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The role of arts in improving health & well-being: the evidence


What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? Research on the Arts’ impact on health and well-being is continuously increasing. However, awareness and overview of the evidence of these effects has been lacking, and consequently, there has been little coherence in developing related policies and solutions within European countries.

This scoping review from the World Health Organisation intends to fill this gap and synthesizes the available evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being. Results from over 3000 studies identified a major role for the arts in the prevention of ill health, promotion of health, and management and treatment of illness across the lifespan. The research projects involved are different –from individual case studies to longitudinal cohort studies, ethnographies and randomised controlled studies.

Overall, the results show that the Arts potentially positively impact on both mental and physical health.

In particular, within health prevention and promotion field, the results show that the Arts can:

  • influence social determinants of health;
  • support childhood development;
  • encourage prevention and health promotion behaviors;
  • support care and assistance.

As for disease management and treatment, the results indicate the Arts as able to:

  • help people suffering from mental conditions;
  • support care and assistance of people with acute conditions;
  • support care and assistance of people with neurological problems;
  • support non-communicable diseases management;
  • support end-of-life assistance.

The evidence mapped in the WHO report provides various considerations and suggestions:

  • It is necessary to ensure that culturally different art forms are available and accessible (with particular reference to disadvantaged minorities), to encourage arts and cultural organisations to include health and well-being as integral parts of their activities, and actively promote public awareness on the potential benefits of the Arts for health;
  • It is necessary to foster collaboration between culture, social assistance and health sectors, also introducing or strengthening the interaction between health and social assistance programs and artistic ones and supporting the artistic and humanistic education in health workers training to improve their clinical, personal and communication skills;
  • the growing number of evidence on the impact of the Arts on health and well-being must be acknowledged, implementing interventions where evidence is substantial (recorded music for patients before surgery, art for people with dementia and art programs for mental health communities), sharing practices and knowledge between different countries and supporting research.

Thus in summary, the beneficial impact of the arts could be furthered through acknowledging and acting on the growing evidence base; promoting creative engagement at the individual, local and national levels; and supporting cross-sectoral collaboration.

Additionally, a recent survey by the BNO and Stedelijk has also identified a crucial role for creative professionals in supporting social cohesion and positive change in these pandemic times.