrounding community. Ideas of ritual help ease the transition for children between primary and secondary school, and make the school a centre for community-building activities.

Outwith of Chickenley, Mary helps develop events such as lantern processions, carnivals and workshops with individuals and communities, to nurture cultural change.

Mary is the Associate for Arts in Health and Education at the Centre for Medical Humanities, University of Durham. Along with Mike White, she has developed Common Knowledge, a series of workforce development programmes bringing together those working in health, the arts, education and the voluntary sector.

She is an experienced facilitator and trainer, especially interested in focused conversations and reflective practice.

She recently completed a three-year Fellowship from Nesta (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts), to explore the concept of the artist as social pedagogue in schools and communities.

The UK - WA Artists’ Exchange

Panel Format Presentation

Co-presenters: Mike White, Mary Robson, David Doyle, 2 UK artists, 2 WA artists


This project places young and emerging artists at the centre of complex communities and practices at an international level. 

A team of Australian and UK practitioner/researchers are supporting a pilot exchange in community-based arts in health for two artists from Northern England and two from Western Australia, providing placements in each other's jobs, networks, and communities for eight weeks in autumn 2012, guided by reflective practice and research. The project is funded by the Australia Council for the Arts with support from Arts Council England.

All four artists will develop meaningful connections with health population groups through arts and health processes at grass roots levels. The project will provide production and critical reflection avenues through which the participating artists will develop new approaches to their practice and ultimately inform the recommendations and frameworks to guide future investments in the next generation of outstanding artists working in a participatory community context.

The artists' exchange is taking place in October and November 2012. The UK placements are based mostly at Chickenley Primary School (Artsmark Gold awarded) in a socio-economically deprived part of Dewsbury, where Mary Robson has been in residence with a team of artists since 2003. The project is called 'Roots and Wings' and focuses on children's social and emotional development and how creative techniques of reflective learning, developed outside of the curriculum, can support children's transition through the school system and community integration. It is consistently praised as an innovative extra-curricular activity in Ofsted reports. The visiting artists will be given ample opportunity to create new artworks in the spirit of the programme.

The visiting artists will also connect with the field work of Open Art in Huddersfield, and visit Arts For Health at Manchester Metropolitan University and the Looking Well Healthy Living Centre in rural Bentham, as well as meeting arts in health practitioners from Yorkshire and North East in two practice-focused forums which will be arranged. The placements offered in Western Australia to the artists from Chickenley are in DADAA's fieldwork in the coastal town of Esperance, working on a HIV awareness project with WA Aids Council and a mental health street-based intervention. Within a supervised reflective practice framework, all the artists will work with their host communities and explore similarities and differences in approaches to community-based arts in health.

Expected outcomes, based on the international experience of the project partners, are: