The Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance, Arts Culture Health and Wellbeing Scotland, the Wales Arts, Health & Wellbeing Network (WAHWN, co-ordinated by Engage Cymru) and Arts Care (Northern Ireland) have come together as a partnership of organisations and networks across the UK to find ways to support the culture, health and wellbeing sector during COVID-19 and beyond.
Creative professionals have begun to weave their way through this crisis, to adapt and respond in a multitude of ways that comprehend the complexity of COVID-19 and all its ramifications, but remain true to the generous principles and professionalism within socially engaged practice.
We have asked five freelance creative professionals engaging with health and wellbeing from each nation to reflect on their responses for this first report. Below are the responses from creative professionals in Wales. You can read all of the responses on the Culture Health and Wellbeing website here.
William Dean Ford
We were delighted to be able to commission through Cardiff & Vale Health Charity, writer and spoken word poet, William Dean Ford, to create a weekly poem during the COVID-19 crisis, to inspire us, to give us hope, and to add to the creative richness of our lives during the difficult and extraordinary times we are facing. Will’s creative, relatable and often humorous words are read weekly by many through our media platforms, and have generated huge responses.
During these unsettling times, William Dean Ford has been providing Cardiff and Vale UHB with a weekly Poetry Prescription. Many people, some for the first time ever, have been experiencing a total loss of control over their choices about what they are allowed to do, where they are allowed to go. For reasons related to his experience of anxiety, depression and agoraphobia, William has previously been very well acquainted with not feeling free to go where he pleases and do what he might wish. Having previously used writing as a personal therapeutic tool to process such feelings of disconnection, he wishes, via the Poetry Prescriptions, to reach out and reassure readers that they are not alone in how they feel, that these uncertainties will not be permanent, that they are still the people they were. Presented with graphical backgrounds designed by Molly Lewis (a member of the Arts team at Cardiff and Vale UHB), the Poetry Prescriptions project is currently ongoing. The pieces completed already, and those still to come can be viewed online here.
Under Lockdown, during permitted walks, William has been capturing the eerie, sometimes complete absence of people around Cardiff. Observing the city, the parks, the river, the birds, as if he has never seen them before, he has treated the sights he sees if they are newly discovered treasures to record as and cherish. As the colours of spring have been returning to Nature and the buildings created by people keep watch over the streets, a ghostly silent curtailment of human bustle and noise has descended. William’s emotional response under Lockdown shifts between comfortably attuned to a landscape in the process of being rediscovered and loneliness, a yearning for the return of human proximity, connection. A tension between wishing for peace and quiet and the disquieting effect of too much of it on the human psyche.
Principally expressing his art via poetry and Spoken Word performance, William Dean Ford has had a long, productive relationship with Cardiff and Vale University Health Board. He enjoys employing the ‘element of surprise’ in his writing, to make each piece a ‘snapshot of feeling’ for the reader/listener to respond to. He speaks in a variety of voices, serious and comedic and deftly switches between satirical and heartfelt approaches, to tease, then bring out exactly the response from others he aims for. This capacity to imaginatively switch focus and approach subjects from unusual angles increasingly applies to his approach to photography.
Lost in Art is a visual arts project for people living with dementia in the community and their carers. Before lock down a group met weekly at the Ruthin Craft Centre. The project is managed by Denbighshire Leisure Ltd and was developed in partnership with the Dementia Services Development Centre at Bangor University. The project formed part of their Dementia and Imagination research project and won The Hearts for the Arts Award for the Best Local Authority Arts Project Encouraging Community Cohesion 2018. Since lock down a Remote Lost in Art was developed, supported by the Arts Council of Wales.
Remote Lost in Art: I am one part of a larger team which enables the whole package to succeed. Aim is to keep already vulnerable people, who enjoyed and relied on creative activities and socialising opportunities, supported and active in during lockdown through: Contact; Art activities; Feedback and Support.
Contact: Initial ascertaining group’s access to digital platforms: private What’s App group set up for informing, sharing tutorial videos, support forum. Plus 2 phone calls every week from the team with opportunity to signpost to social services.
My role: Creating Art Boxes for home distribution by the team, including materials and information sheets with tasks like marbling and air dry clay. Creating weekly filmed tutorials. Purchasing materials on line, encouraging active looking, being imaginative with things that can be found around the house.
