Art! A Handbook of Art, Health and Wellbeing - A summary

Pia Houni, Isto Turpeinen, Johanna Vuolasto (2020) Taidetta! Kulttuurihyvinvoinnin käsikirja. Helsinki: Arts Promotion Centre Finland (TAIKE) 

The Arts Promotion Centre Finland (TAIKE) has published the first Finnish-language handbook for cultural wellbeing (“Taidetta! Kulttuurihyvinvoinnin käsikirja”). The aim of the book is to support success in the cultural wellbeing work of artists, social affairs and health professionals, and the communities organising this work, as well as to increase the work of artists in the social affairs and healthcare sector and in promoting wellbeing and health, including prevention and occupational wellbeing. For the implementation of these activities, it is essential that municipalities and healthcare providers have access to information on the positive impacts of art on wellbeing and health.

Much research has been published in recent years on the impacts of art on wellbeing and health, most significantly the WHO report “What is the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? A scoping review” published in 2019. The report reviews 3000 evidence-based studies on the impacts of art. The new Finnish publication brings together information from the WHO report with work and research carried out in Finland in the field of cultural wellbeing in recent years.

Artists, art educators and art instructors can contribute their expertise and artistic contents to the services of social and healthcare units. In addition to individual artists, the activities of many art institutions and free artist groups include public work and touring productions that can be commissioned in the most appropriate format for care facilities, schools or prisons.

Art can be used in a goal-oriented manner as part of treatment and rehabilitation. Art therapy, group activities and interventions for relatives or caregivers that promote communication and patient-centred care are effective forms of care. In managing disease and pain, it is important to understand that art does not work in the same way that painkillers affect pain. With art, a person’s own realm of experience influences how it is received, as does the evolving interaction between the patient and the artist and possibly the interaction between the rest of the group.

Participation in artistic activities has been found to increase the occupational wellbeing of healthcare professionals. On closer examination, it has been found that artistic activities have a positive effect on the sense of security of staff, as well as on communication between staff and patients. A reduction in negative emotions has also been observed, in part because patients have been more satisfied with the treatment they have received. In this way, participating jointly in artistic activities strengthens the confidence, wellbeing, identity, and self-care of healthcare professionals.

Investing in preventive measures is the most effective from an economic perspective. Preventive forms of cultural activities generate social and human capital, which plays a role in the empowerment of children and young persons and in the prevention of exclusion. Many of the current training courses for art professionals, art teachers and art instructors prepare them for promoting wellbeing and health. These activities may include, for example, wide-ranging art education, artistic and cultural pursuits, or cultural work that guides, targets or explores these. Work to prevent marginalisation, exclusion, loneliness and health threats may include, for example, providing counselling for artistic pursuits, culture on referral or arts on prescription, targeted cultural school work and youth work, and community art that is empowering and engaging, for example in employment services. In any art-based collaboration, professional artists should be employed who are committed to ethical principles and quality criteria.

Almost everyone requires social services at some point during their lifetime. Arts can contribute in many ways to the wellbeing and social inclusion of people using social services. Art in social services can be a motivating factor, for example by providing a cultural passport (free ticket) or bringing an art performance or workshop to customers in social care institutions.

There are different approaches to evaluating and researching the impact of art. Impact is related to both the individual and community level. In this case, the focus may be on an improved quality of life, increased happiness and more experiences of a good life. Community impacts increase the empowerment, opportunities and wellbeing of individuals, in which case the assessment focuses on the changes in social capital that are economically significant. The return on these activities can be viewed from a social or medical perspective. The arts have their own special characteristics, the wellbeing effects of which can be found in research data.

Wellbeing in most cases is approached conceptually from a welfarist perspective, according to which the individual is considered the best expert on his or her own wellbeing. This individualist approach emphasises the values that the individual himself or herself attaches to the outcome. The extra-welfarist approach applies a narrower starting point, and the assessment is made from the perspective of the healthcare budget and health benefits. This societal decision-making approach assesses costs and benefits in a pragmatic way to support the work of decision-makers.

