While we are all confined and trying to cope under extreme circumstances the global population being more isolated than at any other time, it is also a time for reflection on our societies; on how we relate to our environments and economies. It is a challenging time that questions our sectors of activity and how we can contribute to societal development in new contexts; what lessons can we take from the challenges and what will emerge? In times of crisis, there is a tendency to look for means of resilience from the technological, scientific and economic sectors. The role of arts and culture, however, has become a source of inquiry. Culture is a connective tissue and the collective crisis we are facing proves the fundamental role that culture plays in building resilient, fair and healthy societies.

 

Today we see on social media increasing trending hashtags such as #CultureTogether, #cultureathome and #culturekeepsmesane revealing that of all the necessities we now feel so keenly aware of, the arts and their contribution to our wellbeing is evident and, in some ways, central to coronavirus confinement for those of us locked in at home. For some of course, there are more pressing needs. But momentary joys, even in dire circumstances, often come through the arts and collective expression. We find comfort in images of people singing and playing music on their balconies, virtual gallery and museum tours, free concerts and live sessions of our favourite musicians, etc. We also witness an increased availability and access to digital culture and artistic contents in this challenging time. Art can set you free, but not only.

 

IYMF has worked in the field of culture, the arts and resilience while implementing its activities in the field of intercultural dialogue and social inclusion through the arts. The value of arts engagement on a number of aspects is underpinning all its projects and should become a central part in the development of its strategy. The META project (Minorities Education Through the Arts) that IYMF coordinated also focused on the development of a framework and research dealing with arts and resilience (https://www.meta-project.eu/images/Competences-framework.pdf). As defined by Merriam-Webster, resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from stress. In today’s world turmoil, being able to withstand the related shocks and stresses for both individuals and societies is more important than ever. The arts can help build resilience.

 

Moreover, over the past two decades, there has been a major increase in research into the effects of arts on well-being and health. The World Health Organization has published a report on the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well being (2019) gathering 3000 studies that identified a major role for the arts in the prevention of ill health, the promotion of health and management of illness across the lifespan. The increasing number of research comes along with developments in practice and policy activities in different countries around Europe. For example, in the United Kingdom joint publications between Arts Council England and the National Health Service have been produced since 2007, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has included health within the new Culture White Paper; and All-Party Parliamentary Group report Creative Health has made a series of political recommendations to the UK Government and other bodies. In Finland, the Government adopted a policy programme for health promotion in 2007 that focused on enhancing the contribution of art and culture to health and well-being. In Ireland, Arts Council Ireland and the Health Service Executive have been collaborating since the late 1990s, producing policy and strategy documents on the potential collaboration between the arts and health sectors. In Norway, the Government has instituted a public health law and a cultural law, with both emphasizing the importance of arts in health promotion and care. In Sweden, the Swedish Parliament has started a Society for Culture and Health and a Cultural Politics Commission, etc.

 

Nevertheless, those developments have been focusing on individual countries and aiming to change and influence policy at national levels. Today more than ever, we need a stronger Europe, long-lasting and long-term developments, more exchange of good practice, cross-country programmes and European interdisciplinary structures and mechanisms.

 

Policy recommendations

 

  • Share knowledge and good practices and promote collaboration and dissemination of arts interventions in their context to promote health and inform policy
  • Acknowledge the growing evidence base for the role of the arts in improving health and well-being
  • Support research in the arts and health
  • Ensure that cultural diverse forms of arts are availbale and accessible to a range of different groups across the life-course
  • Encourage cultural organizations to make wellbeing an integral part of their strategy
  • Promote the value of arts engagement
  • Develop interventions that encourage arts engagement to support healthy lifestyles
  • Strengthen structures and provide cross-funding initiatives in the area of participatory arts, health and well-being