Creative Communities

08 December 2017

As the arts sector continues to face major funding cuts, it becomes even more important to evidence the powerful contribution the arts can have on people’s lives.

In this piece, we look at the role that arts can play in supporting health and wellbeing.

The arts sector has faced major funding cuts in recent years which has made competition for increasingly smaller pots of money even greater.

There is a need for more rigorous evaluation to demonstrate the positive impacts arts-based projects can have. If this is not delivered, the important role they can play in addressing many health and wellbeing challenges, as well as in saving the care sector money, risks being overlooked.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing released a report earlier this year, which the Trust submitted evidence to. It highlights the significant role arts-based strategies can play in addressing some of the most challenging health and social care issues in society: “The act of creation, and our appreciation of it, provides an individual experience that can have positive effects on our physical and mental health and wellbeing.”

The report finds that arts-based strategies can lessen the impact of health inequalities at each stage of the life course, so long as other steps are taken alongside to tackle them, helping to mitigate the impacts of poor environmental conditions. This happens through: influencing the nutritional intake of expectant mothers, perinatal mental health and development during childhood; impacting upon educational attainment and employment opportunities and addressing chronic distress; and permitting self-expression and combating social isolation.

Crucially, it explores how the arts has a role to play in saving the health and social care sector money, at a time when diminishing budgets are demanding innovative solutions to address the problems. As our care system battles against the challenges of an ageing population in which long-term conditions are prevalent, the arts has a significant role to play in preventing illness from developing in the first place and worsening over time.

Our projects report that benefits can include increased social links and ties, improved skills and confidence, and allow members to take greater control of their own health and wellbeing.

Art Town, which is funded by the Trust using money raised by HealthCourage through The Health Lottery, is a project run by Bedfordshire-based charity, Full House.

The project supports young people in Houghton Regis, providing creative opportunities for them to access the arts through activities including dance and drama workshops, and theatre performances.

The project manager has seen the positive impact that new friendships are having on members beyond the classroom. It is a supportive and inclusive environment in which people can go at their own pace to achieve what they aspire to. There is also an emphasis on intergenerational activities, with the group putting on a performance in a residential care home for older people during the summer. As a result, some of the young performers have now taken up volunteering positions, increasing their confidence and expanding their skills even further.

They have seen a particularly positive impact on those affected by mental health problems, as they now have a means of expressing themselves and are gaining recognised qualifications which is filling them with confidence. One young person, Charlotte, has completed her Silver Award and her aspirations for the future have grown as she has achieved the necessary qualifications to get into college. You can hear more about her story here.

‘Our Community’, which is run by Interact Arts C.I.C, is another project, funded by the Trust using money raised by HealthFair through The Health Lottery. It provides weekly arts-based activities for young adults with learning difficulties and disabilities living in Stafford with the aim of increasing confidence, developing creative and personal skills, and raising awareness in the community about learning difficulties and disabilities. Activities include creative writing, photography, dance, drama and are chosen by the group and facilitated by professional artists.

While the project is still in its early stages, the young people have already grown in confidence, to the extent that two members recently went along to a local forum of people with children with learning difficulties in an effort to increase participation in the project and spread its benefits more widely.

Local government has long supported arts and culture in the UK, making up a greater proportion of available arts funding than Arts Council England; however there has been a great deal of pressure on national government budgets due to austerity, and services face difficult sustainability challenges as a result.

Between 2010 and 2015, spending by councils in England on arts development, theatres, museums and galleries, and libraries has fallen from £1.42 billion to £1.2 billion, nearly a 17 per cent reduction.

Tied up with this issue is the difficulty in demonstrating the impact of the arts and proving the direct link between arts engagement and improved health and wellbeing. The new report calls for a greater focus on rigorous, high-quality evaluation which enables comparative analysis to be conducted, as well as longitudinal research into the relationship between arts engagement, health and wellbeing.

The Trust is committed to improving the evidence base about the effectiveness of the arts in improving health and wellbeing and serving as an important tool in supporting changes to the social determinants of health. Art Town featured in People’s Health Trust’s 2016 external evaluation of our Active Communities programme, the case study for which can be found here, and we also submitted evidence from seven of our funded projects for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing.

Without better evidence and evaluation showing the strong link between the arts, health and wellbeing, arts-based projects will struggle to demonstrate the immense value they can have in addressing the UK’s health problems, as well as to easing the stretched health budget.

 

To read or download the report, click here

To read more news and blogs, click here.

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