Maya Twardzicki

Maya Twardzicki is (by day) a Health Psychologist, coach and Public Health Lead, specialising in mental health and wellbeing. She has a 10 year track record in developing innovative and award winning arts and health projects that have captured the interest of national media and been published in peer reviewed journals. By night she pursues her passion for the arts as a singer-songwriter. Here, she outlines how the arts and health projects can improve the public's health.

I first encountered the power of arts and health at a conference, where I was “transported” to Waterloo station….by the opening scene of an attention grabbing drama. A woman was pacing, agitated and distressed. As the scene unfolded, tension levels rose, passers-by got involved, and the Police were called. The scene ended as the woman was sectioned under the Mental Health Act. It was a powerful way to get the audience talking about mental health and the surrounding stigma. Reducing stigma was in my remit as Public Mental Health Lead – and until then I was unsure how to begin. That was how my first arts and health project started, then I was hooked.

Over the next decade I delivered and evaluated a range of arts and health projects in colleges, theatres, hospitals, prisons and H.M armed forces – using drama, dance, comedy, music and film. Some projects won awards from the Royal Society for Public Health and NHS, and were published in peer reviewed journals.  Employing the public health evidence based approach also helped me influence Commissioners to fund an anti-stigma contract that includes drama approaches, moving arts in Surrey County Council from a previous pilot project approach, into the mainstream. The next step was to facilitate collaboration between Surrey County Arts and Public Health services (that previously worked quite separately), to contribute to each other’s outcomes. A secondment with Surrey Arts (2017 - 2018) seemed a natural starting point.

Benefits to Public Health 

For those of us who work in the arts or participate in arts activities – such as singing in a choir, dancing, writing poetry or drawing/painting – we intuitively know that the arts are good for our wellbeing. There is also now a growing body of evidence.  But not everyone in Public Health is aware of the benefits of the arts and how they can help deliver on Public Health Outcomes. The secondment helped highlight some of these:

  • Increasing self-reported mental wellbeing
  • Reducing social isolation and increasing connectedness
  • Enjoyable ways to increase physical activity e.g. through dance and outdoor art walks
  • Fun ways to increase fruit/vegetable intake – e.g. singing picnics for children
  • Preventing falls through the strength and balance benefits of dance

The arts also help to:

  • Engage with harder to reach groups  e.g. asylum seekers/refugees e.g. through the universal language of music (I speak Music) and people with learning disabilities through orchestras and arts groups
  • Raise awareness and reduce stigma around sensitive topics like mental health

Arts based interventions also provide good return on investment (see All Party Parliamentary Inquiry report).

Benefits of the Secondment

For Council arts officers and artists, the secondment increased awareness of the benefits of and evidence base for arts and health; and increased knowledge/skills to plan and evaluate these projects using a public health evidence based approach. Thereby increasing the possibility of commissioning more arts and health work.

Working with council arts officers can also increase numbers of people working on the Public Health agenda (helpful at a time of council recruitment freezes/saving plans).

Secondment Achievements

Strategic Based

  • Trained arts officers and artists on a public health and collaborative approach to planning, delivering and evaluating arts and health projects. For example: using the joint strategic needs assessment to target high risk groups/areas; linking projects local Public Health priorities; looking the evidence base; measuring outcomes (including the Public Health Outcomes Framework); and linking with relevant health/social care/third sector agencies.
  • Identified and implemented new areas of collaboration between Surrey Public Health and Arts and Cultural Services e.g. Health Checks delivered in libraries and Heritage services, public health campaign and service information displayed in Registration Offices; Wheel of Wellbeing included in the Surrey Artist Open Studios brochure and used as a common project framework by Surrey Arts.

Project Based

  • Developed a song-writing project that increased: mental wellbeing, learning and social connection among young people with mental health issues; and increased awareness and positive attitudes around mental health among the audience and music student volunteers.
  • Developed a dance, yoga and creative arts course that increased coping skills and mental wellbeing in teenage girls – ‘Find Your Flow’.
  • Helped Arts Partnership Surrey develop a county wide mental wellbeing project ‘Whatever the Weather

Ruth Hutchinson – Director of Public Health said:

“The secondment has been of great value - creating collaboration among different services in the council; extending the reach of Public Health; and increasing the number of partners delivering Public Health messages and outcomes.”

Karl Newman – Art & Music Development Manager -Surrey Arts said:

“We really value Maya's input in helping us to understand the positive impact the arts have regarding health and wellbeing and her support in measuring these outcomes for our residents. We now always plan projects with health and wellbeing outcomes in mind.”