The last blog looked at a few recent collaborations between art and Leicestershire’s mental health services (and may I say LPT are continuinally proving themselves to be pioneers in this sense). Another example of art meets health is Forget Me Not, performance poet Rob Gee’s whodunit set on an Alzheimers ward…
“When you work as an artist, it’s helpful to identify your unique selling point and then shamelessly exploit it!”
admits Rob. “Mine is a nursing background in mental health, which has catapulted me into a whole stack of experiences, from leading improvisation workshops on acute units and performing at conferences to hosting mental health comedy shows and generally doing things far more proactive than anything I was able to do as a nurse.”
From working within the NHS, Rob is now using his creative talent to work with the health service in a very different way. This, at times, can lead some to pretty surreal situations… “The other week I found myself in an NHS boardroom performing “Forget Me Not – The Alzheimer’s Whodunit” to a table of healthcare managers. Forget Me Not is an award-winning spoken word comedy murder mystery theatre show, where I play all the (fairly bemused) characters, usually with the help of some cunning light and sound cues. Doing the whole thing in a brightly lit room to five very well dressed people – my ex-employers, no less – at 10am in the morning felt not unlike a dream. In fact there were a couple of times I had to check I still had my clothes on. It was made even more surreal by the fact they were eating cream cakes and giggling. That’s the managers, not my clothes. It wasn’t that surreal! The upshot of this is that Forget Me Not will become part of a training package where we look at issues of whistle blowing, patient voice, ethics and workplace bullying. The USP has done its thing once more and I’m about to be catapulted into another new experience…”
Other collaborations are born out of an idea which challenges and pushes your creative buttons, however unlikely. An example is Anand Bhatt’s collaboration with technology research group Ars Electronica Futurelab and choreographers Lewis Major and Aakash Odedra to create a piece on dyslexia. “The conversation started out as an idea of how technology can warp and exaggerate realities.” It dawned on Aakash that warped and exaggerated technologies is how he viewed dyslexia. So technology became the tool to help exaggerate and warp reality, to take the inside of the mind out. We did it to provoke a different way of looking at things.
It’s all about the story and making them dream.” On a personal level, Anand was inspired because “it made me uncomfortable.” Pushing yourself into areas where you can learn and evolve is one privilege of working within a creative industry.
“Growth cannot happen without a degree of discomfort”
Anand adds, admitting that the dyslexia project involved “the most learning of any project I have ever done.”
Sallie Varman is renowned for her ability to match likeminded individuals for collaboration and works with organisations as diverse as Phoenix Arts, Leicester City Council, Leicestershire Police, Coventry University, Turned on its Head, Pedestrian and the Public Health service. She says the key ingredients for a successful collaboration are “good ideas, good planning, adaptability and innovation”, adding that funding always helps. The reason seemingly unlikely collaborations such as art and mental health services work, she says, is “because objectives are shared. It’s really important to figure out what all parties’ objectives are from the beginning of the collaboration and to understand how these can be met for the benefit and development of all involved. Arts and mental health work because artists want their work to be affective, to impact on people’s lives, and people suffering from mental health challenges can see their symptoms alleviated by experiencing and participating in great art.
“I have been brought to tears by the power of these types of projects, and the amazing things that happen when you bring about brilliant collaborations.”