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  • 2021WardPhD

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‘Setting the Scene’: A More-Than-Representational, Participatory Action Study Exploring the Wellbeing Benefits of Participatory Arts for People Living with Dementia and their Carers

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date12/2021
Number of pages383
Awarding Institution
Thesis sponsors
  • Theatre by the Lake
Award date10/09/2021
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Community-based participatory arts are being increasingly promoted for the wellbeing of people living with dementia and their carers. Yet, there remains variability in the arts-based programmes available, inconsistencies in how they are evaluated, and ambiguity around wellbeing definitions. Moreover, the voices of people with dementia are lacking in the research process. This ESRC-funded CASE project collaborated with Theatre by the Lake, Cumbria, to examine the effectiveness of their ‘Setting the Scene’ participatory multi-arts programme. The project involved a participatory action research (PAR) and sensory ethnography design, with qualitative and visual multi-methods. An ‘in the moment’ theoretical lens was developed by integrating more-than-representational theory, therapeutic landscapes and relational wellbeing concepts. Four resulting empirical chapters illustrate how people with dementia and carers contributed to, and were benefited by, Setting the Scene’s arts, objects, people and landscapes. The first chapter explores person-centred, ‘in the moment’ and strength-based engagements, elicited by the programme’s multi-arts, multi-modal, and thematic design. The following chapter examines the plurality of communication and participation in art-making through more-than-verbal, more-than-human tenets. The final two chapters examine the nuances of therapeutic landscapes and acts of caring within the programme, respectively. Overall, this thesis considers participatory multi-arts for enabling socio-spatial-material therapeutic encounters through emergent, non-judgemental, creative landscapes. Setting the Scene is understood as producing important ‘in the moment’ relational wellbeing benefits for people impacted by dementia, alongside the joint respite potential for carers. New contributions are made to a more-than-verbal reconceptualization of ‘voice’ to support the inclusivity of people with dementia in research and practice. Through novel integration of ‘more-than’ theories and methods so far lacking in dementia research, this thesis demonstrates how people with dementia can be acknowledged as ‘more than’ their symptoms through the arts; being recognised for enduring skills, narratives and authenticities that contribute to ‘being’ and ‘doing’ well.