Within the UK, Arts Councils exist for each of the four countries: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. In particular, two of these have been especially active in the development of strategies for arts in health: Arts Council England and the Arts Council of Wales.

Arts Council England

Arts Council England is the national development agency for the arts in England, providing funding for a range of arts activities. In 2004, Arts Council England produced a report entitled Arts in Health: A Review of the Medical Literature (later followed up in 2011 as Arts and Music in Healthcare: An overview of the medical literature 2004-2011).(7,8) The report explored the effects of the arts on clinical outcomes, staff outcomes, training of arts practitioners, and mental health. It was carried out by Dr Rosalia Staricoff who, a few years earlier, had undertaken out a ground-breaking research study into the effects of visual and performing arts in healthcare at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London.(9)

A year later, Sir Nigel Crisp, the former NHS Chief Executive and Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, set up an Arts and Health Working Group which consulted with over 300 individuals in the health service, local government, Arts Council, and other professional bodies alongside patients and members of the public and produced a report. The report explored previous NHS involvement with the arts, summarized previous research, explored what ‘success’ looks like in arts in health and identified barriers to wider adoption. The report concluded that ‘Arts and health are, and should be firmly recognised as being, integral to health, healthcare provision and healthcare environments, including supporting staff ... There are opportunities for the Department of Health and the NHS to use the arts to bring about change in some of the key influencers of health and in the use of the NHS’(10)

The findings from the 2004 and 2006 documents were brought together in 2007 in a publication j ointly issued by Arts Council England and the Department of Health entitled A Prospectus for Arts and Health. The prospectus stated:

‘Some people might dismiss the arts as simply add-on activities, which have little place in a modern, technically-focused healthcare system. But this is far from being the case, as reflected in this prospectus. Those who are involved in the wealth of activity across the country have amply demonstrated the tangible benefits of arts and health. Hundreds of research projects, organisations and individuals are showing that the arts are an integral part of the nature and quality of the services we provide. They reveal the effectiveness and value of arts and health initiatives, and the benefits they bring to patients, service users and their carers, and to communities and healthcare workers in every sector’

This prospectus celebrated the benefits of the arts in wellbeing, health, and healthcare and was a crucial step in mainstreaming arts in health in the UK.(11)

In 2013, Towards Plan A: A new political economy for arts and culture was published in collaboration with the Royal Society of Arts, unveiled in the inaugural lecture of Sir Peter Bazalgette when he became Chair of the Arts Council. (12) Based on a seminar series bringing together business, finance, government, local authorities, and local enterprise partnerships, the report encouraged the arts sector to consider its achievements and potential in relation to the nation’s wider social and economic objectives, including the general health of society, as part of a ‘holistic’ case for investment. Part of the impetus behind the report was to identify whether there was a return on cultural investment. In partnership with health economists from the London School of Economics, it considered complex issues such as how to quantify and monetize improvements in wellbeing as a result of arts engagement. This has paved the way for several key publications since. In 2013, the Centre for Economics and Business Research wrote a paper for Arts Council England entitled The Contribution of the Arts and Culture to the National Economy.(13) One of the ways that the arts were identified as supporting national productivity was through improving wellbeing: ‘an essential determinant of an individual’s productivity’. The value of happiness gained through arts and cultural activities was identified as ?2,047 for being an audience member to the arts, ?1,500 from participating in the arts, and ?3,228 from visiting museums. Specific examples were also given of the impact of the arts on health outcomes. Leading on from this, further wellbeing research was published by Arts Council England in 2015: Cultural Activities, Artforms and Wellbeing. (14)

Over the years since, Arts Council England has undertaken a range of other activities to encourage arts in health, including in 2015 announcing a new research grants programme, which aimed to fund pioneering research into the value of the arts across the following 3 years. This policy and advocacy work from Arts Council England has now begun to influence developments within central government too. For example, in March 2016, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport published The Culture White Paper; the first culture white paper in more than 50 years. This recognized the role of the cultural sectors in making ‘a crucial contribution to the regeneration, health and wellbeing of our regions, cities, towns and villages’. The paper stated ‘we are beginning to understand better the profound relationship between culture, health and wellbeing! (15)

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