Feeling good

Posted By Richard Russell on 06 November 2015

Richard Russell, our Director for Policy and Research, blogs about how our Research Grants Programme is demonstrating the value of arts and culture for our nation’s health and wellbeing. 

A female nurse views textile artwork on the wall of a hospital corridor.
Culture Shots: taking museum objects into our hospitals. Photo © Manchester Museum, University of Manchester / Andy Ford and the Whitworth Art Gallery

There is increasing recognition that people’s health and wellbeing is influenced by a range of interconnecting factors. Indeed, the World Health Organisation suggested over 50 years ago that health is a complete state of physical, mental and social wellbeing, not merely an absence of disease or infirmity.

This definition acknowledges that good health and wellbeing are reliant on all kinds of factors, not just physical, but also psychological and social.

At the Arts Council, we believe that experiencing arts and culture can transform the quality of life for individuals and communities. There is already a body of evidence that suggests a strong case for the effectiveness of arts interventions in healthcare and general wellbeing, but we felt that more rigorous research could be done.

Two ladies sat outside on a picnic table laugh with each other as they read books
Participants at Arvon Centers. Photo © Arvon

We set up a £2.5 million Research Grants Programme earlier this year. Our aim was to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the impact of arts and culture.

In Round 1 of the programme, we’ve funded eight research partnerships across England, to explore the value of arts and culture from a diverse range of perspectives and disciplines.

Several of these explored the impact of the arts on health and wellbeing – here are just a few examples:

  • Plymouth Music Zone’s project focusing on the impact of music-making with those whose communication is non-verbal, such as people affected by dementia, or those who are on the autistic spectrum, working with researchers at Plymouth University.

And beyond our Research Grants Programme, we’re also busy developing partnerships with central and local government and across the cultural sector. We’re keen to understand the effect of engagement in arts and culture on the whole population, as well as on specific groups.

Baby plays xylophone with father at event in Plymouth Music Zone
Plymouth Music Zone participants making music. Photo © Plymouth Music Zone / Kevin Clifford

University College London’s recently published Social Prescribing Review, which will inform further research into Museums on Prescription, is very timely, given the changes and economic challenges that both the arts and health sectors are facing, including changes to the Health and Social Care Act.

Through the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, we are working with the Economic and Social Research Council and Public Health England to better understand what national and local government, along with voluntary and business partners, can do to increase wellbeing.

In 2013, we set up a Cultural Commissioning Programme led by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, to help arts organisations, museums and libraries develop skills and capacity to engage in cultural commissioning.  It focuses on key strands of work, such as mental health and older people, and has already collated a range of resources for those wanting to work with arts and cultural providers, such as local authorities and the National Health Service (NHS).

And, as part of our Creative People and Places programme, we are focusing our development work on areas of the country, and specific groups who we know engage less in arts and culture than the average. People over the age of 75 typically have less opportunity to access the arts, which is why we set up a partnership with the Baring Foundation to support older people in care homes to enjoy arts and culture activities.

Through these initiatives, we want to recognise and celebrate the wide range of arts and culture interventions in a variety of healthcare settings and in everyday life. For decades now, artists, arts organisations and museums have been doing just this, enabling people to access the arts and culture helping them to improve the quality of their lives by providing rich and meaningful arts and cultural experiences. We think that, working in partnership, the Arts Council can achieve its mission to get great art and culture to everyone.

Women with pineapple hats stand on tables whilst people eat their dinner
Turbine Festival 2015. Photo © Tate / Diana Agunbiade-Kolawole

This blog post was adapted from Richard’s speech at last week’s ‘Everyone an Artist?’ symposium at De La Warr Pavillion. Find out more about the symposium here

Find out more

Find out more about our Research Grants Programme – Round 2 is expected to open in 2016.

Take a look at more on the topic of how arts and culture contribute to society, over in our Create journal.

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