I was inspired to apply for the placement at the Whitworth Art Gallery due to my interests in how art can be used to improve the mental and physical health of those who interact with it. I have always had an interest in art therapy and how art can be used to further social and political causes. The Whitworth was a perfect institution to explore these issues as it has an extensive learning and engagement section, as well as Wendy Gallagher who works dedicatedly with arts for health. For engagement, the Whitworth is simply the best, represented by their statement that they are “for the perpetual gratification of the people of Manchester”. As well as this, the aspects to do with health and the body, as well as the possibility of enacting social justice through art appealed to me as a Gender, Sexuality and Culture MA student. I was eager to understand how the theory I had learnt through my English Literature BA and my MA could be positively applied in an art gallery setting.
Throughout my time I worked with Wendy, in arts for health as well as Francine Hayfron the galleries Cultural Park’s Keeper. My main activities at the Whitworth were research based. I was asked, to research the scope and abundance of arts for health-related activities or programmes in cultural institutions across the county. This was in order to both generally inform the Whitworth and find spaces with which they could potentially collaborate. The research was fascinating and uplifting at the same time. I could much more fully understand the roles that cultural institutions play in the lives of vulnerable people as well as see the impact that engagement with art and culture could make in real time across the UK. In a time of mounting austerity and the removal of arts funding across the country I was heartened to discover organisations, including museums and art galleries, who were opening their arms and doors to those who can benefit from having art and culture in their lives. I was also pleased to read research being conducted into how art and cultural engagement outdoors and how its principles are being implemented in hospitals and care homes for the wellbeing for their patients.
Another part of my work included aiding an event at the Whitworth. Here, various artists who worked in arts for health, both including it in their art and actively teaching and engaging groups of people with artistic practice for their wellbeing, came to represent their work at the gallery. It was great to see and help one musician encourage a group of gallery-goers to express their feelings about the art in the gallery through music and experience first-hand the opportunities engagement with art galleries provide. Through seeing the artists engaging with the visitors to the gallery I could witness them spreading an understanding of wellbeing through art which was beneficial to the wider community, but also produced this feeling of openness and wellbeing in myself.