A Healthy Dose of Creativity
The proof is in the plié: artistic remedies are underrated.
After the year we’ve just had, I truly believe the Arts is due for a global renaissance. Not because I expect governments to suddenly champion a sector they have routinely abandoned.. but because we’re now all so aware of how much we need art in all its forms. When 2020 dug in her claws we turned to our favourite books, walked to the sounds of a great podcast, binged the latest series on Netflix; perhaps realising that we’d taken creative resources for granted in the past.
The demand is there for the Arts, more than ever. Desperately and consciously so.
We welcome it as entertainment.
We welcome it as escapism.
We welcome it in education.
We welcome it as a vehicle for social change or activism.
But are we still slow to welcome it into the medical world? It would certainly seem that Arts-Health partnerships do not seem to receive an adequate level of publicity or funding, perhaps because we don’t tend to give enough thought to the possibilities presented by such a pairing.
There could be no one better to offer insight on the importance of cross-sector collaboration than Tim Joss, a tour de force in the world of ‘Arts in Health’ and the latest special guest to join Boniface’s Oona Series Podcast.
Tim’s qualifications and background are so impressive I could write an entire article on his credentials alone. He comes to us as a Mathematics graduate from Oxford University, a Piano and Composition graduate from the Royal Academy fo Music, a previous CEO / senior manager at high profile music festivals and orchestral events and a previous Dance Officer for the British Arts Council.. just to capture a few highlights. He is also the CEO and Founder of AESOP (Arts Enterprise with a Social Purpose), who aspire to create accessible Arts solutions for society’s problems. It is through this work in particular that Tim captured really captured our attention at the Oona Series, and it’s interesting to learn that a series of shortcomings and questions are where it all began.. Most notably: why doesn’t the Arts thrive within the Health sector?
“There [was] no evaluation framework for arts and health programs,” Tim shares, which ultimately set both sides up to fail in their early collaboration attempts. The Arts world is well equipped for time-limited project work, and is often fuelled by sheer passion and a degree of fundraising or outside investment. The bottom line is important, but the project’s level of impact or outreach is not always assessed.. What’s more, any process that seeks to place value on the work in regards to its artistic quality comes from a subjective place (i.e. the film critic, who reviews on the basis of personal taste and Box Office trends). By contrast, post-project evaluation statistics are everything to Public or Private Health sector. They’re looking for universal services, maximum impact, continuity and a degree of standardisation. An Arts project in a hospital for example, must indicate that it’s actually improving people’s health and that it might ultimately save the NHS money through short and/or long term impact.
“The [artist] has an idea: they want to work in health. They usually find that the Health system isn’t prepared to pay them because it’s not ‘proven’, and so the Arts person goes away and raises the money and offers it free or at some subsidised rate to the Health system.. you get an Arts project. And I thought – no. We need to flip this around, we need to start with the health sector. We need to talk to the health sector.. Say: Hello! Tell me about your problems, and maybe we could come up with an artistic solution.” – TIM JOSS
This crucial discovery lead Tim and AESOP to developing the kind of framework which would allow for two sectors to speak to one another’s needs.. and at last, Dance to Health was born.
Dance to Health is AESOP’s falls prevention program, which aims to be the first arts program integrated into the National Health Service. Research indicates that falls within the elderly community are hugely debilitating in this later stage of life, and are also the catalyst for rapid decline: “What people don’t know is that when [the elderly] fall over.. it is often the beginning of an array of symptoms that lead to really sinister outcomes. It is the trigger to a big, big change” (Boniface VC). The NHS therefore faces with gargantuan overheads in providing on-going support for those dealing with the effects of frailty.
Finding artistic inspiration in this Public Health problem, Tim discovered a number of well-evidenced exercises that were already being used in other parts of the world to assist elderly patients in rebuilding strength, co-ordination and confidence in their mobility. The only trouble is, these exercises were just that.. exercises, with little incentive and zero ‘maintenance’ options.
“You read the research literature and the word ‘dull’ comes up.. there are problems with people completing the courses and from a health point of view it seems [like its] a treatment. You’re meant to do it for 26 weeks and do 50 hours of activity.” – TIM JOSS
It goes without saying that a struggle to achieve follow-through sees patients returning to old habits, with all strength and muscle development disappearing within twelve months. The patient is left disheartened and unmotivated and the NHS wastes more money in the process.
Determined to save NHS funds through a creative AND scientifically-proven solution, Tim and the team at AESOP place a handful of dance artists and fall prevention specialists in one room. Through many hours of discussion and practical exploration, the group begins to devise a program whereby medically-approved exercises are ‘smuggled into creative dance activity,’ resulting in an enjoyable, educational, holistic and highly social experience for participants.
Today, despite the delays and challenges posed by COVID-19, Dance To Health continues to receive positive reviews, which has led to greater publicity and further investment in the future of the program. Results indicate that Dance to Health:
- Is an effective and cost effective alternative to existing falls prevention in the health system
- Reduced falls by 58%
- Lead to a number of positive side effects: 87% of participants made new friends and 96% perfect had improved mental wellbeing
- Could save the NHS and wider health system £98million per year
Astounding, hey? The numbers truly speak for themselves, though as an artist myself, I can imagine the experience of facilitating such a program on a group or 1:1 basis goes far beyond statistics. By creating space for artistic practise in the world of Public Health, we ultimately create more opportunities to connect with others in a way that celebrates the human body and all it can do at every stage of life. I can only hope that this kind of cross-sector collaboration continues as we move forward as a society.. with the right kind support and infrastructure, the possibilities are endless.
For more on Tim Joss’ story and Dance to Health, check out the full podcast episode here. If someone you know may benefit from the program, please don’t hesitate to reach out via the website: https://dancetohealth.org