What the world needs now is …. art, more art


What the world needs now is ….

Art, more art…

At our 30th Birthday celebration on 2nd October our key note speaker, Moira Sinclair of Paul Hamlyn Foundation asked ‘Can the arts heal a divided nation?’, a new report from WHO Europe suggests that maybe the answer is ‘yes’.

The report, titled ‘What is the evidence for the role of arts in improving health and wellbeing’ is good news for organisations like Magic Me who deliver participative arts programmes to a wide range of people.

Looking at a whole range of ways in which arts can help with health the report also identifies how helping to support social cohesion and conflict resolution can make a difference.  Magic Me has long seen that bringing together older and younger generations, often drawn from different cultural backgrounds in a community, increases empathy and tolerance.

I enjoyed all the exercises we did together that made me realise that we all have something in common

Bob, Older Participant

Finding creative ways of exploring differences leads people to a better understanding of each other, or, as the report writers put it “through developing cognitive emotional and social skills for constructive engagement with conflict and by supporting empathy, trust, social engagement, collaboration and transformative learning, thereby producing more cooperative relationships’.  In other words, participative arts projects bring communities together. The report also notes that ‘Group participatory arts form a bridge between different groups and foster greater social inclusion’.

The best thing about Quality Street was meeting people from different backgrounds

Young Participant, Quality Street

In undertaking the research for the report the authors, Daisy Fancourt and Saoirse Finn looked at 900 publications, of which 200 were systematic reviews, meta-analyses and meta-syntheses covering over 3000 studies and the other 700 were individual studies.

Much of the research they looked at was about arts interventions that focussed on health issues where no complete solutions were available and the authors highlighted that the arts had potential to tackle these difficult and complex problems – such as mental health or dementias.  The way in which arts provide a more holistic view was also, they suggested, in line with current thinking in terms of giving equal weight to mental health factors and social and community conditions.

Interestingly, particularly for arts organisations looking for funding from local and national government, they saw that the evidence base showed not just that arts worked for these complex health issues but also in some cases were more cost effective than the available health interventions.

Another plus was the way in which many of the benefits were available across a range of art forms giving people a choice in which type of arts programme to get involved with.  Other activities such as exercise might have similar outcomes but didn’t come with the added benefits of ‘inner aesthetic beauty and creative expression’ which might entice people to keep coming back for more rather than just doing it ‘because it’s good for my health’.

The report looks at the different aspects of what arts participation provides in relation to good health:

  • The aesthetic and emotional components of arts activities can help with mental health and stress by providing opportunities for emotional expression and regulation.
  • The mental stimulation of engaging in arts activities can help with learning and skills development which can lower the risk of developing dementias and mental illness such as depression.
  • The social interaction whilst participating in arts helps reduce loneliness and provides social support which in turn helps prevent cognitive, functional and motor decline, mental illness and premature mortality.
  • Bringing together different groups of people can also reduce discrimination which is linked to mental illness and a range of other health conditions.
  • Physical activity through participating in the arts can also help with chronic pain, depression and dementia.

Through the range of projects that Magic Me runs we provide multiple opportunities for all ages of people to get involved and get these health benefits.

Encouragingly, alongside recommendations for policy makers to continue to support arts interventions and to actively promote the benefits of arts engagement for health, they also suggest that supporting the inclusion of arts and humanities education within the training of healthcare professionals could lead to “improvement in their clinical, personal and communication skills”.

As part of our Artists’ Residencies in Care Homes we are focussing on training for the care workers in the homes as well as delivering exciting arts experiences for the residents.  The report looks specifically at care giving and reinforces what we have already found to be true from our own feedback and evaluation: “Arts programmes can support interactions between carers and those receiving care and can help with humanization of the person being cared for, thereby improving care strategies.”

“this activity helps reduce social isolation, it supports our customers to network and make friends in their service, leave their flats and make friends with their neighbours in the same building. Furthermore, it enables our staff to develop stronger connections with our customers and lastly bringing young people, your volunteers into the service is such a boost to intergenerational activities and breaking down isolation” Staff member of a care home hosting a Cocktails in Care Homes party.

A short summary of this very welcome report can be found here

The full report can be found here