Goal setting is linked to weighing the economic impact. If the planned arts activity is temporary and seeks experiences of relaxation and entertainment, the expectations in terms of economic impact will not be high. By contrast, long-term activities that seek change and that affect both individuals and organisational structures offer an opportunity for increasing the economic impact.

The impacts of cultural wellbeing activities are manifested in the long term. Perhaps for this reason, no national solution has yet been found to fund these activities. Central to achieving sustainable funding will be the inclusion of cultural wellbeing in wellbeing plans, action plans and strategies. Any work to promote cultural wellbeing that is included in the plans, in turn, should be included in the budgets of social and healthcare providers, municipalities and those procuring these services.

Job descriptions for promoting cultural wellbeing are needed for social and healthcare services. In order to become established, cultural wellbeing operating models need to be included in structures and supported by management.

Below are some of the operating models presented in the handbook:

Proactive cultural work

Proactive cultural work is predictive and corrective action that emphasises early intervention. It involves active measures by public officials responsible for cultural wellbeing to combat deprivation scenarios. For example, as a student care measure, students are guided towards artistic pursuits or targeted art activities are arranged for classes. In addition to children and young persons, it is worthwhile directing proactive cultural work at other age groups, for example to prevent loneliness among the elderly.

Support for occupational wellbeing through art

The possibilities of art for enhancing wellbeing at work can be realised in two ways. Experiencing and creating art in a work context increases commitment and teamwork on the one hand and provides tools for appreciating the relevance of work and realising the one’s own creativity on the other. In terms of work productivity, art-based methods offer an opportunity to break down old operating models and pursue new innovations that support the wellbeing of both the individual and the work community and that stem from creativity.

Work pair model

In the work pair model, artists work in pairs with each other or with a representative of another profession. In this way of working, both parties can complement each other’s skills or reinforce the requirements of the operating environment. One of the parties can be a social and healthcare professional, such as a psychologist, nurse, sociologist or doctor, or even a cultural actor, cultural producer, community educator, youth counsellor or teacher. There have been good experiences with the impacts of the work pair model on deepening professional competence.

Cultural prescribing

Cultural prescribing is a tool for early intervention shared by social and healthcare staff. International studies show that cultural prescribing is impactful and cost-effective. There are three levels of referral activities: Cultural referrals, cultural passports and cultural prescriptions. With a cultural referral, customers can be referred to art groups, for example in a children’s clinic. A cultural passport is a free ticket for art performances that is issued by social welfare. A cultural prescription is given by a physician and is comparable to the Finnish “Active Adult” (Liikkuva aikuinen) model. A doctor can prescribe culture to his or her patient in a situation where the possible causes of the disorder may be related to a lack of social inclusion or complex health challenges and the patient’s wellbeing can be enhanced by cultural methods. Success in these models requires a well-functioning service chain and responsible persons.

Observing cultural rights

The “100 Minutes of Art” (100 minuuttia taidetta) operating model was developed to help social and healthcare actors realise the cultural rights of their customers. The operating model is based on research into the health benefits of regular cultural activities. The aim is to inspire people of all ages to participate in art and culture on a regular basis. Social and healthcare staff are encouraged to recognise the fundamental cultural rights and needs of their customers and to recognise the importance of culture in increasing wellbeing. There have been good experiences with implementing the model, for example as part of cultural work for the elderly.

Artist residencies in care facilities

Artist residencies in care facilities (Wellbeing Residency) can be implemented together with artists, organisations and social and healthcare services. In this model, an artist is hired by a care facility to do his or her own artistic work for a separately agreed period of time. Artist residencies are ideal for communities that want to develop their own operating culture and working methods. The model facilitates the realisation of the cultural rights of the residents of care facilities and enhances the wellbeing of staff.

Support for terminal care through art

Terminal care aims to preserve the quality of life to the end and is therefore not just medical care. Art can transport a patient from their care room to another reality and stimulate the mind even in the last moments of life. As death approaches, the hope of recovery fades, but what is important is to experience hope in terms of the significance of the life one has lived. In addition to fostering hope, art can be used to help control various symptoms, such as shortness of breath or pain. Art can also facilitate the interaction between relatives and the patient being cared for and provide help in dealing with grief.

Last modified: 06.08.2021


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