East London Health Project 1978 - 1981
In 1978 the East London Trades Councils wanted to disseminate information about health issues to the local population in light of the cuts being made to the National Health Service. They had a small amount of funding remaining from some recent campaigning, which they had originally intended to use for the production of leaflets. Tower Hamlets Trades Council representative Dan Jones was an experienced campaigner and artist in his own right, who understood there to be a role for art in social change. Having seen the work that artists Peter Dunn and Loraine Leeson had created for the recent campaign to save Bethnal Green Hospital (and indeed as the instigator of this), he felt that the artists had shown sufficient commitment and political understanding to take the risk of developing a new, visual approach to the broader campaigning.
Dan instigated a small steering committee including Jim Grayson, representing the Newham Trades Council, and Myra Garrett from the Tower Hamlets Health Campaign. The artists worked with this steering committee to determine the visual form most suited to its potential audience, and came up with the idea of the 'visual pamphlet'. These would be in poster format, but containing more information, and be used for display in doctors' surgeries and other health venues where people might find themselves waiting. This steering group provided an important learning experience for the artists. The role of each member was to share their specialist knowledge. The committee did not attempt to make aesthetic judgements, nor did the artists assume expertise in the issues. The visuals that emanated from the meetings were discussed in terms of the effectiveness with which they were conveying meanings, rather than in terms of appearance. This approach to collaboration proved highly successful in the way it resulted in a 'multiplication' of skills and experience, and through the creative energy it generated. It was the opposite of the 'design by committee' criticism often directed at collectively produced artwork of the time, and provided the structural foundations for the artists' subsequent practice.
Eight different posters were produced over the two years of the project. These were widely distributed within the health sector, and also intervened in the art world through inclusion in such exhibitions as ' Issue - Social Strategies by Women Artists ' in 1980, curated by Lucy Lippard for the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.