arts and health Churchill Fellowships

TAIKE 2: Simplicity at Finland Institute, Paris

The current exhibition at the Finland Institute in Paris allows visitors the unique experience of a night’s stay in a Finnish-styled Airbnb. KOTI, which runs until May 6th, invites guests to stay in their own wooden hut, built inside the Institute. Containing stylish double or bunk beds and smelling of fresh timber, the ode to simplicity and calm reminded me of a brilliant and simple concept imported from Finland – the Baby Box.

Recently introduced in the UK and some US states, these boxes contain a ‘starter kit’ for newborns including clothing, bedding, toys and books, and act as a cot. It’s a tradition that dates back to the 1930s designed to give all children in Finland, no matter their background, an equal start in life. Some say it helped Finland achieve one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates.

The successes of Finland in terms of education, crime and social policy are among the key reasons I will travel to Finland for the first part of my Churchill Fellowship.

In 2015, Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt completed a review asking: is there a relationship between engaging in the arts and long-term health benefits, and, if so, can we find evidence of it?

Gordon Nesbitt

To answer this question her scoping exercise revealed 15 studies that are summarised in the report. Further to that, Rebecca also considered, who has been seeking this evidence? She found that the Nordic countries – specifically Finland, Norway and Sweden – have strategically been seeking to record evidence of the long-term relationship between arts engagement and health during the past 30 years. However, in the UK, no such long-term studies are available to deliver us this evidence – because we have not been looking for it.
The multiple mechanisms that might explain the links between the arts and health are explored in Rebecca’s report, in terms of social and cultural explanations such as social capital, psychological factors (such as the reduction of stress, cognitive theories of the protective effects of the arts, and feeling a sense of belonging) and biological explanations involving epigenetics. My own research explores the ‘active ingredients’ of the arts from a psychological perspective for people with mental health difficulties. Future posts will explore this further.

It could be argued that the recognition of a phenomenon is the first step to studying it. Finland and its neighbouring countries have used wisdom and intuition – again, in an ode to simplicity and an egalitarian approach to well-being – to  study the human urge to create and engage in the arts. The Nordic governments have subsequently used the evidence to inform and implement high-quality arts programmes to improve community and national well-being.

In May 2016, MMU’s Arts for Heath hosted eight of Finland’s Government-appointed ‘Arts Development Officers,’ whose role it is to allocate resources in the arts in order to benefit national well-being. The existence of these roles further demonstrates the significance of art to the culture and spirit of Finland.

Between 20th May and 10th June, I will be in Finland to visit Taike Finland, meet Arts Development Officers in Helsinki, Tampere, Turku, Jvaskyla and Roveniemi in the Arctic Circle, to better understand the Finnish approach to embedding the arts and culture in the Health and Social Care Systems.

This blog will therefore benefit from some guest bloggers from Taike Finland, and I will be reporting from meetings, including the Ministry of Education and Culture on 22nd May and the Ministry of Social Affairs on 9th June. 

Finland simples map



I live in Lancaster and work in Lancaster & Morecambe CAMHS as a senior clinical psychologist, and across Greater Manchester managing the new Arts, Culture and Mental Health programme with GM i-THRIVE, part of the national transformation of children's services. This blog began to help record and share my 2017 Churchill Travelling Fellowship, following a research role at Arts for Health, Manchester Metropolitan University. My work in the field of arts and well-being came about in many converging ways. As a child I was interested in emotional well-being, and worked in mental health research as a graduate. I began clinical psychology training in 2010, and for my thesis studied the role of creativity in bipolar disorder, because of the known links, and partly due to my own experiences of engaging creatively to manage extremes of mood throughout my 20s. I have worked in several university psychology research departments including the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research at Lancaster University, notable for its service user involvement, and on the Dementia & Imagination research programme.

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