Sex, Cancer and Art Textile Activism – Empowering Patients and Challenging Health Professionals

This is a curation written by Colette Dobson, Visiting Research Fellow and associate member of the C3 Centre here at Staffordshire University. It starts where her REF2021 case study ended (, continuing her narrative until her work today, in 2023.

REF 2021 Impact Case Study: Sex, Cancer and Art Textile Activism: Empowering Patients and Challenging Health Professionals (

Sexual and relationship problems are common following cancer treatments. Considering our research and the wider evidence base, patients express feelings of guilt and disempowerment and are unable to raise the subject. It is often seen as a taboo and less important in the context of the wider treatment programme. Health professionals report feeling anxious and inadequately skilled to handle questions on sexuality and relationships. For both groups, this leads to poor assessment and treatment, impacting on patients’ broader long-term wellbeing. Dobson developed a novel approach of using design activism to allow these marginalised issues to be discussed and addressed.

Since 2000, Dobson has worked on the restricted communication of women resulting from conformity to religious and social expectation. Her research engages new modes of art textile activism. This took on a new dimension in 2012, with her role as Lead Artistic Researcher in a collaborative NHS project, Sexuality and Cancer (with psychosexual consultant Dr Josie Butcher, Cheshire Wirral Partnership (CWP) NHS Trust, as Principal Investigator). Sexuality and Cancer uses design activism to explore questions around sexuality and relationships following cancer treatment. It engages directly with both patients and health professionals to understand their perspectives and ensure their diverse needs are met. This novel and highly collaborative approach empowers patients to use art and new forms of artistic expression as an alternative language to express and communicate feelings of emotional and physical trauma using visual metaphors. It focuses on the concepts of damage and repair, asking ‘at what stage does change become damage and what is the nature of repair?’ For health professionals, this challenging approach confronts them with a form of communication that is unfamiliar and hard to understand. It purposefully replicates a sense of the patient’s perspective in dealing with medical issues.

This was central to her REF2021 case study, available from

Communication was central to Colette Dobson’s   REF  impact case study  Sex, Cancer and Art Textile Activism. Empowering patients and challenging health professionals.  Now after completing 2 years of her Visiting Research Fellowship she is presenting the first of 3 projects made in collaboration with Catherine Dineley technical specialist in lens based media. 

Communication remains at the core of the current research  which responds to the findings

“Most Britons cannot name all the parts of the vulva” Linda Geddes 2021

In fact 91% of patients at  urogynaecology clinics at a Manchester teaching hospital  were unable to label the diagram of the 7 parts of externalfemale genitalia.

 This causes  problems in consent for procedures, difficulties in conversations with GP’s  and confusion to the nature of medical problems. The researchers stated a need for more education.

Alongside the need for improved education on women’s  health there are multi million pound advertising campaigns, promoting  products for cleaning freshening and rebalancing your vagina which actually harm the natural balance of the vagina, causing potential harm and infections. Social media and celebrities promote procedures – vaginal steaming which damage the natural flora  to vaginal gummies that promote a better tasting vagina with no clinical proof, all sending messages the vagina is unacceptable without improvement, and can create poor body image.

Research has led to a  project “Your Vagina is a Garden keep it Blooming”.

Garments have been constructed with similar diagrams of the vulva used by the researchers, printed onto bright coloured surfaces surrounded by flowers and gardens and presented through Catherine Dineley’s beautiful photographs,  creating a visually rich series of images a celebration and conversation opener.


Note: Any staff interested in collaborating with Colette in developing this work towards an impact case study would be welcome to discuss its potential with Jackie Reynolds.

Getting into Culture 3.0: cultural engagement, place-making and co-creation

This is a curation written by Carola Boehm, Professor of Arts and Higher Education at Staffordshire University. She is the co-lead of the C3 Centre for Creative Industries and Creative Communities, and is co-chair of Stoke Creates, the regional Cultural Compact. She has led large-scale Europen-wide research projects and in this curation writes about her area of research: Culture 3.0:

I seem to be increasingly known as the person that researches Culture 3.0. It has become a buzzword, but I did not coin this concept.