Learning curve for me with the videos, initially instructional with close-up of hands, but it was felt that what was lacking for the group was the contact with a person, so I now make them with myself in shot.
The instruction sheets — planning, taking photos at key stages of the process for those with no access to the video, printing out.
I have been learning about optimum mobile phone video settings; basic editing, optimum resolution — have a mini ‘studio’ set up with 2 angle poise lamps and a tripod!
Support and Feedback: Participants use WhatsApp to feedback on their creative work, uploading their photographs and ideas on each process, and in so doing supporting their wellbeing. It is very uplifting to see these conversations, the creative encouragement and experimentation they engender and the obvious value of this support and exchange.
Lost in Art has gone over and above everyone else and deserve a medal.
I can see the difference in Em when he’s occupied.
I am a creative professional with a portfolio comprising exhibitions, installations, and commissions and delivering workshops in the arts in health and wellbeing sector.
I work with a number of groups such as Criw Celf and Escape Artists for ex-offenders. My long standing projects are with Lost in Art for people living with dementia, and Creative Alternatives for people with mild to moderate mental health issues.
I was awarded a research and development grant from the Arts Council of Wales for Fragments in Time 2019; my production grant application for developing this project is currently on hold with COVID 19.
Sarah works as a visual artist with Inside Out Cymru. During lockdown Sarah has maintained contact with her group’s participants, many of whom have poor mental health, using phone calls to reassure them. Sarah has also supported them to access their session as much as possible as she transferred the work onto an online video call platform. She has devised a way to show her hands working as well as her face in conversation with the group, and she has consistently invited other IOC artists to participate in the sessions as part of a peer-mentoring process.
The exhibition ‘Feast’ I was planning alongside Inside Out Cymru for March couldn’t go ahead due to the lockdown. My participant-led face to face sessions were abruptly halted and my car is no longer full of art materials.
It was clear we needed to adapt our practice swiftly and identify what arts equipment participants could lay their hands on to enable a remote art class. I was able to post some simple resources and we ventured into our first remote session.
We’ve always enjoyed drawing as a group so I started there and encouraged everyone to draw something red. We also tried simple watercolour techniques and patterns. Over the weeks, the class have set the themes and made suggestions. We’ve welcomed fellow artists and staff to join in and enjoy a ‘making moment’. I use two laptops — one to talk to and one as a camera focusing on my hands.
What’s changed is a return to traditional mark-making practice with basic tools — we can only work with what people have to hand — you can do a lot with a biro! It’s very democratic — we are all seeing each other through the same platform, and because I’m delivering one set of activities rather than several simultaneously, I’m making more myself. It’s a positive creative challenge to re-assess your home for resources that we all might have, and thinking about how they could be used.
What this experience has highlighted is the simple pleasures of drawing and making, but also the ‘digital divide’ where a number of my class haven’t accessed the class through lack of access to Wi-Fi or Smartphones. Remote classes are great for those who can’t travel due to physical or mental health, and I hope this proves a model that can extend beyond now.
I’m an artist based in Newport and work primarily with photography and multi-media. I’m interested in domestic archaeology, and enjoy playing with scale, texture and form in the natural landscape to abstract the familiar.
I work mostly for Gwent Arts in Health & NHS Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, as well as Inside Out Cymru. I’ve also worked as a Creative Agent for Arts Council of Wales, and am a visiting lecturer at University of South Wales (BA Hons Creative and Therapeutic Arts).
I co-produce an annual art festival in Newport ‘Art on the Hill Casnewydd’ with Kate Mercer, and am a Trustee of Maindee Festival Association.
NDCWales supports 7 Welsh Priority Venues. Each Priority Venue has a ‘Dance Ambassador’ who is local to the venue, knows our repertoire and has received our training. Their role is to support the public to access the work of NDCWales and keep year-round contact with its communities Wales wide.
Delivery is informed by the dance already happening in local areas. This model supports local communities to become audiences and participants. This helps with engaging more people in a broader range of dance but also to sustain and develop the dance sector in Wales as more people engage with the artform.
