"At least one third of GP appointments are, in part, due to isolation."
- Dr. Jane Povey, GP
Why I picked it up: I'm always looking for any and all research that provides evidence that the arts and culture have positive impacts in people's lives … as well as for communities and society. And I'm a pragmatist about this. Yes, I absolutely believe we should value arts and culture for its own sake, but that doesn't preclude tracking more practical impacts … such as health and wellbeing. One doesn’t preclude the other.
What you need to know: Goodness, this is the most thorough, comprehensive review of what has to be every study out there that provides evidence that arts and culture promote better health and wellbeing. 1,048 footnotes worth, by life stage (from prenatal exposure to death).
In the forward, the report makes three key points that arts and cultural engagement:
The report also makes the economic case for shifting the healthcare system from one focused on hospital care and illness treatment to one that is more holistic and person-based, which includes lifestyle choices that matter. In particular, it recommends extending the reach of arts and culture to individuals in lower socio-economic households as well as older adults (two segments of the population that have lower levels of engagement). On p. 10 of the short report there is a far-sighted list of ten recommendations for changes in the UK; I'd like to see a similar list coming out of the American medical, health insurance, and cultural fields as well.
Implications for museums: The bottom line is that there is considerable and conclusive evidence that regular participation in arts and culture improves health and wellbeing throughout one's life. This results in longer, healthier lives, greater economic contributions through those lives, and significant healthcare savings. Seems to me that is a pretty powerful case that we can broaden our audiences significantly by attracting them based on their extrinsic motivations for greater health and wellbeing, and then giving them something meaningful to experience as well.
I want to flag the older adults bit. We have a rapidly aging population of older adults, and older adults are the least likely segment of the population to participate in arts and culture according to two national studies I fielded. This report lists the significant outcomes that arts and cultural engagement has for older adults, including:
This seems like a no-brainer for museums.
Read or skip? You should read the "short report" to familiarize yourself with what is in the long report. In particular, the infographic in that short report is rather useful (pictured above). As for the full report, only those who are focused on wellness initiatives in their work or are writing a proposal that needs clear evidence of health-related impact need to dive in. For the latter, this is absolutely your go-to resource because they covered everything. Finally, the website has five two-page "policy briefings," that are clearly intended for advocacy. Those can be very useful as well, but do keep in mind this is a UK report, even though it cites studies from around the world.
Full citation: "Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing." Research report published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health, and Wellbeing. Released July 2017. A "short report" is also available.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.