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CultureForHealth: 8 major social challenges that art and culture can overcome
Catterina Seia27 Dec 20223 min read

CultureForHealth: 8 major social challenges that art and culture can overcome

The first report of CultureForHealth (C4H), preparatory action for integrated culture and health policies in response to new health challenges, has been presented to the European Commission.

What impact does regularly taking part in cultural and creative activities have on individual and collective health and well-being?

What evidence-based guidelines can be offered to policy makers in both the culture and health sectors?


These are the aims of CultureForHealth, an 18-month project (which will end in May 2023) co-funded by the European Commission. Entrusted to Culture Action Europe, Trans Europe Halles, Central Denmark Region, The Northern Dimension Partnership for Culture, Centrul Cultural Clujean (Romania) and Društvo Asociaci (Slovenia), it is accompanied by an advisory board of leading experts, including Luisella Carnelli (of the Fitzcarraldo Foundation) and Annalisa Cicerchia (of the CCW-Cultural Welfare Center). The project is designed to promote experimentation and policy development at EU, national and local levels to ensure that culture and the arts contribute to the ongoing redesign of welfare and health policies.



The C4H programme has several areas of action: organising round tables for discussion and comparison between researchers, decision-makers and practitioners; collecting evidence on the correlation between taking part in cultural activities and health, which is the basis of a report presented to the European Commission on 16 November at the session entitled Culture: a driver for health and wellbeing in the EU; launching a map of self-reported culture and health projects (which is still in progress but already includes 700); advocacy actions; disseminating data, best practices, tools and working methodologies; and developing six action-research pilot projects including Music and Motherhood, Museum for Dementia, Overcoming Burnout through Arts and Certificate Cultural Company.



The report identifies eight social challenges for which the arts can be a decisive factor in promoting well-being:

  1. A lack of investment in promoting health and preventative measures.
  2. The well-being (especially mental health) of young people, which is regarded as an emergency.
  3. Workers' welfare in the light of the breakdown of economic and labour market models.
  4. The inverted population pyramid, with an increasingly elderly population.
  5. The growing mental health crisis in the population as a whole.
  6. Inequalities in health, access to health services, and also cultural inequalities.
  7. The crisis in civic participation that is the basis for developing life skills.
  8. The well-being of carers, in health, social and humanitarian organisations.

How can culture and the arts meet these challenges?

The report contains evidence from over 300 studies published from 2019 to the present day on the role of the arts in health, echoing and building on the study released in 2019 by the World Health Organisation.


It focuses on many areas of effectiveness. They range from individual well-being - with a reduction in stress and anxiety, (Wulff et al., 2021; Baltà Portolés, 2021; and Zeisel et al., 2018) and the strengthening of social ties (Billington, 2019; Mansky et al, 2020; and Moss & O'Donoghue, 2020), to the community aspect, where the arts are able to include disadvantaged people by using artistic languages as effective means of expression and communication for people with disabilities and to improve the quality of the social setting, especially at school (Kennedy et al., 2020) and in the workplace (Cacovean et al., 2021).

Arts and cultural activities have also proved effective in coping with the emergency triggered by Covid-19, counterbalancing the negative effects of social isolation (Tan & Tan, 2021), reducing anxiety (Zabini et al., 2020) and promoting emotional adjustment (Elisondo & Melgar, 2021; and Kiernan et al., 2021).


These studies confirm culture as an ally, an aid to traditional medicine, in managing and treating conditions, particularly mental health.


Policies are needed

C4H has drawn up a number of recommendations for policy makers from the evidence that has emerged. Firstly, to include the arts as one of the European Union’s cornerstones in promoting health, as a complement to the biomedical model, first and foremost to promote arts-based social prescribing programmes, an action model that originated in the UK that envisages the health system prescribing regular participation in social and cultural initiatives to meet health needs, alongside conventional medicine.


Investment in research and training, incorporating the arts into all educational curricula and higher education (especially for health professionals) and promoting the sharing of good practices.



The experience of CultureForHealth suggests that if culture is able to support a holistic approach to health that complements (not replaces) traditional medicine, significant investment is needed in research and in developing expertise, to create a common language, tools and strategies.

By Catterina Seia e Marta Reichlin
Reichlin, Phd student, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (The Sacred Heart Catholic University) and The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.


Catterina Seia

Co-Founder and President of CCW-Cultural Welfare Center; Co-Founder and Vice President of the Fitzcarraldo Foundation; Vice President of the Fondazione Medicina a Misura di Donna

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