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Arts health and well-being includes any art project, intervention or commission where the intention is to improve health and well-being.
There are many ways to describe this field of work (arts in health, arts for health, arts and health, arts health and well-being) but ultimately they are all about the effect that active engagement can have on the health and well-being of individuals and communities. As work in this area has grown, so has understanding and measuring of its impact and there is now a growing body of evidence.
Over recent years, there has been a growing understanding and awareness of the impact that participating in the arts can have on health and well-being. By supplementing medicine and care, the arts can improve the health of people who experience mental or physical health problems and improve their well-being. Engaging in the arts can support prevention of disease and promote well-being. The arts can improve healthcare environments and benefit staff retention, morale, well-being and professional development.
The Arts in Health movement began with works of art being introduced into hospital settings but has now evolved into a varied set of artistic practices. Many projects now take a social art practice approach, working in community settings, often termed ‘participatory’, while other models integrate closely into healthcare systems, such as ‘social prescribing’. The latter enables GPs to prescribe (arts) activities in order to promote patient well-being, especially those for whom a ‘more than medicine’ alone approach is demanded.
Arts Health & Well-being in Wales
A global phenomenon, the field of Arts in Health has found fresh impetus in Wales in recent years through The Well-being of Future Generations Act (2015). This brings together goals towards the cultivation of a thriving Welsh culture and language alongside the promotion of a healthier Wales - part of a holistic vision for a more sustainable future.
An exciting new phase of development for Arts and Health in Wales is being made possible through a number of bold strategic moves being made at a national level. In 2017, the Arts Council Wales (ACW) published Arts and Health in Wales, a mapping study of current activity, (2018) leading to a number of recommendations going forward. A Memorandum of Agreement was signed in 2017 between ACW and the Welsh NHS confederation. Through the MOU the aim is to develop joint areas of work aimed at improving the awareness of the benefits that the arts can bring to health and well-being (NHS Wales/GIG Cymru Confederation). The development of a Welsh Government Cross Party Group on Arts and Health in 2016 is working towards achieving political influence to effect policy, best practice and support for this vital area of work.
A number of connections are now being made at regional and local levels, including The North Wales Arts Health and Wellbeing Concordat, which seeks to consolidate partnerships between agencies in more integrated and productive ways. Together, these moves are seeing the consolidation of the field at a more systemic level, with research and evaluation playing a key role in forging links between the arts and health sectors.