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LINK Event: An Introduction to Arts and Health: Research, Policy and Practice (UCL, London)

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

Blog post written by Robyn Dowlen (Blog Editor) and Saoirse Finn (Network Co-ordinator).

On Monday 16th April 2018, the Arts Health Early Career Research Network (AHECRN) hosted a LINK event at University College London (UCL). The aim of the event was to provide an overview of the arts and health movement (history, theory, policy and research), as well as highlight the wealth of arts and health research taking place at UCL. The event also brought together a number of funding bodies to illustrate the breadth of funding opportunities available to AHECRN network members. In attendance were over 80 members of the AHECRN network, which has recently grown to over 700 members worldwide.

A room filled with early career researchers learning about arts and health

Arts In Health Development and Research

The day began with AHECRN lead, Dr Daisy Fancourt, providing a brief history of the arts and health movement. It was fascinating to learn how the earliest art had been intertwined with healing and fertility rituals in ancient human societies. Daisy then provided an overview of where the movement is today, demonstrating the wide array of policy documents that have been written in the past ten years that mention arts, health and wellbeing. For example, in 2007 the Arts Council and NHS produced A Prospectus for Arts and Health, which was the first time that the two institutions had come together in order to understand the benefits of arts for health.

The history of arts and its place within health

Daisy then went on to discuss the psychological, physiological, social and behavioural research that has been conducted across a wide range of mental health and social issues over the past decade. This part of the day demonstrated the wide range of research that has been conducted across disciplines, and highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary discussion in tackling some of the questions that still remain unanswered in this broad research area. Particularly interesting was the physiological research section, where Daisy discussed the notion of entrainment and how the human body (e.g. heart rate and breathing rate) synchronises to particular rhythms, meaning the human body moves at one with the beat. This had been shown to aid those who had recently had a stroke, enabling them to walk more strongly to a beat than without one. Daisy showed some fascinating footage of the impact of a single Neurologic Music Therapy session on a gentleman who had recently had a stroke (see below).

This tied in nicely with case studies of research at UCL that showcased a number of people working on projects within different departments and settings. Again, highlighting the importance of collaboration and networking in order to consolidate research and practice in this growing area.

Prof Sebastian Crutch spoke about the fascinating dementia research being done at the Created Out of Mind Hub, particularly thought-provoking was a project that explores the way in which art is constructed by those with different forms of dementia, showing differences and changes in perceptions. Guy Noble, curator of the Arts and Heritage programmes at University College Hospital, spoke about the importance of rehumanising hospital visits through live music sessions, art exhibitions and creative writing.

Prof Sebastian Crutch showing different paintings drawn by those affected by dementia.

Prof Graham Welch showcased his research in music education and its importance for health and wellbeing benefits, particularly across childhood and adolescence as part of the curriculum. Prof Helen Chatterjee explained the different ways the beneficial impact of attending museums have been measured in her work, through quantitative measures such as short and easy to administer forms, and creative qualitative tools such as reflective diary writing, providing useful tips for those wanting to evaluate practice.

Quantitative methods to measure the effects of museums on health and wellbeing

Daisy then spoke again about her current research that uses large public health datasets to assess the effects of arts and cultural engagement on wellbeing across the lifespan. This is important in order to understand how wider health behaviours, as well as demographics and other factors may interact with longitudinal benefits of creative activities.

Policy, Practice and Funding

Dr Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt highlighted the current progress of arts in health within policy in the UK, focusing in on the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health & Wellbeing and their recent Creative Health report. The inquiry into the impact of arts and cultural engagement across the lifespan showcases how beneficial arts can be at an individual and a societal level.

Damian Hebron, Director of the London Arts In Health Forum, spoke about the new Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance to support national advocacy for #CultureandHealth and #ArtsInHealth and put out a call to sign-up. London Creavitity and Wellbeing Week will also be hosted between 4-10th June so do take a look at what events are on offer.

Damian Hebron discusses the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance

Representatives from three major UK funding bodies joined us for the afternoon session. Arts Council England spoke about available funding for the development of practice into research for artists. The British Academy, sponsors of the AHECRN, spoke about their postdoctoral opportunities, and The Arts and Humanities Research Council spoke about their own current funding. Representatives from the funding bodies shared their top tips for obtaining research funding which included: a strong academic or professional background, passion and enthusiasm, current research or practice that is relevant to the development of the field and ties in with pre-existing knowledge, and evidence of funding in the past. They emphasised the importance of how smaller grants may lead up to securing larger ones in the future.

The event was rounded up with a Q&A panel and concluding comments. The event was a successful and well-rounded overview of arts in health for ERCRs, so if you did miss it then do take a look at the links provided and search for #ArtsHealthLINK on Twitter to follow highlights and discussions, as well as future events.

If you are interesting in blogging about an arts and health event please get in touch with Robyn (blog editor).

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