From surviving to thriving: building a model for sustainable practice in creativity and mental health
This report is the result of a six-month project funded by the Baring Foundation, to understand how to help more people and organisations using creativity to support mental health to survive and thrive. Written by Victoria Hume and Minoti Parikh for the Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance.
About this report
This report is the result of a six-month project funded by the Baring Foundation, to understand how we might help more people and organisations using creativity to support mental health to survive and thrive.
This research project was led by the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance (CHWA), a free-to-join national membership organisation for everyone invested in the relationship between culture, creativity, health and wellbeing. Our vision is a healthy world powered by our creativity and imagination, and our mission is to build a common understanding that creativity and culture are integral to health and wellbeing. This is an approach that engages with prevention and health creation not just treatment and disease; is asset-based and holistic; and is communal, collective and co-produced.
This report has been compiled by Victoria Hume, Executive Director of CHWA, and Minoti Parikh, an independent facilitator and researcher.
At the heart of this report is a Model for Thriving Practice. The model describes what needs to happen for creative practice and practitioners to be able to support mental health around the country. We believe the model will allow practitioners to thrive, and practice to grow and spread in a way that is sustainable, open, and inclusive.
The model contains recommendations for five groups working in relation to creativity and mental health: practitioners delivering creative and cultural work; commissioners in the public, community and cultural sectors; funders; researchers; and infrastructure organisations. The model suggests a number of actions for each of these five groups.
The actions and groups are interdependent. Both funders and commissioners have a responsibility to ensure practitioners are adequately remunerated, for example, and to work with practitioners to establish norms for better support when working with mental health. Researchers, commissioners, infrastructure organisations and funders all have an opportunity to celebrate the lived experience that leads this sector and ensure the skills and perspectives this implies lead our institutional development. All five groups have a responsibility to help build a more equitable and representative sector. All five should in different ways develop a level playing field for partnership or coproduction to make the work realistic, effective and embedded.
To build the model we consulted around 150 people working with creative practice to support mental health – many of whom drew on experiences with their own mental health or as carers. We worked with an advisory group, conducted a survey, held focus groups, and shared a draft of this report for discussion and comment. This is not of course intended to be the final word on any of these topics, but we hope it will contribute to and catalyse ongoing conversation.
Concerns shared consistently across these groups included funding – particularly the lack of long-term investment, the credibility and reputation of the work, and the resilience of the workforce. Threaded through all these were questions about accessibility, inclusivity, diversity and lived experience. What kept people going was a passionate commitment to the work, supported by witnessing often life-changing impacts on others.
The workforce driving creativity for mental health is an unusual one. Our survey suggests it is dominated by freelancers and to a lesser extent by part-time employees. Just under 40% of respondents came to this work by using creativity to support their own mental health, and wanting to share this with others. This significant influence of ‘lived experience’ represents a huge opportunity to improve the way we understand and support both mental health, creativity and culture by investing in this work. But progress made so far in this sector has depended largely on the energies of individuals, often working against the grain of funding and political priorities at some personal or financial cost.
Building a thriving sector now is about collaboration and mutual respect across these five groups, sharing both the benefits and the responsibility. This needs an investment of time, energy and financial resources that will lead us toward a more open, confident, and healthy place.
Victoria Hume, Executive Director, Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance