Photograph C/O Nottingham City Arts
Arts on Prescription
In the final year of writing up my PhD I took up a paid internship working with the Institute of Mental Health at the University of Nottingham and with the charity Nottingham City Arts. My ‘job’ here was to conduct qualitative interviews with a number of individuals who had taken part in that charity’s ‘Arts on Prescription’ (AOP) programme-talking to them about their experiences and undertaking some basic analysis of the programme. This eventually fed into an article that I co-authored with Professor Theo Stickley, published in 2013 in Public Health.
Arts on Prescription services are a form of ‘social prescribing’, whereby, in this instance people with a range of mental health issues were involved in a course of community art activities as a supplement to other treatment methods. Further detail is provided in City Arts Nottingham’s research report on their AOP programme, which is available here, but is well summarised in the following quote from that report:
CAN’s AOP service exists to help ameliorate social and personal difficulties experienced by people with mental health problems. […] It is primarily a mental health promotion programme using participatory arts. […] Operationally, AOP maintains two complementary faces. To statutory services and funders, the service is presented as a ‘mental health promotion’ project. To people engaging with it, however the project is presented as providing participation in community arts. This deliberate ploy is not intended to mislead, but rather, it is a way of maintaining a non-stigmatising service by harmonising complementary but potentially competing discourses.
My primary role in this project was to conduct sometime lengthy interviews with around ten of the AOP service users, later conducting some basic narrative analysis of the transcriptions of these interviews.
Arts on Prescription Goes for a Walk
I later returned to City Arts to engage with a slightly different iteration of the AOP project: ‘Arts on Prescription Goes for a Walk’. As its name suggests, this programme took AOP users outside the studio for artist-led walks around Nottinghamshire. Assisting on these walks was for me a fascinating introduction to some of the postindustrial landscapes around Nottingham – largely former mining towns such as Hucknall and Netherfield. These small towns on the outskirts of the city remain deeply wounded by the loss of the coal industry. The landscapes around them and through which we walked are marked by this loss – with former open-pit colliery sites now landscaped and turned into nature reserves. These landscapes are quite beautiful and peaceful, as well as inspiring sites for the production of art and photography as we did on our walks through it. The AOP Goes for a Walk programme struck me therefore as a creative and probative way of using a hinterland on the edges of deprived urban environments, often decidedly unconducive to mental health, as a space of healing and rehabilitation.