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Arts and Health Australia

Mike White

The Empirical Highway or the Lantern Road?

Arts in health is at a fork in the road. The hard-paved route, The Empirical Highway, leads to probable damnation by way of austerity culture, a narrowing definition of accredited practice, and evidence calls that are signalled through a medical model of health. Those who venture on this path will find their creativity randomised, controlled and trialled. The other route, which I term The Lantern Road, tracks its progress through reflective practice, has lit beacons of new traditions in participatory health promotion, and affirms relationship-based working as the way to a sustainable vision of community-based arts in health supported by inter-disciplinary research.

As the World Health Organisation declared in 2008 “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 the added value of globally expanded knowledge networks and communities” . In this presentation, I want to reflect on some recent experiences and observations in my work portfolio that suggest where that ‘new understanding’ might be found.

Mike WhiteMike White

Mike White is Senior Research Fellow at St. Chad's College, University of Durham, UK and Adviser on Strategic Development for the Australian Centre for Arts and Health with regard to establishing an international network for both practitioners and researchers in arts and health.

He studied English at Exeter College, Oxford, but ran away from an early career in academia to explore pioneering arts initiatives in social justice. He has been involved in arts in health work since 1988 when he set up the first arts in primary care project in the UK at Brierley Hill.

Since 2000, Mike has been Research Fellow in Arts and Health at the Centre for Medical Humanities (www.dur.ac.uk/cmh), working on a programme which has included nurturing arts in health projects in schools and communities, workforce development programmes for creativity in healthcare, project-based evaluations, and audits and literature reviews of arts in health for Government agencies. He developed the arts in health component of an inter-disciplinary 5-year research programme in medical humanities, funded by major grant from the Wellcome Trust, which has explored the question "what makes for human flourishing?" In 2005, he was awarded a fellowship of the UK's National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts to research community-based arts in health and build national/international links in this field. A resulting bookArts Development in Community Health - a social tonic was published by Radcliffe in 2009, and in June 2011 Mike convened the first international 'critical mass' meeting to set up ongoing exchanges of research and practice. Mike holds the Royal Society for Public Health Award 2011 for 'innovative and outstanding contribution to arts addressing health inequalities - practice and research'. Mike has edited a special issue of the journal Arts & Health and, with Margret Meagher, a UNESCO Observatory E-journal - both of these publications, in 2013, focussed on international arts and health practice and research.

Mike was previously at Gateshead Council where he developed many arts in health and arts for older people projects, as well as public art commsissions such as the landmark Angel of the North by Antony Gormley. Mike runs an independent consultancy, Common Knowledge, with long-time artist colleague Mary Robson. Common Knowledge is a project management, learning development and programme advisory service for effective workforce training in arts in health, social pedagogy in schools, and international collaborations in practice and research.