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A spot of culture can make a huge difference to our sense of wellbeing

In this guest post, Bill Ward, Executive Director at Macrobert Arts Centre in Stirling, talks about how culture and the arts can have a positive impact on health and wellbeing.

Bill Ward - photo by Paul Watt

The Scottish Government has identified that people who regularly attend a cultural place or event are more likely to report good health compared to those who have not. At a time when the professional health services are under pressure and the importance of mental health care has become a political priority, it is timely to reflect on the crucial contribution that the arts make to well-being in Scotland.

The great strength of Macrobert Arts Centre is the ability to provide a wide variety of different artforms offering a variety of creative opportunities to meet the needs and expectations of our diverse audiences, and participants in the Forth Valley region.

Wellbeing is at the heart of the Macrobert Art Centre’s activities, with more than 200 people regularly attending 18 weekly classes. As Executive Director, it is hugely rewarding for me when young people who take part in classes regularly feed back to us how they have increased their feeling of self-worth and confidence, now have a sense of belonging, and have developed social skills while making new friends. The workshops have helped provide an escape for many of the young participants, leading to a reduction in stress.

Our commitment to participation is multi-generational – we offer dance classes for the over-60s which improve physical wellbeing while providing a great chance for group members to socialise. Each season we offer a curated programme including film, dance, theatre and visual arts pinned to a theme. Our current topic is mental health and the attitudes and stigmas around it.

Dancing at Macrobert Arts Centre

In our main exhibition space, the Arthouse, we have commissioned Conversations for Change, an exhibition led by Edinburgh artist Pam van de Brug. She has recorded conversations in public spaces – including a telephone box, a Hibs football match, the Scottish Parliament and Edinburgh’s Waverley Station – to generate opinions on the topic of mental health.

Our programme also includes the UK premiere of Fisk, by Tortoise and a Nutshell, a production using puppetry, movement and music to explore depression, dependence and the importance of relationships. Accompanying this in our Filmhouse is Karen Guthrie’s documentary The Closer We Get. Karen is exploring the issues raised in the film with students and academics at the University of Stirling Social Work department.

As part of the mental health season, we identified the need to offer activities at weekends for adults who benefit from additional support around their mental health, and we are excited to be launching Sunday Socials, a series of regular drop-in creative workshops which will link into Macrobert Arts Centre’s dance, film, theatre and visual art events.

These sessions will help participants develop their skills and enhance daily life experiences in terms of connectivity, enrichment and empowerment. We take the responsibilities of offering support to people with mental health difficulties seriously and recognise individual need and do not label people, so sessions will be shaped to the preferences, goals and aspirations of participants. This way we can directly shape services for adults who require additional mental health support.

A huge advantage of being located within the University of Stirling is the unique chance for us to learn from our artistic activity, which can then contribute directly to scientific research in health care and well-being. Working with researchers at the university, we have established a user-group for adults with autism, providing detailed feedback and helping shape the future provision of arts for people with autism. We have also been developing projects with local partners to observe and more fully understand the importance of creative opportunities for adults living with dementia, and their carers.

All staff at Macrobert Arts Centre have a relentless commitment to making the organisation accessible, supportive and a welcoming environment for everybody.

This includes regular special events specifically for people with dementia, supporting this audience to play a fuller and more fulfilling role in our community, while recognising the crucial role and expertise of carers. We have created a supportive  environment where people living with dementia are understood and valued.

Our vision is that Macrobert Arts Centre is a supportive and accessible community place where artists, audiences and participants are valued, where their voices heard and creative activities have a real and significant impact on well-being. This is why creativity matters.

Bill Ward, Macrobert Arts Centre

This article was originally published in The Scotsman in February 2017 and republished here with kind permission. Photo credits: Paul Watt and Macrobert Arts Centre.

Did you know? The most commonly reported benefits of creative activities are helping us to relax and making us feel good - find out more about why Creativity Matters- Creative Scotland