What is Arts in Health?

Ladder to the Moon - South Pacific
Music in Hospitals
MMU - workshop organisers and participants
Healing Arts

Over recent years, there has been a growing understanding of the impact that taking part in the arts can have on health and wellbeing. By supplementing medicine and care, the arts can improve the health of people who experience mental or physical health problems. Engaging in the arts can promote prevention of disease and build wellbeing. The arts can improve healthcare environments and benefit staff retention and professional development.

There are many different ways in which this work is described (arts in health, arts for health, arts and health, etc) but essentially they are all about the effect that active engagement can have on the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities. As work in this area has grown, so understanding and measuring of its impact has grown and there are now a number of academics around the country investigating the impact that the arts have on health.

There are a lot of different people who work in arts and health. These include arts therapists, researchers and curators who manage arts programmes in hospitals. There are also many individuals and organisations who work in the community providing arts opportunities to people experiencing ill health. Other artists and arts practitioners work in medical schools, with architects and in the field of health promotion. More information about the different areas of work in arts in health is listed below.

As the health service changes, so too does the way in which the arts is used to engage with health. Some of the new Clinical Commissioning Groups are likely to offer arts activity to their patients and as local authorities assume responsibility for public health, so the arts are likely to be used by them to help promote healthy communities. In the resources section there are details of websites with more information about the history of arts in health and also links to sites which analyse the current round of changes to the health sector and their impact on arts in health here.

Over the course of 2012, the National Alliance for Arts Health and Wellbeing brought together many of these people to write a Charter for arts in health – explaining why we feel the arts have a key role to play in health and wellbeing. You can read the Charter here.

What is the National Alliance for Arts Health and Wellbeing?

Since 2010, a group of organisations from across England have been working together to develop a new national voice for arts in health. Supported by Arts Council England, this work has involved the development of a Charter for arts health and wellbeing, the building of this website and the establishment of a new organisation, the National Alliance for Arts Health and Wellbeing.

The National Alliance will launch in autumn 2012 and will aim to provide a clear and focused voice to articulate the role creativity can play in health and wellbeing. Over the past forty years, a huge range of arts and health work has developed in the UK, the National Alliance will seek to represent this work, to advocate on its behalf, to encourage the use of the arts by health and social care providers and to raise standards in this sector. Over the next two years, London Arts in Health Forum has been funded (by Arts Council England) to support this development and to provide administrative support to the National Alliance for Arts Health and Wellbeing – any queries about how to get involved or to find out more, as well as any comments or feedback on this website, should be directed to info@lahf.org.uk 

Big Difference Company - boy dancing

What sort of thing does arts in health involve?

There are, broadly, four main areas of Arts in Health Work:

Arts in the healthcare environment : For the past thirty years, many hospitals have chosen to incorporate artwork into the healthcare environment to improve the experience of patients and staff. Nowadays, most hospitals have art exhibitions and many have artists working to improve lighting, wayfinding, gardens and clinical areas.

Participatory arts programmes: Getting involved in the arts provides both social and creative outlets for people who are ill – either with physical health issues or mental health issues. Many care homes, GP surgeries and hospitals as well as community settings provide opportunities for people to engage with the arts as a tool to improving their wellbeing.

Medical training and Medical Humanities: For hundreds of years, the arts have played a part in developing the practice of medicine and the understanding of wellbeing. Lots of doctors will now have an arts aspect to their training and many health-workers find that active participation in arts activity helps them with their work. The arts are also often used to help explore ethical issues in medicine.

Arts Therapy: Arts therapists are registered with the Health Professions Council and are accredited forms of therapy which use the arts as their primary form of communication. The arts therapies (drama, music and visual art) have now become an established psychotherapeutic tool for used by qualified therapists with clients, usually on a one to one basis.

How it is paid for?

As might be expected from the breadth of work in arts in health – there is a wide range of different funding sources for this work. Much of this work is funded from charitable sources – many hospitals for example, have their own charities which fund arts activity. Occasionally the NHS in a particular region will fund an arts organisation to work on a particular campaign or programme of activity. Community groups and charities often choose to raise money to fund this work. In the past, local authorities and the Lottery have also funded lots of work in this area. Arts Council England has funded a number of organisations including London Arts in Health Forum which has paid for and developed this website.There is information about potential funding here


Does it work? Is there any evidence?

King's Fund - Southend

There is now a growing body of evidence demonstrating that participation in the arts and access to a range of arts opportunities can dramatically improve health outcomes and increase wellbeing. In 2007, the Department of Health’s Review of Arts and Health Working Group, examined the role the arts can play in health. Its key findings were:

  • arts and health are, and should be firmly recognised as being, integral to health, healthcare provision and healthcare environments, including supporting staff
  • arts and health initiatives are delivering real and measurable benefits across a wide range of priority areas for health, and can enable the Department and NHS to contribute to key wider Government initiatives
  • there is a wealth of good practice and a substantial evidence base
  • the Department of Health has an important leadership role to play in creating an environment in which arts and health can prosper by promoting, developing and supporting arts and health

Visit the Resources section of this site to see a range of examples of research into the impact the arts can have on health and wellbeing.

Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England