The Autonomous Artist is a dedicated blog detailing activities, thoughts and reflections about my time as 2017/18 Visual Artist Fellow on the Clore Leadership Programme. I will be exploring the role of the artist in arts leaderships and reflecting on independent, self determining and self sufficient approaches to practice.

Briefer updates will be via twitter

A Q&A about being awarded the fellowship can be read here 

A press release containing details of the whole 2017/18 cohort can be read here 

My thanks to a-n for supporting the The Visual Artist Fellowship on the Clore Leadership programme.


To celebrate is to commemorate, observe, honour, mark, salute, recognise, acknowledge. For some, celebrating is easy, as if shouting loud about achievements is ingrained. For others it is a quieter process, more understated, or may not happen at all. But celebrating is important, to mark successes, progress, attempts at change even if they haven’t worked out as expected.

It’s a year since I completed the Clore Leadership Programme and I’m taking this opportunity to reflect upon some of the work I have been focused on over the last 12 months, the progress I’ve made, how I have applied the learning, the questions I have, and yes do some celebrating.

Clore was an intense, fast paced programme of leadership development. I have a stack of notebooks from my fellowship, the everyday vessels containing records of process (a practice I continued over the last year).  I have been meaning to go back and review these as I feel there may be some gems within the pages which could be transformational. On reviewing the first set of books I found most of the notes were a jumble of ideas, conversations and training notes, the later ones from the last 12 months have more clearly formed thoughts and ambitions articulated.  Notes from conversations are more concrete and within them clear actions identified to move things forward.

When I completed Clore I was physically and emotionally tired and felt quite lost in a sea of newness – training to be implemented, ideas to seek funding for and new ways of working to implement. As a freelancer I didn’t have a workplace to apply or test the learning within, so I was pleased on many levels to know I would have the Artists Practising Well research project to focus upon following the completion of my fellowship*. This not only gave me the opportunity to work on a topic I feel strongly about but also allowed me to put into practice ideas and skills I developed from my time on Clore.

The Artists Practising Well research work has been a step change in my practice. It was a privilege to ask creative practitioners about how they are being supported when they work in health and wellbeing settings and to use their testimonies and the data which accompanied them, together with interviews and existing research to make recommendations for the future. The research also extended my ways of working, undertaking academic research which had to balance rigour and timescale, consider multiple view points and priorities alongside managing and digesting large quantities of information. Even though the research was not about my own practice, being an artist first and foremost informed the ways in which I conducted the study but also how I wrote the final report. I thought about how people could access the research discussions and findings in a number of ways including a synopsis and key information slides.

Artists Practising Well has now been out in the world for 3 months and there has been some gratefully received feedback about its usefulness and how welcome it is, especially from creative practitioners. The next stage of the work is underway. It has felt like an uphill journey at times, and so now it’s time to shore up progress to date, rest and reflect. I’m interested in how, when I re-start, can I transform what currently feels like a huge object into something more manageable and easy to manoeuvre. It’s important to be able to see more clearly my intended destination so I will know when I’ve arrived.  I already have thoughts on what this destination looks like but there comes a time when getting it down on paper can pay dividends.

Summarising the reach of the research is important in terms of tracking progress and to celebrate achievements. Details of the report have been included in numerous arts and health newsletters and bulletins across the UK and beyond helping it to reach people who will find it useful. I presented initial findings at the Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance Conference in Newcastle in March, followed by  presentation and workshop events. For it is in the discussion that the research comes alive and develops in unexpected ways and it was great to have the support of Norfolk Arts Service, and the Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance and London Arts in Health Forum for events in Norwich and London respectively during Creativity and Wellbeing week. Exploratory conversations with Phillipa Reive, Director of Creative Campus at Snape Maltings developed into an invitation to co-create a Creative Thinktank with Katherine Zeserson focused on Musician resilience – ensuring practitioner wellbeing in the context of participatory practice which takes place in November 2019. My speculative approach to the CVAN network paid off and I’ve recently written a guest blog for their website. I’ve accepted invitations to deliver workshops in Birmingham and Liverpool focused on practitioner wellbeing. This rich combination of activities is something I thrive on and seek to build upon more widely going forward. Through mapping reach the next stage is to ascertain the level and depth of conversation being generated, have attitudes and importantly actions shifted towards the report recommendations? How have the recommendations been received? In other words what is the impact and what do I need to be doing to drive it forward and with whom? In celebrating progress to date, it’s important to take time to acknowledge these things haven’t happened in isolation but have come into being through collaboration and connecting with people who believe in the work. People replied to my speculative emails and agreed to exploratory meetings within their already busy schedules which I very much appreciated and still do.

After the Fellowship, and the research focus of the last year writing and giving talks and running events, I wanted to use July to integrate some creative time for myself. Thinking through doing has been a playful process of visual experimentation, documentation and disseminating through a daily drawing for my instagram and twitter feeds. As a freelancer there can be a tendency not to take leave or to ‘stop’ sufficiently in order to fully rest and renew. The next task is not to have any tasks, for a week or so and take time in August to do, see and talk about other things to fuel a productive and energised return to work and the next phase of work.

