Art and Recovery Advocacy (Bill White, Alastair Roy, and Mark Prest)


Successful social movements permeate key areas of cultural life, as is evidenced by the pervasive and enduring influence of the civil rights, womens, disability, and LGBT rights movements in the United States. The new recovery advocacy movement has similarly sought to extend its influence beyond social policy, addiction treatment, and recovery support service arenas. Like movements that came before, the recovery advocacy movement is forging recovery landscapes within local communities and finding creative ways to influence public and professional conceptions of addiction and recovery. Recovery advocacy efforts both in the U.S. and internationally are increasingly evident within the cultural spheres of medicine, government, law, religion, and education, as well as in music, television, film, theatre, art, and sports. (See HERE, HERE, and HERE for examples of the latter in the U.S.)

In 2011, curator Mark Prest, as a direct response to his own addiction and recovery experiences and his background in the arts, founded a UK-based, international visual arts and education charity Portraits of Recovery (PORe) that supports people and communities affected by and in recovery from addiction by working with contemporary art and artists. Here's how PORe describes itself and its mission:

PORe believes that arts and culture can be transformational in and of themselves. Its vision and intent is to improve the lives of people and communities in recovery by increasing access to cultural opportunity. A central aim is to facilitate contribution to an emergent cultural identity. Portraits of Recovery's public facing programme supports voice, choice and control over representation as presented through lived experience of addiction and recovery that present recovering people as social assets with strategies for new living, beyond current cliched representation.

A sampling of PORe projects can be reviewed by clicking HERE.

In 2014, Alastair Roy and Mark Prest penned a landmark chapter on the use of art in recovery representation and recovery advocacy. Here is a sampling of their central thesis.

Our argument is that the arts can be a key component of individual and collective resistance, and that meaningful artistic and cultural production around addiction and recovery can make recovery communities and recovery itself more visible, transparent, and better understood. The involvement of those with substance misuse issues in meaningful cultural production allows them to realize control over this representation which challenges existing societal perceptions, reduces stigma, and can help to support the development of a cultural identity for the recovery community and a sense of cultural citizenship for its members. (Roy & Prest, 2014).

In the paper, Roy and Prest make the case that groups such as LGBT, people of color, women, and people with disabilities have had to struggle for a voice in the world, and that the transformative power of cultural production has often and positively contributed to finding and exercising this voice. The authors view this history as especially relevant to the context of recovery. In this regard, citizenship in recovery is not just about the acquisition of rights. Many people in recovery from substance use disorders actually have rights in a formal sense. It is more broadly about identifying and contesting ideas and assumptions about "out" groups. They are particularly interested in the relationships between people affected by substance use, the arts, and the wider society; that is, in the relational components of recovery. Recovery from chronic drug dependence is often difficult, but when combined with discrimination, social exclusion and stigma, and further exacerbated by austerity measures, people with dependency issues may feel they are neither welcome, nor accepted as citizens. This may make the process of recovery feel insurmountable, perpetuating a sense of personal isolation and social exclusion (Lloyd, 2013). The prevailing intrapersonal focus of the care models in treatment services can exacerbate these issues, often neglecting 'system level processes and thelarger physical and relational worlds in which individual recovery efforts succeed or fail.' (White, 2009, p. 146). Roy and Prest draw on a question posed by Stephen Frosh:

How does one imagine oneself in connection with a community, a culture or a nation.What is it that allows one to feel part of a social order, able to take upcitizenship. neither excluded nor excluding oneself To be a citizen, one not only needs to formally belong somewhere; one has to feel that this belonging is real. (Frosh, 2001, p.62).

Responding to Stephen Frosh's question, they introduce the idea that when relationships to the wider world become fractured they have to be re-imagined in order for them to be reconfigured. Exploring recovery as a transformative social process that re-configures identity is the foundation of PORe's work. So, for example, PORe's work addresses the very real effects that the negative climate of opinion associated with excessive drug use has on people's lives and the ways in which it becomes internalized (often as shame), inhibiting people's recovery journeys.

One particular value of the arts is that it provides an alternative communicative form. cultural dialogue that offers up new visual perspectives on substance use, addiction, and recovery that helps people reconfigure their own felt experiences and reimagine their connections to the wider world. At their very best, socially engaged arts can also expose negative climates of opinion without shaming those who hold such views, while triggeringcultural giving people fresh visual images, ideas, and experiences.

The history of disability, sexuality, race, and gender have all been substantially altered by the activities of political and cultural formations outside of the mainstream political parties (Stevenson 2001)--histories which communicate the ways in which diverse groups have had to labour and fight for a voice in the world (Turner, 2001). In this context, contestation over representation and terminology reflects that each is a political resource that can be used by dominant and subordinate groups for the purposes of legitimizing and furthering their own social identities and interests (Solomos & Back, 1995).

In the UK, the link to civil rights is particularly important, because, in a prolonged period of austerity, the government's notion of recovery appears too focused upon cost cutting, abstinence and responsibilisation, rather than rehabilitation, social reintegration, and developing the pathway to full citizenship (Roy & Buchanan, 2016). As Roy and Prest see it, there is need for a new social movement and a more inclusive dialogue allied to the arts that harness social change and emancipation by reframing recovery community cultural identities beyond the current state of clich. representation. Some of what Roy and Prest suggest as representatively emergent of such a movement is at play in WONDERLAND--a new film by Dr Amanda Ravetz as generated out of a recent PORe and Manchester School of Art, co-produced arts research project.

There is growing awareness within recovery community organizations that a recovery movement allied to the arts can be a powerful fulcrum for social change and an equally powerful tool in the personal and collective reconstruction of identity within the recovery process. Art is just one of many potential media through which the latent creativities of the recovery community may be channeled for advocacy and community service. What developed or undeveloped talents do you have that might serve such purposes.


Frosh, S. (2001), Psychoanalysis, identity and citizenship. In N. Stevenson, Ed., Culture and citizenship, London: Sage.

Roy, A., & Buchanan, J. (2016). The paradoxes of recovery policy: Exploring the impact of austerity and responsibilisation for the citizenship claims of people with drug problems. Social Policy & Administration, 59(3), 398-413.

Roy, A., & Prest, M. (2014). Culture change: Art, addiction and the recovery agenda. In J. Reynolds and Z. Zontou, eds., Addiction and performance. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN: 9781443860659, 4-10.

Solomos, J, & Back, L. (1995). Race, politics, and social change. New York: Routledge.

Stevenson, N. (2001). Cultural citizenship: an introduction, in N. Stevenson, Culture and citizenship. London: Sage. 1-10.

Turner, B. S. (2001). Outline of a general theory of cultural citizenship, In N. Stevenson, Ed., Culture and citizenship. London: Sage. 11-32.

White, W. (2009). The mobilization of community resources to support long-term addiction recovery. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 36, 146-58.