TAITMAIL Durham doubles down
By Patrick Kelly, Northern Editor
Amid all the grim economic news, it’s good to be able to record positive events. One such is the reaction of Durham County Council to the disappointing news that it had been pipped by Bradford for the title of UK City of Culture in 2025.
Within 24 hours of the result being revealed at the end of May the council announced it was doubling down on its cultural investment plans, despite losing the race. Councillor Elizabeth Scott, who has the cabinet economy portfolio at Durham, described the process of bidding as “galvanising”, adding “We couldn’t have a better platform to build on than we have now.”
The unsuccessful bid is to be a springboard, not a closed door. On top of a series of summer festivals, in Bishop Auckland and Seaham and Durham city, the council is continuing to back the biggest ever Lumiere festival of lights in the city in October.
The partners behind the Durham 2025 campaign – Durham County Council, Durham University, and Culture Durham, which brings together the major cultural institutions in the area - are committed to developing ambitious plans that will ensure culture remains at the heart of the county.
What’s especially gratifying is that this is not a new commitment. Durham’s drive to make culture a part of its future began more than a decade ago when Durham City Council, under the leadership of Labour’s Simon Henig, brought Artichoke in to run the first Lumiere event. Henig saw the festival as a chance to illuminate, physically and metaphorically, the cultural attractions of the city. It became the centrepiece of a broader strategy to boost economic development in the city and then with local government reorganisation, the entire county.
Fast forward to 2021 and the crumbling of Labour’s “Red Wall” which saw the party lose control of the administration for the first time in decades. There were fears that the new coalition of Conservatives, Lib Dems and Independents would reverse the culture strategy pioneered by Henig. They had, after all, been critical when in opposition. But, possibly because the prospect of designation as the City of Culture for 2025 was too big a prize to ignore, the new administration has embraced the vital importance of culture to Durham’s economy.
There is a lesson here about embedding an idea so deeply in the political DNA of an area that it’s impossible for that idea or policy to be subject to the whims of political change. That takes time and patience and an unswerving commitment to assembling evidence and to demonstrating the impact and benefits of a policy.
That’s what they have done in Durham. Other local authorities, take note.
We are used to hearing that culture is good for you. Acres of research now demonstrates that art, music, dancing are all vital to the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities.
But what of the creatives themselves? The “tortured artist” is a long-standing stereotype, but is it myth or reality?
Well, a new study by researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London, has debunked the myth, suggesting instead that there is a link between a positive emotional state, wellbeing, and increased feelings of creativity.
The research, by Professor Joydeep Bhattacharya and Professor Alan Pickering, is published in Creativity Research Journal. *
The study looked at a sample of 290 creative professionals who engage in at least 20 hours of creative activities per week. Over a two-week period, participants provided daily responses on their creative behaviours and emotions. The results were found to “contradict existing stereotypes of the tortured artist suffering for their art”.
Instead, the research found that those participating were increasingly creative in both their work and everyday lives when they felt a keen sense of wellbeing and positive emotions.
Kaile Smith, former MSc student at Goldsmiths, explained the motivation behind the research: “It stems from this belief that seems to permeate our culture that creative people are inherently troubled. This includes references to Vincent van Gogh’s mania, Sylvia Plath’s depression, Ernest Hemingway’s alcoholism, the list goes on.
“Our research finds that creative individuals have a highly adaptive psychological profile: the most creative individuals are more open, more conscientious, and have higher emotional stability as well as greater overall wellbeing.”
On the other hand, the charity Help Musicians set up Music Minds Matter to support the mental health of all who work in music across the U.K. This year, their “listening ear” service has seen a 30% increase in calls, signalling an ongoing, growing need for increased mental health support.
James Ainscough, chief executive at Help Musicians said: “Since Music Minds Matter launched in 2017, we have seen the need for mental health support continue to grow year-on-year. Musicians and those who work in music have been through an incredibly difficult time during the pandemic. And, sadly, coming out the other side is proving just as challenging, if not more”.
Silvia Montello, chair of Music Minds Matter, said: “Music brings such joy to so many people; we need to ensure that no-one involved in creating and sharing it across the music-loving community is left to suffer the effects of stressful, unhealthy and often precarious livelihoods, and is able to share in that joy and to thrive in their own daily endeavours.”
Perhaps the good professors should spend some time on the Music Minds helpline?