Arts advocacy – stepping up a gear?

Advocacy wordleIt looks as if arts advocacy campaigning in the UK will be stepping up a gear this year. Not only are the funding cuts forcing us all to look long and hard at the true value of what we do, and to get even better at collecting and sharing evidence and stories – but a couple of new developments in different corners of the arts sector look to be the start of some strong campaigns.

A new body to promote and support music education – yet to be named – has been formed from the National Association of Music Educators (NAME) and Federation of Music Services (FMS). The sector has been criticised for being too fragmented and not having a ‘unified voice’ to represent to government and others. We’ve lacked national, joined-up campaigns about the benefits young people gain and the outcomes achieved from taking part in music: benefits that now are well researched and documented. Now, with music education hubs forming (in England) to combine traditional local authority music services with broader music opportunities for young people, the time is ripe for a new approach to advocacy.

Another organisation set up to make the case for the impact the arts can have on individuals, communities, and society is the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing – again, it’s been a long time coming and it’s great that it’s here as it will help to join up some of the superb campaigning that’s gone on regionally. There’s a full feature on the arts and health sector and the challenges and opportunities it’s facing in the latest issue of ArtsProfessional (21 May). It includes a case study about an advocacy campaign called ‘Healthy, Social, Creative’ that targeted health practitioners working with people with long-term conditions, and was a short term strand of work that hopefully will have a longer legacy particularly given the current environment. Here’s the article:

Healthy, social, creative – an arts and long-term conditions campaign

Thanks to Bristol Wellbeing Choir & Bristol City Council

In 2010, as the health sector faced major changes and public sector cuts were about to bite, why did Voluntary Arts chose to target an advocacy campaign at healthcare professionals? Anita Holford outlines Healthy, Social, Creative.

It started with the publication of ‘Restoring the Balance – the effects of participation on health’. Developed by Voluntary Arts to promote the impact of voluntary arts groups on wellbeing, it documents the stories of people from a wide range of backgrounds whose wellbeing, health and, in some cases, lives have been transformed as a result of arts participation.

Pressure on health budgets is increasing, and cases of long-term conditions such as cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s and heart disease are rising (already accounting for three-quarters of health spending). Voluntary arts groups provide low cost (or no cost) opportunities for people affected by these diseases; helping them to manage their conditions more easily, keep well and happy, and remain actively involved in society. Although not a replacement for occupational therapy, arts therapy or other tailored interventions, they could provide a next-step or an alternative, sustainable and personalised approach.

The Voluntary Arts team felt that the real impact of voluntary arts groups was not being recognised by health professionals. And so the challenge was to get our message across to an audience that is not easy to reach, and is used to highly evidence-based practice.

As the political context was uncertain – with a change of government, and potential changes in responsibilities for health at a national and local authority level – we decided to focus our efforts on ‘grassroots up’. The audience we identified comprised of occupational therapists and community nurses, in particular those part of a surgery’s long-term conditions team. We felt we were in a position to support them in developing cost-effective and personalised plans for increasing their patients’ self-management and improving their social connections. By increasing a patient’s capacity to cope with long-term illness and boosting their general wellbeing we would reduce their reliance on health services and lower the chance of readmission.

The result? A campaign, backed by evidence, and a starting point for connections. The Healthy, Social, Creative campaign began with a research phase. There was plenty of evidence, but it was spread across books, research papers, reports, arts organisations’ websites, and databases, such as NHS Evidence. We located the latest and most convincing information and collated it on a new website, www.healthysocialcreative.org.uk. We presented it in a variety of different forms (case studies, quotes, hard evidence), categorised it by art-form and condition, and added links and advice on how to locate a voluntary arts group. We constructed the site around ‘need-to-know’ questions: “Why should I be interested?”; “What should I do next?”; “Where can I find arts/crafts?”. And we included material to help practitioners ‘make the case’ to colleagues and patients, including downloadable leaflets.

Next we had to get the message out. We decided to target health practitioners through the media they already use and trust; we successfully pitched articles to Occupational Therapy News, and Primary Care, the research journal for community nurses. We then created a factsheet – Making room for people affected by long-term conditions – outlining ways groups can make it easier for new and existing members with health conditions to participate in their activities, and we distributed it to voluntary arts groups.

We have made links with charities which focus on long-term conditions, such as The Stroke Association. Some of these carried published information on their website and publications, and we were able to carry out a number of reciprocal activities.

Voluntary Arts will be continuing to find ways to develop and share the benefits of the arts for sufferers of long-term conditions and is interested in hearing from anyone who has evidence or stories to contribute: info@voluntaryarts.org

Anita Holford was the writer/researcher/campaign manager for Healthy, Social, Creative.

See the original Healthy, social, creative article in ArtsProfessional
Find the Arts and Wellbeing issue of ArtsProfessional

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