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A Cultural Tonic - Using the arts to promote health: University College London (UK) event

Blog post by Saoirse Finn (AHECRN Network Coordinator)

To raise awareness for arts in health strategies within the UK, “A Cultural Tonic” was hosted on Wednesday 14th March 2018 in London. The British Academy sponsored the event and it was co-ordinated by the Arts Health Early Career Research Network (ECRN) and Centre for Behaviour Change at University College London (UCL).

Expert speakers provided a fascinating, informative and well-rounded overview of arts and health from the perspectives of research, practice and policy.

Integration is essential to develop the field


Dr Daisy Fancourt, ECRN Network Lead and Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at UCL, led us through a showcase of the breadth of arts in health research. Daisy explained that there are many different forms of art activities and interventions. Research itself often crosses disciplines that target different groups for different outcomes. The beneficial impact of arts is the culmination of many components such as social support and increased agency.

The many disciplines arts and health can fall into

Daisy went on to present an exciting snippet of the wealth of research advocating arts, health and wellbeing across the lifespan. From music listening lowering stress in premature infants, to Breathe who are helping children with hemiplegia learn magic tricks which improves their motor skills.

Many choirs have shown beneficial social and behavioural impacts, such as The Choir With No Name for those who have been affected by homelessness. Singing can also help to alleviate symptoms of post-natal depression in new mothers, and group drumming in mental health service users modulates inflammatory immune response.

Object-handling at museum visits improves wellbeing in older adults, and simply being an audience member at a concert can reduce stress hormones.

Snapshot of arts and health research

Evidently continued research to develop practice and inform policy is essential, with the Arts Health ECRN providing a brilliant platform for ECRs to continue this work. For more information about designing and researching interventions check out Daisy’s book.


Jules Ford, Senior Programme Manager and Matt Pearce, Public Health Lead, from the Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) provided an insight into the importance of social prescribing and how to implement research and commission arts within the NHS.

20% of GP visits are for “non-medical” needs such as loneliness. Referred social prescribing and the self-management of ones own health with arts, social and cultural activities are integral throughout life due to the role they play in mediating health and wellbeing.

The importance of placing self-management and social prescribing within the clinical pathway is both cost-effective and can alleviate strain on diminishing resources. However, outcome-based evidence is key in order to place arts in health practice into the care pathway. Jules mentioned the use of the three Es: Economic, Effectiveness, and Efficiency for evaluating practice in order to maintain sustainable funding streams.


The fourth speaker was Dr Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt who researched and drafted the APPG “Creative Health” report. The inquiry outlined the effects of arts and cultural engagement across the lifespan, and advocated its use for supporting a healthier society and healthier life.

Illustrations from the APPG report by David Shrigley

Published in July 2017, the report provides guidelines for a national landscape where arts and cultural opportunities are accessible to everyone. The overall aim of the report is to inform future research, practice and policy strategies as recommended in the 10 steps for change as shown below.

Top 10 recommendations for the field taken from “Creative Health”

The launch of the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance

On the second night of its launch, Dr Helen Chatterjee, chair of the new alliance, put out a call to join the new national strategy. The new alliance is a merger of The National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing and the National Alliance for Museums, Health and Wellbeing. The objectives of the alliance include increased collaboration, networking and communication across the nation by bringing together those working across research, policy and practice.

Partners who will work together to further the field

The alliance will work alongside strategic alliance members and a steering group made up of arts and heath organisations working in practice. Further partnership with the Royal Society for Public Health’s Special Interest Group of Arts & Health will help guide research and policy alongside the Arts Health & Wellbeing APPG. Strategic alliance partners working at the funding level include NHS England and Arts Council England.

Q&A session

A panel Q&A rounded up the evening with the main discussion points reiterated from the speakers. Future steps for the field include more high-quality research and outcome-based evidence in practice to secure funding. As well as the importance of addressing biases where arts and culture is and is not accessible, and the continued collaboration between all in the field to inform future policy.

For more insights from the event take a look at #CulturalTonic on Twitter, and keep an eye out for future Arts Health ECRN events on the website.

Thank you to Saoirse for writing such an insightful blog post. If you would like to write a blog post on an Arts and Health event please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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