*Artists Practising Well was funded by AHRC and Clore Leadership.


Balance is key when writing up a research study, deciding on what to include and what to leave out: how to communicate survey data, information from interviews and insights from existing literature and knowledge. It’s a complex and demanding job to write a research report that is useful, accessible and rigorous. The full research report Artists Practising Well is long, I’m not sure how long, but longer than I intended it to be. Writing a long form report turned out to be very useful – everything I wanted to cover is contained within it and I can then extract key information to inform other iterations. There are people who like nothing better than to read the long form report – they enjoy accessing information in that format. For others the much shorter synopsis will be the most accessible format and useful in their busy lives. The Slides version distills key information and presents text within various shapes to aid digestion. These text based works were significant pieces of work for me, but they are still only the start. It is essential for work like this to move into event spaces and training rooms where research meets the people who will explore, expand, discuss, contextualise and build upon what I have written.

As part of Creativity and Wellbeing Week (10th-16th June 2019), I was delighted to have the opportunity to share the Artists Practising Well findings through two public events in Norwich and London.

At the Norwich event I presented key aspects of the research and facilitated breakout group discussions, as part of two free days professional development organised and funded by Norfolk County Council. Following my session Alex Casey, Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance regional champion, talked about the work of the Alliance; before Natalie Jode, Director of Creative Arts East talked about their project Our Day Out. Over the day’s programming we were collectively able to offer attendees a range of perspectives on working in, supporting and delivering arts for health and wellbeing.

In London I was joined by Theatre Practitioner, Producer and Lecturer Gail Babb, who offered an honest and heartfelt account of working as a creative practitioner in participatory arts. She skilfully explored the tension between knowing how to look after oneself and actually doing it. Jess Plant, Director of the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance, shared information about mentoring and peer to peer reflection opportunities they provide as part of their commitment to developing good practice. Her role in influencing and informing policy was a reminder of the different levels of work required to effect change.

Presenting research to a room full of people is always a privilege. The opportunity to elucidate the written report with further thoughts, responses and examples is testament to the ongoing and developmental nature of this research area. The topics of self-care and resilience are currently very prevalent and so they should be. I use the word should advisedly – for surely it is time for collective efforts to facilitate a significant culture shift in valuing and supporting frontline creative practitioners. Discussions concerning self-care and resilience are welcomed, but there needs to be a clarity of understanding that these things are not the sole responsibility of practitioners. They can not and should not bear the brunt of needing to be resilient and taking responsibility for self care to counter poor management practices, working in under-resourced conditions or within inadequate contracts which are time and support poor. Self-care and resilience are collective endeavours.

The two event sessions brought a range of discussions in response to presented material and questions posed to breakout groups. Some of following thoughts are taken directly from the people who attended the events, some are my own reflections and mirror findings and recommendations from the Artists Practising Well report. Although they are grouped under a series of headings many of the ideas are interlinked. As time goes on and the research evolves it becomes more difficult to credit each source individually, so they are offered here as evidence of a growing collective exploration. They are also offered as a point from which to expand the conversation further, and your thoughts and feedback are welcome – please get in touch to share them:  [email protected]

Thoughts on establishing good practice foundations

  • Re-frame the exchange between practitioner and commissioner to a ‘with’ relationship: avoid practitioner as ‘deliverer’ and offer working methods which are collaborative, working with shared input and responsibility from the outset.
  • Work collaboratively earlier in project development processes, making sure support conversations are on the agenda for all parties.
  • Establish longer term working relationships between creative practitioners and commissioning organisations.
  • Make use of working in pairs to facilitate practical and affective support during sessions and debrief afterwards.
  • Know that good support for practitioners facilitates good work for / with participants.
  • Understand that good support can help to protect the practitioner workforce from occupational ill health and support best quality practice for participants.
  • Work with education providers to integrate good practitioner support, self-care and reflective theories and practices into qualifications and courses.

Thoughts for sector support organisations

  • Advocate for creative practitioner health and wellbeing.
  • Seek discussion with Unions representing creative practitioners to establish what work they are doing and if partnership working is possible.
  • Create a checklist or quality framework document to enable both practitioners and commissioners to be on the same page during project set up / contracting discussions.
  • Collate and disseminate existing research and advocate for further research about practitioner wellbeing which is longitudinal.
  • Author or collate briefing sheets focused on working with participant groups with specific medical conditions and/or needs.
  • Facilitate networking events which include significant time for open discussion.
  • Explore the provision of a good practice / support hub to which practitioners could subscribe.
  • Promote support as a strategic ambition across whole organisations, from practitioner to project manager to senior leader.

Thoughts for commissioners and funders

  • Build relationships with creative practitioners directly to ensure good understanding of creative practice and what’s needed for quality practice going forward.
  • Expect to see support costs in funding applications and be prepared to challenge when they are not included.
  • Match budgets to ambitions: do fewer projects but do them well.
  • Offer commitments to creative practitioners for creative work development that happens in-between working with participants.
  • Offer specific funds which focus on practitioner support, for example small grants to aid practitioners in their ambitions to explore and develop reflective ways of working; and then provide funds to pay for its provision.

