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In a creative healthy place? Situating Arts and Health within the discourse of ‘the devolution revolution’

Williams, Frances (2019) In a creative healthy place? Situating Arts and Health within the discourse of ‘the devolution revolution’. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis explores the problematic relationship forged between the field of practice known as Arts and Health and discourse of the ‘devolution revolution’ (2016-2019). This was a period when key policy areas - pertaining to health, creativity and place - were ‘aligned’ by local government in an ongoing age of austerity. It examines the human geographies of Arts and Health through four case studies sited across Greater Manchester and North Wales, a region cojoined through the spatial imaginary of ‘The Northern Powerhouse’. The research begins by considering the impetus for devolution in the 1990s, before focussing attention on the English context of the first ever city and regional devolution deal struck between Manchester City leaders and HM Treasury in 2016. This was made conditional on budget reductions. The ‘pre-histories’ of the emergent category of Arts and Health are then examined across the post-war decades. The category of Arts and Health is navigated across its varied (re)imaginings, including those made recently which deny the field can be seen as the ‘natural cousin’ of austerity. The ways in which these diverse, often contradictory agendas, have come together is examined through grounded accounts of neoliberal policy as it is (re)produced in everyday situations. Reflexive, first person ethnographic accounts of four local contexts, in Llandudno, Prestatyn, Wigan and Central Manchester are presented to show how the field of Arts and Health is being interpreted and produced through certain affective ambiences and ‘atmospheres’. The research reveals that across this territory, similar values and common cultures are taking hold. These include the belief that local communities offer forums for collective action and decision-making (over and above those of national institutions) and that additional resources are not needed, merely a new mindset. The conclusion is drawn that, as much as the field of Arts and Health aims to enact forms of progressive social change, it is a field of practice that is also being shaped by forces exerted by a regressive political economy.

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