“arthur+martha have been like some turbulent confluence of a river, where great ideas, rich practice and changed lives come together. I’ve long held them up as a polar star, some alchemy made physical — something that researchers can’t and don’t need to measure. The work speaks volumes – or rather the people do…”
Dr Clive Parkinson, NW Arts & Health Network
For 15 years, arthur+martha pioneered ways of working in arts and health, entwining poetry and art, to allow greater inclusion as well as deeper, richer means of self-expression for the makers — whether stitched, written, spoken or sung.
These pieces helped document the stories of marginalised communities — especially people affected by homelessness and older people, including those living with dementia. To have a voice and be heard is a powerful human need. Doing this work boosted people’s well-being and brought wider understanding,sharing the “invisible heritage” of excluded people. But most of all — we prioritised delight.
Marking history and heritage. In October 2021 A BOOK OF OURS went on exhibition for 6 months at Manchester Cathedral — this was an illuminated manuscript handmade by over 150 people affected by homelessness. The manuscript joins the John Rylands Library permanent collection of illuminated manuscripts in 2022. This is one of a decade-long series of groundbreaking arthur+martha books, quilts and other works that mark homeless heritage, a previously undocumented area of culture and social history.
Combatting isolation and exclusion. During the Covid pandemic, Davenport and Matt Hill ran hundreds of hours of one-to-one poetry/songwriting workshops over the phone, while Blackburn brought together diverse communities from many walks of life to make quilts, using the postal network and phones. The various projects Whisper To Me Alone, Here Comes the Sun and many pieces for Necklace of Stars were written and stitched during this difficult time, bringing together isolated people from many backgrounds in a wide community of making.
“In the past, I hit the bottom and I’ve tried to kill myself. This time I’m able to observe it, I am at the same time inside and outside it. I’m riding the Tsunami. This conversation, what we doing now, is an anchor even though most of my anchors have gone. Even though I’m at my wits end I have taken this call from you.” Anastasia
2018-20. War Widows’ Stories remembers the lives of war’s forgotten women through art, poetry, oral history, academic research and public events.
2018. Moving Panorama, a collaboration with people affected by homelessness combining visual art and song to create a scrolling panorama of radical history. The first a+m collaboration with musician Matt Hill, resulting in a song cycle.
2018. the warm /&/the cold poetry and art collection — publication interweaving the poems and artworks of older people, people affected by homelessness and young offenders into an epic many-voiced visual poem.
2017. Armour, reflections on self-protection described in words and stitches. A collaboration with veterans and people with experience of homelessness.
2015-17. Sing Me To Sleep. An international collaboration with people who’ve experienced homelessness. Fairytale recordings and quilt, exhibited in Lithuania and the UK in what was (to date) the largest single exhibition of art by people with experience of homelessness.
2014-17. Stitching the Wars. A 2-year collaboration with older people describing their wartime and inter-war experiences through quilts and poetry.
2014-17. The Homeless Library, the first-ever history of British homelessness. Told through handmade books, poems, interviews and artworks. Debuted at the House of Parliament.
2012-13. Spaghetti Maze; life stories for people living with dementia, told through poetry and art.
2012. the warm /&/the cold –people affected by homelessness made a quilt stitched with answers to the questions: when were you warm/when were you cold? This was the first a+m project to centre around a quilt stitched with poetry; some work from this project featured in the the later publication of the same name.
2012. Salford. Dementia Cafe. Complementing a PCT research project, we worked at a Dementia Cafe; people made poems and artwork to reflect their lived experience of dementia.
2011. A Map of You. First a+m collaboration with the homeless community, at The Booth Centre. People experiencing homelessness in Manchester wrote themselves into the public eye, customising tourist postcards to include their stories. Artworks displayed on public screens to estimated audiences of 1 million plus.
2011. “When the Saints.” Four Acre, St Helens. Embroideries and poetry were made by older people in an economically-deprived area, telling stories of their childhoods.
2009-12. Patience. A book of art and poetry describing the emotional journey through illness, as experienced by older people in hospital. Also features interviews with healthcare professionals.
2007-09. Kindness. Holocaust survivors and older Jewish people devised short poetic animations, screened on information displays at Piccadilly Railway Station and on BBC public screens.