Finding Sustainability: University-community collaborations focused on arts in health

Mike White
Mary Robson


This article describes a number of community-based arts in health projects in schools and disadvantaged communities in Northern England that connect with the interdisciplinary research interests of the Centre for Medical Humanities at Durham University ( It examines issues about what makes for sustainability in both practice and research of arts in health when operating from a university base and stresses the importance of relationship-based work in health promotion interventions in communities. It attempts to set arts development work in the policy context of how community health has been addressed over the last decade. It provides both practical and metaphorical illustrations of how community cohesion and emotional literacy can be developed and recognised in schools and communities when supported by ethnographic research that is underpinned by theories of social capital, resilience and participatory arts practice. The significance that the artwork can attain as a social gift, with a special meaning for its creators, is examined from an anthropological perspective. Looking historically and comparatively at some longitudinal projects in community-based arts in health, the article assesses what makes for both success and failure in practice, and looks particularly at the significance of the arts in helping to deliver strategies for improving child health and education. In a strategic development context, explanation is given of several strands of university-community collaboration in arts in health, with interlinked project examples drawn from Tyneside and West Yorkshire. Finally, the article looks at the prospects for sustaining arts in health within the coming transfer of the public health function to local government.

Sustainability, arts in community health, resilience, child mental health, social capital

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