arts and health Conference Report devolution Healthcare Policy

The arts & culture in healthcare: where next?

Between June 19th and 21st, Bristol’s Culture, Health and Wellbeing International Conference 2017 saw 400 people from 22 countries present, debate and inspire change in research, policy and practice.

Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England, outlined the multiple ways in which the arts can promote recovery and, importantly, prevent illness in the first place. He boldly stated that attempts to fix the health of the nation with a focus on treatment via the NHS are, quite simply, “not going to work,” and called for a preventative approach that aspires to better health outcomes through positive lifestyle choices.

The impact of arts and culture might appear weak in the face of vast and complex problems. But arts and health is a growing evidence-based field that is currently being mobilised in the UK for the purposes outlined by Mr Selbie. Key cross-sector Governmental projects in Finland in the last decade have made central the arts and culture in health and social care systems to significantly improve wellbeing and save lives.

The conference was a hive of action and change. In a blog by Head of Research at Liverpool’s Institute for Cultural Capital Kerry Wilson, who wrote: “this was not a defensive community of interest preaching to the converted, but a proactive community of practice ready to lobby and campaign.”

Arts, Health and Wellbeing: Creative Health Report

On 19th July, the All-party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Arts Health and Wellbeing will formally launch a report from Westminster. The report will provide a comprehensive review and state that there is strong evidence that the arts:

  • Keep us well
  • Aid recovery
  • Support longer lives better lived

In anticipation of this report, there’s a beautiful and hopeful article in the Guardian today, whose author states that “all over the country… it’s happening at a macro- and a micro-level.”

Rt Hon Lord Howarth of Newport, Chair of the APPG, presented findings and recommendations from the Creative Health report in his conference keynote speech. Lord Howarth shared his conviction that health and social care must be led by values, and that the ‘arts and health movement will be instrumental’ in fostering change.

What are the links between the arts and wellbeing?

In a health context
The main 5 ills are obesity, heart disease, mental health difficulties, cancer and dementia.

Key Priorities of the World Health Organisation are to reduce the number of people who develop these conditions.

Lifestyle is the key factor in their development, and behaviour change can be targeted through educating (and inspiring) people to prevent much of it.

Poverty underlies health inequalities.

Relationships are a major predictor of poor health and loneliness has been shown to be more deadly than smoking.

Meaningful activity is another of the big fish we need to be catching before they get stuck in a net that then takes many resources to get it out and lively again – when a person reaches crisis point.

Poor health is a result of poor wellbeing
 predicted by the above.

The arts are a unique vehicle shown to improve individual and community well-being by targeting behaviour via a number of routes.

And this relates mainly to prevention of illness – evidence suggests the arts also foster recovery (this is another post coming soon that I am really looking forward to!).

 5 Ways to Wellbeing

  • Connect
  • Be active
  • Take notice
  • Keep learning
  • Give 

It is easy to see how each of these can be facilitated by the arts and cultural participation.

Where Next?

Chairing The Big Debate on what next for arts and health research were Dr Daisy Fancourt, Professor Norma Daykin and Professor Paul Camic.

Messages included that there are crucial roles for varied research strategies; indeed attention to mixed methods is the only suitable approach to understanding complex and subjective phenomena. We must collaborate with commissioners and policy makers – who need science on which to base their decisions – on those outcomes we can measure, and at the same time offer caution about the the limits of the medical model and its (in)ability to capture everything we should be interested in.

The next post to follow immediately today, will include further highlights from the conference.

Recommendations for the field included:

  • The creation of a national network and strategic centre to co-ordinate stakeholders, practitioners, and researchers.
  • The provision of training and development for health and social care professionals, and for artists and arts practitioners, in hybrid and cross-sector working.
  • The development of a shared language is needed in line with the above.
  • To connect existing networks between and across the different sectors including successful collaborations between healthcare and arts, museums, heritage, and libraries.
  • To inform public debates with respect to health and wellbeing.

I was hugely encouraged by the international leadership evident throughout the conference, the active political perspective taken, and the presence of practitioners and researchers committed to generating and sharing a quality evidence base. There is strong sense of collective purpose and action, and the publication of the APPG Creative Health report will be further instrumental in promoting the arts and health field toward informing practice and policy.

I do hope you, dear readers, will continue to share this journey, which I document in the hope that others will take motivation from the activity and progress the arts in health field.


for more resources check out the Library page here, and Publications

A conference video is available here.

Exploring the Longitudinal Relationship Between Arts Engagement and Health, by Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt of the APPG.

Creative and Credible

A recent comprehensive survey of 7,5­37 Australians gives robust figures on arts participation and preferences.

The Evidence Library is an online library housing the key research and evaluation documents on the impact of arts-based projects, programmes and interventions within the Criminal Justice System.

Organisations and Further Documents

  • Arthur and Martha – Stockport based Arts and Health project
  • Arts and Health South West – Raising the profile and influencing the development of the Arts and Health sector across the South West of England.
  • Blue SCI – Arts and Health based in Trafford, Manchester
  • Creative Remedies – Arts and Health across the West Midlands
  • Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – Government organisation responsible for the arts, sport, tourism, libraries, museums and galleries.
  • Department of Health – Government organisation responsible for health and social care policy, guidance and publications.
  • Lime – Manchester based organisation that uses creative activity to impact on individual health, bringing culture and the arts into Greater Manchester’s healthcare system via the work of a multi-disciplined group of professional artists.
  • London Arts and Health Forum – London based networking organisation for health and arts professionals and health related organisations.
  • Paintings in Hospitals – Founded in 1959 the organisation aims to improve the environment of hospitals and other healthcare establishments by providing original works of art on loan.
  • Start in Manchester
  • Start in Salford
  • Willis Newson – Bristol based arts consultancy specialising in health care and the built environment. 

Downloadable Reports and Documents

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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