Thoughts on advocacy

  • Demonstrate awareness that we each have an advocacy role in conversations promoting support for practitioners.
  • Identify who to influence, for example Arts Councils, Trusts and Foundations, Local Authorities, Arts Organisations / Charities and their Trustees, Social Prescribing Commissioners, Clinical Commissioning Groups, GP Practices, Leadership Development Programmes, Sector Support Organisations and CHWA Champions.
  • Advocate for effective research, case studies and testimonies from existing support programmes in order to establish a link between professional and talent development investment with practitioner wellbeing.

Thoughts on honesty 

  • Form an accurate picture of the reality of working in this sector: being honest about arts for health and wellbeing work – for example the economic and health cost to the practitioner – is key.
  • View asking for help and/or support as a sign of strength and professionalism.
  • Use wellbeing scales with practitioners (for example Warwick Edinburgh) to measure wellbeing at work.
  • Use a dedicated conversation to acknowledge what support is and isn’t available.
  • Discuss the work in balanced ways, both when the work is good, joyful and creative; and when it is hard, challenging and difficult.
  • Understand that it’s OK not to immediately know how to engage in reflective practice and self care.

Thoughts on self support

  • Motivation to come together to share best practice and support one another is strong.
  • Know that saying no to offers of work is possible and acceptable.
  • Consider restorative activities and unstructured free time as equally supportive.
  • Take time to understand your own limitations and boundaries to enable safe testing of ideas: helping with effectiveness, empathy and confidence.
  • Invest time in foundation activities such as food, sleep and physical exercise.
  • Access a non judgemental space in which to be heard.
  • View self-care as a project in the calendar and timetable STOP days.

My thanks to those who organised events in Norwich and London, and to all the attendees who brought insight and experience to the room. Thanks also to Daniel Regan who facilitated a breakout group during the London event.  The Norwich event was supported by Norfolk County Council. The London event was supported by Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance and London Arts In Health Forum, and was part of the E17 Art Trail in Waltham Forest, London Borough of Culture 2019.

Follow up

Access & community programme artist presentations: InPractice 20 Sept 2019 – free – booking required.

Arts and Health Hub in London run by Daniel Regan

Checklist of Care by Sheila Ghelani

Point of Care:  supporting staff who deliver care and within that Schwartz Rounds

Warwick Edinburgh Wellbeing Scale


This blog was first published on my website on 20 June 2019.


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 


A synopsis of the research can be viewed here

Key information of the research can be viewed here


In July last year the Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing report was published detailing the evidence base for the benefits to health and wellbeing from participating in the arts. As this evidence base continues to grow a question arrises: What about the health and wellbeing of the creative practitioners delivering these activities?

Over my Clore Fellowship I explored through a series of blog posts issues facing visual artists including working with values, autonomy and working within the gig economy. This led to to consider the challenges some visual artists face in practising, and the additional challenges that may be present if artists work in participatory arts for health and wellbeing. In June I had the opportunity as part of my Clore Fellowship, to apply for an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) grant to research a topic related to cultural leadership. My proposal focused on the levels of support artists receive when they work in the contexts of health and wellbeing. I am particularly interested in affective support which relates to moods, feelings and attitudes. It would be an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, to ignore the health and wellbeing of artists given their role supporting the health and wellbeing of others. Supporting artists working in these contexts protects their own health which in turn will help them to deliver their best quality work.

The research uses a social sciences approaches to methodology:

  • an online survey to collect and collate experiences of creative practitioners (working across all disciplines) working in health and wellbeing:
  • a series of semi-structured interviews with commissioning organisations, cultural leaders, policy makers and funders:
  • a literature review to ascertain what is already known about the topic.

The online survey which closes at midnight on the 3rd December 2018 has been generously shared via specialist networks, advocacy and membership organisations in addition to supportive and encouraging individuals. The survey was designed to be completed in around 10 minutes and available online for ease of access and return. The responses have been great with lots of practitioners completing the survey and taking the time to use the optional text boxes to add more details and examples. This makes for an incredibly rich research source on which to build an understanding of what levels of support practitioners are currently receiving or providing for themselves and what they would like. The response from practitioners supports my claim that this is an area worthy of research investigation.

Earlier this month John McMahon, Senior Manager in Policy and Research published a blog which highlights the final piece of research conducted as part of their evidence review for the next 10 year strategy. The research details the role of arts and culture in health and wellbeing and in the criminal justice system. His blog post links through to transcript of a speech by Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock (who used to be Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) where he extols the benfits of social prescribing. There is no doubt Arts for Health and Wellbeing is a growing area of practice, its application is both well evidenced and well advocated for but it is not without its challenges. What I am aiming for with my research is to open up a dialogue about the current levels and models of affective support for artists working in this context and what good practice might look like.

My sincere thanks to all who have helped to disseminate the survey and to the creative practitioners who have taken time to share their experiences by complete the survey. It can be accessed here until midnight on the 3rd December 2018.