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‘Dance: New Moves in Healthcare,’ Arts for Health Austria launches

This article is a first-hand account of the launch and background of this new national organisation. Includes link to the event recording and references to EU policy development.

The new national association ARTS for HEALTH AUSTRIA (AfHA) launched in Vienna in December 2020, for the promotion of art interventions in health and well-being contexts. This article is a first-hand account of its launch and background, and includes link to the event recording and references to EU policy development.


Featured image: Movement for life: FOWATO eU – Walter Zarbl

Following the World Health Organisation 2019 report and the introduction of models of ‘arts on prescription’ in some European countries (e.g. Finland and UK), there remains little awareness of such approaches in Austria, and a lack of structural support in both the cultural and health sectors.

St Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, December 2019

This topic was discussed for the first time with a view to shaping policy in Austria on a wintry day in Vienna in December 2019. I was there to give a keynote at the ‘Arts for Health’ workshop, where 100 people from the cultural and health sectors began processes to develop art interventions in health and well-being contexts. Finland’s Johanna Vuolasto, who has led their national five year Key Project, also presented and shared Finland’s Government Recommendations for improving the availability and accessibility of arts and culture in social welfare and healthcare. As a group we identified actions, which I reported here.

IG Kultur ran a special edition “Culture as a recipe”, for which I wrote Arts on Prescription: A New Kind of Medicine.

Click here for a full recording of ‘Dance: New Moves in Healthcare’ event, and access the programme.

Opening event: Dance: New Moves in Healthcare

Debates about arts interventions in healthcare systems in Austria are only just beginning. The activities of Arts for Health Austria will therefore be developed in close cooperation with international institutions, particularly in Europe, with similar objectives.

On December 11, 2020, ‘Dance – New Moves in Health Care’ was AfHA’s first global event. To open up the Austrian discussion, the online forum successfully delivered expertise from the fields of dance for health, neuroscience, and health economics, to 160 people worldwide – interspersed with energising dance breaks! The forum provided insights into the different approaches and dance-based programmes happening across Europe and the USA.

Dance: New Moves for Healthcare was led by the forum of the Dance & Creative Wellness Foundation in cooperation with the Department of International Cultural Affairs at the Federal Ministry for Art, Culture, Civil Services and Sport, as well as Museum Quarter Vienna.

Dance and Health: Research Findings

Alongside the benefits of dance on health outcomes and on quality of life, the economic benefits are also significant for public health policy makers. At the development workshop in 2019, Barbara Stüwe-Eßls shared recommendations of the EU expert group, including that the arts can be used to help reduce medication use, a key point of my contribution, too. Numerous well-designed studies have shown that participatory arts can help manage increasing complexities in the aging population, and chronic conditions for which there are no cures, and deliver significant savings related to prevention of years lost to disability.

Andrew Greenwood, ballet master and founder of Dance for Health Foundation and Switch2Move, also highlighted the economics benefits. One study found that dance interventions (which can benefit balance), can lead to savings of £75,000 if just one older adult is prevented from needing residential care.

Applications During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Andrew Greenwood also reminded us that during the last 3 to 4 years the field of arts for health has blossomed, and now, during the pandemic, we are seeing a huge uptake in creative activities, and increased interest in their roles in physical and mental health. Contributors frequently spoke of adaptations to e-health and virtual applications of dance-based programs with at-risk populations. Many practitioners discovered that virtual dance actually facilitated access and increased participation in quality dance-based programmes.

The directors of the Dance & Creative Wellness Foundation predict that this online offer is here to stay and organisations such as Dance for PD® (USA), Switch2Move (Netherlands), MoveDanceFeel (UK) and Konzert Theater Bern (Switzerland) continue to develop creative online interventions to supplement live activities.

Current Practice in Austria

There are a few projects in dance in Austria: for older people, people with Parkinson’s or dementia. 

The Future

At this forum, the areas of responsibility for Arts for Health Austria were presented:

  • International networking instrument
  • Platform for art activities in the public health sector in Austria
  • Interface between art and science 
  • Information point for everyone interested in this area
  • Funding institution for innovative art projects in the healthcare sector

The World Health Organisation sees culture as a crucial force in combating the crisis, with artistic interventions playing key roles in improvement and recovery. In this podcast, arts and health lead, Christopher Bailey, tells us that art-viewing reduces measurable levels of stress and has an “ability to comfort, confront, create community,” – and help us to make sense of difficult circumstances – “when all else fails.”

Examples brought to the Austrian forum included engagement with the arts being linked to greater school readiness, arts-led interventions as effective in preventing obesity, in pain management, and in treating frailty.

Vienna is famous for its concerts, galleries and culture – the future of arts and health here has a rich and motivating history that will drive the progression that Arts and Health Austria has now started.

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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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