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Vale Mike White

18 July 2015

Vale Mike White from Helen Zigmond

I met Mike White some years ago when he came, after our initial meeting, to my house to talk of his work, of the Fellowship research into the health effects of arts engagement and the changes that the arts engender across generations within complex and diverse communities. It was the beginning of a stimulating and inspirational conversation that spanned over some years.

He analysed the practice, listened to the stories, and extrapolated in a way no-one else had achieved before – an understanding of process which many of us had been doing intuitively. Mike understood that he could contribute significantly to a body of evidence of the arts and health sector, seen in his benchmark book Arts Development in Community Health – A Social Tonic.

The integrity of research and his thoughtful and deep belief that the sector should be inclusive in practice, gave validity to arts in community health settings & provided the balance to the seemingly medical/hospital orientation of resources.

For those of us who practised community arts in the UK in 70’s,we understood that health is a political entity, which demanded due attention. Mike White’s contribution was that he brought an insightful and professional framing to our practice. He will be sadly missed.

 

Vale Mike White from Dr Claire Hooker

I knew Mike White as a result of the close connection between the recently formed Wellcome Centre for the Medical Humanities at Durham University (CMH) and the Medical Humanities program at the University of Sydney, of which I was Coordinator. Mike was a big part of what gave CMH a living heartbeat, its dynamism and its distinctiveness. A down-dressed community theatre man amid the PhDs and MDs, Mike was the very embodiment of rigorous and critical thinking, all the more compelling for being stripped of the usual trappings of academic success. In the old phrase (meaningful from his part of the world), ‘he never spoke but he said something’. Mike was often self effacing but his commentary, when made, was incisive and pulled no punches. This made his warmth and supportive enthusiasm for the projects of others all the more meaningful. He was one of those rare special people that you always want to have at a conference: a true participant, generous with his attention to the interests and endeavours of others, and a fomenter of great discussion – an unusual conference skill – by his combination of clear analysis and vision of creative possibilities, and so broad in his knowledge and understanding that he can bring synthesis, context and coherence across different projects and endeavours.

I’m sad about Mike’s death for many reasons but one of them is that he represented the best values of his generation, now increasingly lost: the rich, well educated humanism that infused his discussion and perspectives in ways that never failed to enlarge one’s own; the clear moral and political commitments that led to firm, quiet and unstinting practical work on the part of those less fortunate, and the application of that experience to reject spin and sound bytes in all their superficial forms; the modelling of an integrity that rejected any external trappings of success and refocused attention on knowledge and practices for their own merits; the capacity to combine finely honed critical thinking while rejecting the shallowness of instrumentalised consumption of creative resources for reductively teleological ends. Mike is a symbol to me of traditions I want to honour and recreate for others, and I hope I live up to his standards in even phrasing this paragraph.

Mike opened the world and potentials of arts and health to so many people. A taste of what that created can be found in his posts on the CMH blog – the critical side in his rubbishing of Alain de Botton’s consumerist approach to art as therapy, the depths that not only creativity, but analytic education, bring to life in his too-few writings on his own cancer journey, Chalkie’s Demon Diary. On a professional level I miss him and acutely wish he were still here, and my thoughts are with those colleagues and friends to whom he was much closer and so beloved.

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