AHRC Research Highlights Health and Social Benefits of the Arts

Photos from the AHRC report by Stephanie Mills

Photos from the AHRC report by Stephanie Mills

A report by the AHRC says that arts and cultural organisations don't always realise the positive knock-on effects their work can have on health and wellbeing in their communities.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council's Cultural Value Project conducted research in three coastal resorts where there has been significant investment in culture-led regeneration in recent years, concentrating on the impacts of Turner Contemporary in Margate, the Creative Foundation in Folkestone and the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea.

The resulting report, ‘Cultural Value and Social Capital’, found that despite an intuitive feeling that there is a “connection between cultural activity and feeling good”, health and wellbeing is not prioritised as a driver of either programming or outcomes. 

The three organisations were found to make a “significant, but at present largely undefined, contribution to social capital and to delivering health and wellbeing in their respective communities”, but outside the specialist field of arts in health practice “this important aspect of cultural value is currently hidden”. 

Des Crilley, Chair of Kent County Council’s Strategic Group for Arts in Kent, said, “I don’t think arts and cultural organisations are able to define the impact they are able to make. They don’t trace it and make it visible… They change someone’s life and they don’t even realise.”

The report recommends that national policy makers do more to encourage acknowledgement, understanding and evaluation of the contributions arts and cultural organisations make to social capital, health and wellbeing. It proposes the introduction of guidelines with models of best practice, an idea supported by the three organisations involved in the project, who said they would "welcome the introduction of simple-to-use evaluation tools that might shed light on levels of wellbeing or positive affect generated by their everyday activities".

The report also suggests that cultural organisations should do more research into barriers to public engagement with their work, and give more consideration to programming and commissions aimed at "addressing specific health and social issues".

The full report can be downloaded in pdf format here