(NDCWales: Welsh Priority Venues/Dance Ambassadors; Funders: The Foyle Foundation)
Before the COVID-19 crisis came, I was working as a Dance Artist in schools, a Dance Ambassador with NDCWales and with community groups. Some work has been postponed, though much has continued. The projects that have continued have shifted into a digital space and are being shared, as best as possible, with the spirit of the live interaction and emphasis of community that drives the work — including NDCWales’ Rygbi education pack and Ribidirês — early years dance sessions supported by Pontio. I am fortunate to have young children, who love to move and use their imaginations, and a supportive husband. This has allowed us to collaborate as a family to create learning resources that engage both children and adults in dance that supports children’s education and development.
Creating videos in this way has allowed me to use my work to support the wellbeing of my family, with the exploration and learning of my children becoming the heart of the work. We have made some wonderful memories as a family from within our home, whilst supporting the learning and development of our children. We have climbed through forests, flown to space and scored a try for Wales in a crowded stadium. Our hope is that through working as a family, we can give confidence to other families to use movement and dance to support their health and wellbeing at this difficult time. We hope to inspire families to get lost in a journey into the unknown from their own homes, to discover the power of touch and to learn through fun. Our hope is that through our work families can strengthen bonds and make magical memories, of meeting aliens and winning the Six Nations for Wales, and to allow themselves a minute to find the value in flying as freely as a butterfly, without a care in the world.
Angharad is a Dance Artist working in North Wales. She has worked as a choreographer and dancer for companies such as Light, Ladd and Emberton, National Theatre Wales and Theatr Genedlaethol. She is co-director of Cymru:Brasil and intercultural performance company who create work inspired by Welsh and Brazilian culture. Angharad works across the community and within education delivering projects for companies including National Dance Company Wales (Dance Ambassador), Pontio and Theatr Clwyd. Angharad has a passion for Dance in Early Years and through her company, Ribidirês runs bilingual classes to encourage a love of the Welsh language from an early age.
Everything changed so quickly.
It was difficult making contact with Min Y Mor Residential Care Home where I had been providing weekly activity, as everyone was so busy adapting.
Resident, Ginny, had an old RSPB calendar that she loved and suggested we use for collages. Ginny was admitted to hospital just prior to lockdown where I was able to visit her. I took her a singing bird card. Sadly, Ginny died shortly after returning from hospital. Her daughter explained how she had watched her mum’s confidence grow in her creative ability through the art group and how she had particularly enjoyed the singing bird card. This inspired me to create a bird collage activity pack which was delivered to the home. I hope the birds continue to bring a little joy to the residents.
Thanks to Aberystwyth Arts Centre & The Margaret & Alick Potter Trust for supporting this response.
As a practicing artist and art therapist I’m aware of how the expressive arts can support our wellbeing during and after traumatic experiences. I make it a daily act to make an image however random, small or ‘good’.
I have created a Closed Facebook group for The Art & Friendship Group, an arts & wellbeing group I facilitate at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. This work is voluntary.
Considering daily posts for this group and responding to shared images and thoughts from the members has helped me reflect and centre myself.
There is a sense of purpose which gives meaning to the groups and my own contributions.
Much of what is taking place in the online group is validation, still being seen and heard by each other and continuing to inspire and support each other. Members have felt safe to tell the group when they are struggling, some members post daily, others less frequently, but all are viewing the shares. Humour has been present every day and a real sense of solidarity. The process of facilitating the group has given me a focus and has loosened me to be more spontaneous with making images. This has been a real release during a time when we are all restricting ourselves from many of the activities we previously thrived on.
I graduated from UWIC Fine Art Degree in 1986, a few years later my work moved into working as a community artist. For 20 years working with children and families in South Wales City & Valleys. In 2005 I qualified as an art therapist and relocated to rural West Wales. My work slowly shifted from children and families to focus on older adults and people whose lives are affected by a diagnosis of dementia. I combine freelance work with small part time employed contracts. I provide 1:1 art therapy for people with a diagnosis of dementia in their own homes and residential care and facilitate art & wellbeing groups at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Residential care homes and in the community.
About the Wales Arts Health & Wellbeing Network
WAHWN is the Wales Arts Health & Well-being Network, which represents 300+ arts and health professionals in Wales, coordinated by Engage Cymru with funding from the Arts Council of Wales. WAHWN acts as a hub for networking, collaboration, dissemination and research. Our mission is to build the capacity of the sector through training, building the evidence base and representing the sector at strategic level, including the Welsh Government Cross Party Group on Arts and Health.