So in this curated exploration of my current area of research, I would like to explore how I got here and provide links to short explainers to the concept as I go along. Although my most well known work is still in the area of music technology, I currently research more often in and around the thematic field of cultural policy, making use of conceptual frameworks that allow us to understand more impactful ways of making all of our lives more creative.

For my work, I heavily rely on a cultural giant; I use the critical frameworks of Luigi Sacco, who developed the Culture 3.0 concept.

My own slide explaining Culture 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 in a local and international context

This concept, which I originally encountered through a talk Sacco gave back in 2010, made immediate sense to me. I could see the power of this concept for shifting our understanding of how we culturally engage and what the implications of this are for public, cultural policy.

Back in 2012, in order to explore this in my own academic practice contexts, I organised  a first  public discussion panel that would specifically explore the relevance of this Culture 3.0 concept to a university-housed Arts Council co-funded Arts Centre.

I was Head of Contemporary Arts at MMU’s Cheshire Campus at the time, also chairing the departmental-based, ACE-co-funded Axis Arts Centre. The Department and its ca 40 members of staff engaged in learning, teaching and research across the disciplines of Dance, Drama, Theatre, Music, Creative Writing, and socially engaged Community Practices. The Axis Arts Centre provided a publicly funded programme of performance work in South Cheshire. 

The centenary celebrations of MMU Cheshire in June 2012 allowed my Department of Contemporary Arts the opportunity to engage in public discussions on a variety of issues relating to the contemporary arts, including how we ensure that the Axis Arts Centre continues to grow its impact for our learners, for our staff as well as our surrounding public at large.

MMU’s Axis Arts Centre Promotional Photos 2013

So debating issues around policy and strategy with key academics that were researching, and that were in practice, engaged in the running and curation of arts practices as part of the centre, was important for us as an academic community.

MMU’s Axis Arts Centre Panel Discussion in 2011: Arts and the Academy (from left to right: Gavin Carver, Neil MacKenzie, Carola Boehm, Jane Linden, Jodie Gibson and Ornette Clennon.

The idea of this discussion panel was to explore how small-scale arts centres can become more impactful, enagage more communities, and become more diverse. We actually “toured” this panel discussion all the way from Austria, where we were part of a conference on the impact of art centres, to Scotland, as part of 2014’s annual ELIA conference (European League of Institutes of Arts). A written up script of one of these three panel discussions can be found here:

BOEHM, Carola, Linden, J, Gibson, J, Carver, G, Clennon, O and Mackenzie, N (2014) Community, Identity and Locality: Sustainability & impact of university-housed, small-scale arts centres. A panel discussion. European League of Institutes of Arts (ELIA)Glasgow.

The three panel discussions allowed us to carve some space for some deep thinking for applying as centre policy of our arts centre. In this process, the public panel discussion transcript represented the debates from its various perspectives, leading and simultaneously guiding us towards reconceptualising a more dynamic model on which to build the Centre’s sustainability, identity, and be able to maximise impact.

From these debates came various strategic decisions, the insights from these debates influenced institutional policy in regards to the Arts Centre’s future direction. Our Arts Centre Director, Jodie Gibson, expanded the offer to accommodate more touring work itself, incorporating community co-curated settings for work that came through the Axis Centre. Our Artistic Director, Neil MacKenzie, wrote in his own research about the process of artistic curation, itself, and our Practice-as-Research Curator, Jane Linden, published a PhD thesis on just this topic.

My own academic expression came in form of an academic article that attempted to lat the groundwork on my perspective of Culture 3.0 and its implications for cultural policy for arts organizations.

BOEHM, Carola (2016) Academia in Culture 3.0: a Crime story of Death and Rebirth (but also of Curation, Innovation and Sector Mash-ups). REPERTÓRIO: Teatro & Dança, 19 (27). pp. 37-48. ISSN 2175-8131

Our MMU Cheshire campus was sadly closed down in 2019, and the above article not only allowed an exploration of a line of enquiry around the questions on how we culturally engage, but also a documentation of how we worked in that era in that department and within this academic and creative community. A moment frozen in time, but one that undoubtedly influenced all that took part in those initial round-table debates.

