At this year’s Annual Conference, Karen Megranahan is displaying a curated collection of recovery artwork. The SSA caught up with Karen to find out more.

This is the first time the SSA’s Annual Conference has had art on display, what can people expect?

When people come to visit the collection, they will see a very wide range of types of creative arts including music, videos, paintings, words, poetry, something called phoetry combines photography and spoken word. There’s glasswork, woodwork, ceramics. All sorts of things.

Submitted by San Patrignano

From a practical point of view, however, I couldn’t curate the original pieces of artwork. If I had, I would have needed somewhere to store them that was temperature controlled, safe, secure and insured against damage. Transport would also have been difficult.

So, we asked people to take a photograph of their artwork. Within the collection you’ll see a lot of photography where the artists have taken pictures of their artwork. Some of those photographs are taken quickly on a phone with artwork sat on a chair, whilst others are more professionally photographed. All contributions are equally valued and add to the diversity of the collection.

There are almost 70 pieces of artwork in this collection from 17 submissions – with some submissions having multiple pieces within them. At least 50% of the full collection will be displayed at the conference. Considering the submission process was only open for 10 days, I was overwhelmed by the number of artworks received. I thought we might get 10 maybe 20 pieces and it would have been a great contribution. It’s been really well received.

Did you get submissions from people at different times in their recovery?

Yes, each piece is accompanied by a short, written paragraph explaining what the artwork is and what it represents to the artist, and this is called the ‘Artists Voice’. Some of the submitters give more explanation about how their art represented a particular point in their journey. Whereas others were more generalised.

I’m very proud of this collection because it came about really out of nowhere and it happened so quickly and organically. There wasn’t too much prior focus in the way that you would need if you were designing a study as part of your PhD. We didn’t have the luxury of time to do that, but nevertheless you could tell that the people who submitted pieces were really proud to offer their artwork as part of the resources included in the Recovery Pathways Workbook, aimed at helping other people start their journey of recovery.

This suggests that they’re providing creative arts interventions for a reason….finding out more about it seems like the right thing to do

How did the project come about?

It followed on from Dr David Patton’s NIHR funded project to create a workbook as a collection of information, stories and different pieces designed to help people find the right pathway to their recovery.

I attended a meeting last year and said ‘well, you know I’m exploring creative arts in recovery, I’d be happy to curate a collection for this project’. And David Patton immediately said ‘yes, let’s speak, let’s find out if this is possible’. At that point I wasn’t aware of the very tight deadlines and that it had to be done quickly.

There were some interesting ethical questions: who was holding the ethics application, who was responsible for that? I checked with my college, and they said that they were happy for me to go ahead with the project, but that the ethics would be with the organisation heading up the project. And this was the University of Derby.

Did you meet the artists?

Submitted by Lee Budworth

David Patton and I went through my proposed curation design. I designed it in a way that meant I had no direct contact with the artists so that I couldn’t influence their decisions or submissions. This was my way of protecting the project ethically. I didn’t want my enthusiasm to influence the artists on whether to submit their work or not.

And this all happened extremely quickly. David Patton sent the invitation out to all the people who had been interested in the meetings about the recovery workbook. He also added the invitation to social media. We received submissions, mainly from the UK, but international submissions as well. Say at least 30% are international.

What first interested you in the relationship between creative arts and recovery?

I was studying an MSc in addictions at King’s College London, and it was time to start a dissertation project. I was walking down Camberwell High Street when there was an arts festival going on. A local drug and alcohol service had a shop window which had some work on display that the people in that recovery service had created.

I spoke to the person there who had facilitated this and became really interested in it. I attended a seminar at King’s as well which was talking about different pathways to recovery.

Fortunately for me (although it didn’t feel very fortunate at the time) the actual dissertation project that I was allocated wasn’t possible; so I was asked what I would like to do and this was one of my ideas.

Your PhD looks at that same relationship. Can you tell me more?

My PhD is investigating the use of creative arts interventions in UK drug and alcohol services. I created a questionnaire which asks drug and alcohol services what non-pharmacological interventions they use and whether they provide creative arts. And if they do provide creative arts, I ask them what types and what qualifications the people providing the creative arts interventions hold.

I also ask how they measure the effectiveness of these services. My intention is to dig deeper into that with a further study. My contact really is with the services not with the people seeking recovery, because that would be a longer-term project, and would be an investigation that I would like to do, but initially I needed to know whether it’s something that services even provide, and from the data I have so far it looks like quite a high proportion do.

This suggests that they’re providing creative arts interventions for a reason. They’re not necessarily being contracted to provide them, they’re adding them on to the existing services that they’re commissioned to do, so there must a reason for that. Finding out more about it seems like the right thing to do.

Karen Megranahan is a PhD student at Goldsmith’s College London, and part of the Institute of Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship.

Conversation edited by Rob Calder.

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