The political background to arts in health

As a result of the increasing evidence base of wide-ranging effects of the arts on biopsychosocial determinants of health, policy-makers have increasingly come to recognize the value of the arts for health. Since the Millennium in particular, there have been a range of papers (from both the arts world and the health world) that discuss arts in health in relation to specific policies or that make recommendations for policy-makers, such as advocating for the integration of the arts within healthcare systems or highlighting the health benefits that the arts can bring. In some instances, this advocacy has come indirectly: for example, the WHO’s Quality of Life brief measure (WHOQOL-BREF) explores 24-facets to assess quality of life, one of which one is ‘participation in and opportunities for recreation/leisure activities’(l) However, there have also been policy papers directly relating to arts in health. The impact of these has been significant for the field, including leading to increased funding for research and practice, more developed lines of communication between the arts world and health world, and strategic opportunities for the profiling of arts in health activity, which all have led to increased awareness of how the arts can support health. As many arts in health programmes operate at more local levels and do not directly depend on government or other national endorsement to attract funding, partners, or participants, this political activity is often not well known among the general public. However, for programmes seeking to expand from working at a local level to operating on a larger scale, such policy activity becomes of real significance in providing evidence of high-level support and endorsement for the field.

This chapter outlines some of the key policy activities and papers of relevance to policy relating to arts in health from the past two decades. In many cases, such activities and papers have brought together representatives from arts and from health. However, for the purposes of this chapter to facilitate the tracing of a narrative between different political events, activity and papers have been separated into those that have been led by arts organizations or branches of government and those that have been led by health organizations or branches of government. Three case studies of countries in which there has been significant activity are provided for arts policy: Ireland, the UK, and the USA. Similarly, three case studies are provided for health policy: the UK, Australia, and Nordic countries. The documents referenced are not intended to be an exhaustive list, but rather give a flavour of some of the key policy documents from different countries that have shaped the development of the field internationally.

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