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.

Lessons from Finland

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 address this question, Rebecca considered who has been seeking this evidence, and reviewed fifteen studies. She found that the Nordic countries – specifically Finland, Norway and Sweden – have strategically sought 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 similarly explores the ‘active ingredients’ of the arts from a psychological perspective for people with mental health difficulties.

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, we at 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.

In May and June 2017, I will be in Finland to visit Taike Finland, meet Arts Development Officers in Helsinki, Tampere, Turku, Jvaskyla and Roveniemi in the Arctic Circle, and meet with the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of Social Affairs to better understand the Finnish approach to embedding the arts and culture in the Health and Social Care Systems.

Finland simples map


I'm a British clinical psychologist with a research background. I manage the Greater Manchester i-THRIVE Arts, Culture and Mental Health Programme, part of the national transformation of children's services. I also have an NHS clinical role in Lancaster and Morecambe working with children, young people and families (CAMHS). I began this blog in 2017 to record a WCMT Travelling Fellowship, from a research role at Arts for Health, Manchester Metropolitan University. I began clinical psychology training (DCLinPsy, Lancaster) in 2010, and studied the role of creativity in bipolar disorder, because of the known links, and partly due to my own experiences of creatively managing extremes of mood in adolescence and throughout my 20s. I have worked in several university psychology research departments including Manchester University in suicide prevention, the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research at Lancaster University (notable for service user expertise), and on the Dementia & Imagination research programme.

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