My Artists Practising Well research report, published on the the Robert Gordon University Open Air research repository, is now available to read and download. The research is focused on affective support for creative practitioners working in participatory arts for health and wellbeing.
The report is the result of a three month research project supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Clore Leadership, and has a focus of contributing to the field of cultural leadership. Invited to apply for the funding towards the end of my fellowship as the visual artist fellow, the grant gave me a focused period of time and the support of an academic supervisor – Chris Fremantle. This is first time I have undertaken research which doesn’t include my own creative practice. This presented some challenges, as new ways of working sometimes do, but also gave me an opportunity to contribute to a growing area of discussion and concern in the arts – that of practitioner wellbeing.
The decision to focus on practitioners working in Health and Wellbeing was made for two main reasons. Firstly, working in health and wellbeing contexts is a growing area for practitioners across all creative disciplines, and I was hearing reports of little or no support, resulting in burn out in some cases. Secondly, as a three month funded project it needed to be focused in order to be effective and meaningful; but although the study uses the experience of practitioners working in health and wellbeing, much of the content of the report is applicable to working in other potentially challenging settings where needs and circumstances are complex. Practising in non arts contexts is becoming increasingly common, and as such needs to be specifically and thoroughly questioned; both in terms of the way it’s taught in formal and informal education, but also in the day to day practice of work. I see the report as laying some foundations on which to build multiple debates, discussions and future research about affective support for creative practitioners.
So why a focus on affective support? It was a conversation with Dr Chris Yuill (who has written thought provoking work on gig economy health) early in the research process which helped me to identify the kinds of support I was most interested in. Instrumental support is the practical organisation of work and resources – having a suitable room and materials, helping participants to get to sessions. This kind of support is essential in helping the work happen, and happen effectively; making the best use of resources, time and funding. Affective support relates to moods, feelings and attitudes, and can be supported by reflective practice activities. This kind of support is less spoken about, but is no less important, as it helps to protect the health and wellbeing of creative practitioners, which in turn helps them to deliver the best quality work. Given my interest and work within reflective practice activities including coaching, mentoring and action learning, it quickly became apparent affective support would be my focus.
The full report includes a literature review which explores and reflects on the arts, health and wellbeing territory (including the APPG report, Creative Health-The arts for health and wellbeing and Daisy Fancourt’s book Arts in Health designing and researching interventions), Work Management and practitioner wellbeing (covering working conditions for artists, emotional labour and reflective and reflexive practice) and lastly practising in non arts contexts / artist in public life (which details the work of the Artists Placement Group, the artist as leader report written by Anne Douglas and Chris Fremantle, and François Matarasso’s new book A Restless Art).
The report draws upon data from the 164 respondents to the online survey, and interviews (both semi structured and informal) with cultural leaders, funders, policy makers and those working in arts therapy, supervision and organisational management. The discussion is grouped under 5 headings: The territory, Employment status, The vocabulary of support, Models of support and The support conversation. This section includes quotes from both survey respondents and interviews, giving platform and voice to individual experiences and ideas.
What the research shows is that the landscape of affective support is mixed, with some receiving good support, while others aren’t getting enough or any. There are many support activities on which to build a support menu, which when taken with co-production, joint responsibility and shared dialogue will strengthen practice.
The research led to 7 recommendations under the headings of Conversation, Co-production, Funding, Leadership, Peer to Peer learning, Recognition, Support Menu and Vocabulary: the next step is sharing the research in multiple forms and platforms. This process has already started, with a provocation given at the Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance conference in Newcastle in March of this year. This is being followed with events in June in London and Norwich which are part presentation, part workshop/discussion. I’ll post details of dates and how to book on my twitter feed. I’m open to expanding the conversation, and so if you have an idea for an event or discussion, further research or would like to offer your thoughts and feedback on the report please do get in touch via the contact page on my website www.nicolanaismith.co.uk
A synopsis of the research can be viewed here
Key information of the research can be viewed here