Creating a Dementia Utopia

Dementia and Imagination are holding three events as part of the Utopia 2016 festival, during April and May.


There is an inherent tension in the idea of a Dementia Utopia that we hope our events will explore: if we consider Utopia as an ideal then the Dementia Utopia is ultimately doomed, as we would inevitably imagine a place without illness. Whilst for many dementia is a debilitating and awful condition, there are stories of people finding their voice and ability to laugh, experiencing new activities and achieving things they might not have gone on to do before. If we take our version of reality, where Dementia is an everyday reality for approximately 850’000 people in the UK, we began to wonder how we might support people to be as independent as possible and to participate in the communities within which they live. This might include technologies to make people’s lives easier, changing attitudes towards the condition, and helping to foster connections.

The first of our three local events was titled Dementia Utopia: a creative exploration imagining our Dementia Supportive Communities and brought together year 5 and 6 school children to collaborate in art making with people living with dementia in North Wales. The school children took part in dementia friend’s awareness sessions before the workshops so that they could learn more about the condition.

Two half day workshops on Thursday 14th April and Monday 25th April took place in two different community venues: Ty Newydd in the coastal town of Rhyl and in the rural town of Ruthin at the Ruthin Craft Centre



Artist Lisa Carter helped to shape the creation of an installation called ‘Eloquent Brain, Utopian Connected Communities’, which is a collaborative interactive drawing consisting of drawings on envelopes, blank envelopes, wedges and floorboards. The work is monochromatic and changes and grows as people alter the composition or add their own envelope drawings to either the ‘filing’ along the right hand side of the work or the gaps in the floorboard.

The two groups brought together in the workshops took part in collaborative drawing with gentle prompts to respond to the idea of what a dementia utopia might be and might look like. The only instruction was that they couldn’t use words but should draw instead. We thought about the idea of Utopia as a no-place which then enables complete freedom to imagine anything which led us to ask: ‘What colours, textures, sights and sounds would you like to see and hear in this place?’, ‘What are your dreams and what do you believe in?, ‘what does feeling old feel like?’ and ‘what is a connected community?’, ‘do you feel connected?’

The sessions were lively and fun, as they created a growing canvas of images of their ideals for a Dementia Utopia. We also asked the groups to respond at the end of the session to two prompts: ‘Dementia is…’ and ‘Art can…’. A lot of discussion centred on dementia is ‘a nuisance’ ‘a pain in the arse’ wrote one of the adult group members, but sensing that art could help provide a space to get away from it for a while, to meet new people, and have a try at something new. As one person wrote, art can ‘keep the imagination flowing’.

Both workshops were recorded by a filmmaker and that piece of work is now being edited ready to show at Somerset House in June as part of a Dementia Utopia Café, where people can try out a menu of arts activities and have a go at something new, contributing to our growing ideas on dementia, utopia and what it might mean for our communities.


eloquent brain 1

#jazzutopia: versions thereof, at the Rhythm Changes conference in April ’16

‘The only jazz utopias we can know are the ones we have lost’—Krin Gabbard

‘More’s Utopia rests on an underclass, which resonates with jazz history, slavery…’—Alyn Shipton

At the wonderfully rich and varied (as well layered, nuanced and intermittently Guelphian) 4th Rhythm Changes international conference in jazz in Birmingham a number of different versions and glimpses of what might be thought of as the idea or problem of utopia in relation to jazz have been offered. Here are ones I heard or thought of from the four brilliant days. Others that you heard/spoke/glimpsed/played? There must be. Please do contribute! Together they give a sense of how utopian thinking can inform jazz studies, perhaps of the limits of utopian thinking, perhaps of the limits of utopian thinking in jazz and musicology.

  • Space of jazz (especially in repressive regimes)—for instance, jazz happening in underground clubs, multiracial spaces in racist societies, jazz dance floor as site of pleasure and freedom. Also jazz and festivals, and the utopian possibility of transformation at festival.
  • Jazz challenges in its early days: the music’s reception in the early 20th century in for example European countries to national categories of identity and national (cultural) institutions. Jazz changed what it meant to be German, French, British, say.
  • Jazz as diasporic cultural practice and its relation to utopia (utopia = no place = transit culture, rooted in initially Atlantic middle passage). Also other later nomadic narratives.
  • Related social cultural practices and metaphors of sociality (food, dancing, though I didn’t hear much about sex, which I thought strange).
  • Jazz as music for social justice—the radical as well as liberal politics of the music. From civil rights to Breathless, as well as the music’s place in activism in countries outside the US.
  • Jazz as transnational music, exploring and making dialogue between and across nations.
  • Jazz and childhood: innocence (?), playfulness (we saw merry-go-rounds and swings at jazz festivals–yes, jazz swings!), toy pianos.
  • Utopia not as perfect but as imperfect: flaunted imperfection of (instrumental) technique in some musics (some free improvisation, some trad jazz).
  • Jazz as dystopian sound: one early reviewer described it as possessing ‘the buzzing rattle of a machine gun, only not so musical’.
  • Utopian strands in the music itself? Something utopian in the sounds themselves, the dialogic process of the bandstand, the collective, and in the (live) music’s improvisational impermanence.
  • & magic? Black magic?

And I thought of this too: what about the conference itself as a utopian intellectual (social, cultural) compressed time-space—we here at Rhythm Changes are in a ‘good place’ for jazz research, one we thought up (dreamed) then made with you over the past 6-7 years. (OK, I am writing this at the very end of the conference so am both bleary-eyed and wearing rose-tinted glasses: such a view needs qualifying by reminding ourselves that utopia is also functionally exclusive; we need to acknowledge the event’s dominant whiteness and the notable male presence of delegates.)

Some jazz utopianists in a, er, Northern Soul club in Digbeth, Birmingham, one late conference evening

Some jazz utopianists in a, er, Northern Soul club in Digbeth, Birmingham, one late conference evening


Welcome to the Utopia 500 blog, where we will document the activities that take place as part of our 2016 Connected Communities Event Programme.