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Interview with Norma Daykin - Author of Arts, Health and Well-Being: A Critical Perspective

Interview conducted by Katey Warran (Network Coordinator)

In a new addition for our Author Interview blog series where we are conducting interviews with authors who have published in the field of arts, health and wellbeing, I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Professor Norma Daykin about her book Arts, Health and Well-Being: A Critical Perspective on Research, Policy and Practice.


An award-winning social scientist, Norma Daykin has contributed to the development of research, policy and practice in the field of arts, health and wellbeing over the last 20 years. She cofounded the journal: Arts & Health, coproduced the ESRC funded Creative and Credible website with Willis Newson, authored Public Health England’s Arts and Health Evaluation Framework, a collaboration with AESOP, and served as an advisor to the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Arts, Health and Wellbeing Arts, Health and Wellbeing.

Norma is currently Professor in the Institute of New Social Research at Tampere University, Finland. She also holds honorary Professorial roles at UWE, Bristol and the University of Winchester, UK. She is a co-researcher on ESRC funded What Works for Wellbeing Culture and Sport Evidence Review Programme.

Norma is also a musician engaged in community wellbeing projects, and for eight years she directed the award-winning Bristol Reggae Orchestra. Her book, Arts, Health and Wellbeing, A Critical Perspective, was published by Routledge in 2019. You can download a copy here.

Q. How did you first become interested in arts, health and wellbeing?

Norma: I was prompted to explore arts, health and wellbeing by a growing awareness of the importance of music making to my own wellbeing. As a sociologist I was trained to adopt a critical stance, so as well identifying benefits of participation, I wanted to understand the complex social terrain of the arts, including economic barriers and inequalities regarding who gets to engage, gendered and racialised representation of artistic identities, and problematic discourses surrounding creativity and talent that can reinforce isolation and lead to poor wellbeing in artists. I undertook a qualitative study of these themes with a small group of musicians in 2002 and this led to a series of collaborations, including work with music therapists and community musicians to explore impacts and participants’ experiences of arts for wellbeing.

Over the years, this research programme has expanded to include other art forms, including visual arts, dance and creative writing, encompassing qualitative and quantitative research in community, healthcare, military and justice settings. This has led to collaboration with researchers undertaking similar work, leading to the establishment, with Paul Camic and Stephen Clift, of the Arts and Health journal in 2009. I have also worked with policy makers and practitioners, hence my involvement as an advisor to the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing Inquiry leading to the publication of the Creative Health Report.

Q. What inspired you to write Arts, Health and Well-Being: A Critical Perspective on Research, Policy and Practice?

Norma: There were three reasons for writing the book. Firstly, I wanted to draw together the research I had undertaken over the last 18 years and to reflect on its emergent themes. Secondly, I wanted to inject a critical perspective into the debate, which has focused on identifying the value of arts and measuring their impacts. These are important tasks, but they represent an incomplete research agenda and this can lead us to overlook key issues, leaving important questions unanswered, such as, ‘how much evidence is enough to justify investment in the arts for health and wellbeing?’, and, ‘how can we empower artists and participants in setting policy and practice agendas?' These questions can’t be answered by evaluation methodologies alone. There is a need for a broader research agenda that can help us to understand the development, scale and sustainability of arts, health and wellbeing. Theories from social science and organisational studies, including social movement theory and studies of boundary objects, offer useful insights that I wanted to explore in the book. Thirdly, I wanted to produce a book in a format that would be accessible not just to researchers but also to arts practitioners and members of the wider community engaged in arts, health and wellbeing. The Routledge Focus series offers an excellent medium for this: its publications are relatively concise and easily available as e-books.

Q. How do you see your book fitting in with wider developments to arts and health research, policy and practice?

Norma: Social movement theory is gaining interest from policy makers in the context of assets-based approaches to health and social care that seek to utilise local resources and energies to tackle enduring problems, such as rising demands for health and care in the face of diminishing resources. Arts represent important community assets, but they cannot simply be manipulated to meet the agendas of policy makers. The book discusses arts, health and wellbeing as a social movement and the implications for understanding research, evidence and practice challenges.

Q. What would you say are the three top take-away messages you'd like people to get from reading your book?

Norma: First, I would suggest that it is time to broaden our research agenda. There are now rich resources for understanding the effects of arts and, increasingly, for identifying mechanisms of impact. We need to go beyond this to address political and moral questions that underpin the sustainability of arts, health and wellbeing. Social sciences disciplines such as sociology have in important role to play here, although they are relatively neglected in current research. The second key premise of the book is that social movement theory offers a useful way of understanding enduring challenges, including perceptions that current research is weighted towards medically based hierarchies of evidence that disempower artists and overlook participants’ voices, and development challenges, such as how to secure growth, ensure appropriate scaling, and increase access to arts for health and wellbeing. Third, the book suggests a new way of understanding the success or failure of arts activities and interventions using the framework of boundary work. I’ve received many positive responses to the book, especially from artists who are often acutely aware of themselves as boundary workers and the role of arts as boundary objects in health and care.

Q. What are the next stages for you? What other projects are you working on?

Norma: I’m hopeful that the book has started a dialogue and highlighted the need for a broader research agenda that will stimulate new ideas and engagement. I’ll continue to develop the ideas from exchanges with colleagues, for example in the Creative and Credible CPD Programme that I currently deliver with Willis Newson, in collaboration with the Royal Society of Public Health. I’m interested in exploring how boundary work is understood and experienced by different stakeholders involved in shaping the emergent field of arts, health and wellbeing, with implications for how we understand the role of arts in relation to societal challenges such as increasing health and wellbeing inequalities.

Thank you Norma for taking the time to be interviewed for the blog.

Be sure to follow Norma Daykin on Twitter @NormaDaykin. You can buy Arts, Health and Wellbeing: A Critical Perspective here.

Watch this space over the coming months for more interviews with authors in the field. Have you got a suggestion for an author you would like to be interviewed? If so, please get in touch!

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