Arriving at Staffordshire University, my work continued to explore what Culture 3.0 meant for the diversity conundrum. In the latter half of the 2010s, the arts communities were soul-searching on why most of our cultural provision attracted mostly white audiences. Reports were published scrutinising this conundrum, and books, such as “Culture is bad for you” (by Orian Brook, Dave O’Brien and Mark Taylor) laid the lack of diversity out in tables for all to see.

But most of these discourses did not sufficiently attend to an essential and basic aspect of what they were actually counting. The predominant definition of what art is worthy of being counted, of having tickets, of how marketable cultural engagements might distort the picture of cultural engagement, how marketed system of licenses, sales and IP allowed us not to see that this was a matter of definition of eligibility of data sets, rather than a matter of lack of diversity for cultural engagement.

So I gave a talk on just this issue.

Traveling to Finland and Denmark, as part of an International Leverhulme Fellowship, I explored the impact of art schools for our creative and cultural cities. Spending time there, I started to do what I called “Culture30 Walks”: walking to work I would count the number of cultural engagements I had just in a time span of 15 minutes, and document findings immediately on a twitter thread.

Culture30 Walks

The twitter thread of 34 different tweets and more than 50 images documenting my #Culture30walk walks are still up on Twitter, and doing these walks in different cities allows me to have a quick snapshot of the everyday creativity that a city has been able to embed in its cityscape. Thus Culture 3.0 becomes a key instrument to make more impactful culture-led regeneration, or place-making and place shaping.

Click on the twitter image below to open up the whole Twitter Thread of the curated documentation of my Culture30 walk.

The work increasingly demonstrated its relevance to place-making related strategies and policies, and in 2019 we used the Culture 3.0 concepts to underpin our ACE-funded Placemaking and Co-Creation  Leadership Programme, called Create Place. (

My research in and around Culture 2.0 is ongoing, but if one wants to end on a key milestone in my journey around exploring how Culture 3.0 concepts can impact agendas around diversity, inclusion, placemaking and co-creation, than a great place to look is my recently published book from 2022.

BOEHM, Carola (2022) Arts and Academia: The Role of the Arts in Civic Universities. Great Debates in Higher Education . Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley. ISBN 978-1-83867-730-5

Particularly the third chapter is a great little explainer on all things Culture 3.0, and much of my thinking and work has found its way into the one or other chapter of this book.

It is freely available as a pdf from above website, albeit in its pre-copy-edited version.


Carola Boehm, July 2023.

Curations: How to Embed using our Media Template

Below are some examples of how to embed different media files, in order to develop curated pages for the C3 Centre Showcase.

1) YouTube Playlist Template: Using link from the playlist and embed in word press. Copy and Paste URL using Embedly plugin.

… or just one video

2) Image Gallery using Easy Image Gallery – Add easy image gallery and then insert images as needed.

… or just one image.

3) Podcast List using Podcast Player embedded – Copy and Paste URL using Embedly.

Episode 5 – Interview with Catherine Gough-Brady Taming Your Inner Artist's podcast

Today we talk to the fabulous Cathering Gough-Brady as we delve into moving from industry to academia, standing up for yourself and ever so slightly bending the rules.To find out more about Catherine – – Link to Filming the Non-Human lecture from Catherine Gough-Brady as a part of the Rebellious Research seminarAs ever to cite:Coleclough, Sharon; Lulkowska, Agata (2023). Episode 5 – Interview with Catherine Gough-Brady. figshare. Media. to Dr David Revill for allowing us to use the composition HariHara which is heard at the start and close of the podcastZane Forshee for allowing us to use his wonderful rendition of David's piece. Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
  1. Episode 5 – Interview with Catherine Gough-Brady
  2. Episode 4 – Interview with Neil Fox
  3. Episode 3 – We're a Baaaaaad Influence
  4. Episode 2 – Rob Marsden Interview
  5. Why the Hell Did We Call this Podcast Taming Your Inner Artist?