By Philippa Cahill, Director
Next week is Creativity and Wellbeing Week when the whole of London will be buzzing with events designed to celebrate the wellbeing impact of arts and culture. Each day celebrates a different art form with seminars, performances and exhibitions galore.
It’s all coordinated by one of our favourite organisations, the London Arts in Health Forum. The LAHF has had a fantastic year and is at the forefront of the arts in health revolution.
We grabbed ourselves five minutes with LAHF Director Damian Hebron during his last minute preparations for the Festival, to find out what’s planned for the week ahead, and to get his take on why we are at a pivotal moment for the arts and health movement.
Hi Damian! So, the Creativity and Wellbeing Festival kicks off on Monday and features over 350 events across the capital. It’s the seventh time LAHF has run the festival. How would you say it has changed over the years, and what are you particularly looking forward to this year?
It has basically got a lot bigger! There are events in hospitals, care homes, galleries, museums and parks. We also run a core series of events through the festival which offer a good overview of all the ways creativity can impact on health. This year for the first time we are theming these on different artforms on each day – so it is all very busy!
It seems as though we are at a critical moment in the world of arts and health with a great deal of momentum since the publication of the APPG report in 2017. How important was that, and are you hopeful that the recommendations made by the APPG will be taken up?
I think some of them already are. The report was a big moment because it brings together all the current evidence and understanding of how cultural engagement can improve people’s health. We also launched a new Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance this March which is working with the APPG to bring together all the bodies that need to support this work, on the health side but also the arts. We see this as a social movement – anyone can join the Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance and in the few weeks since we launched it already 3,000 people have.
When we talk about arts and health we are talking about quite a broad movement, encompassing arts in hospitals and treatment centres, participatory arts programmes for people who are living with certain conditions or who may be vulnerable to social isolation, art therapy, arts on prescription, community arts engagement to improve public health and aid in disease prevention, and even culturally enhancing our built environment. It’s a pretty big area. Where do you think the most progress has been made over recent years?
Probably the biggest development is in social prescribing – where GPs and other health professionals can refer patients to cultural activity to support their recovery. Lots of mild to moderate mental health conditions can be improved through engaging with the arts and more and more areas of the country are looking into these sorts of arts on prescription schemes.
Is there a difference between arts engagement for ‘healing’, and arts engagement for the prevention of illness and maximising wellbeing?
Yes, some arts activity can have a specific health outcome. For example, choral singing has been shown to improve lung function in people with COPD. Other activity, perhaps membership of a community choir, can help people to maintain their wellbeing, keeping them active and socially engaged which can help improve their likelihood to stay well.
How do you think we will ultimately convince policy makers that art and culture engagement can positively impact public health? Are you hopeful that the newly formed Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance will help bring about the ‘culture change’ we need?
It’s a dual approach that ultimately will help people to understand this work. We are building evidence and data that demonstrates the impact of specific arts and health work but we are also trying to share the stories and the experiences of people who have benefitted from exploring their creativity and the way that has helped their health. The arts is about telling stories and we have a pretty good story to tell!
What’s your personal ambition for the arts and health agenda this year?
That we can share more with people around the world interested in this area. There is amazing work happening in Finland using the arts in different ways to support health. The writer Mike White described arts and health as a “small scale global phenomenon”. There is so much we can learn from what people are doing elsewhere to make it a large scale phenomenon!
You have been in the arts world for over 20 years, where did your arts and health journey begin and what are you proudest of?
I suppose when I was a child and I visited people in hospital and hated it. In the 80s hospitals were blank and grey and frankly inhospitable. I am proud that – in large part because of our art programme, the hospital I work at is massively more welcoming than hospitals used to be.
Who is currently on your arts and health radar?
All the researchers who are flocking to this area of work. Geographers, economists, statisticians, social scientists as well as medics. It is great to see how many early career researchers are interested in understanding more about the connection between health and creativity – as they learn more the case for this work builds.
As well as being Director of LAHF you’re also Head of Arts at Cambridge University Hospitals. How much is your wellbeing improved by the job you do and your own 24/7 arts engagement?
My jobs are great and it is rewarding to feel like I do something which is trying to help health be more humanised and personalised. Doing two busy jobs is not always great for my wellbeing but writing for myself and listening to music are things I love and definitely help me pause.
Thanks Damian, great to talk to you, thanks for making the time for a chat in the midst of your busy week! Good luck for the Festival, we will look forward to seeing you around town at the events!
The seventh annual Creativity and Wellbeing Week run by London Arts In Health Forum takes place from 4-10 June 2018. For more information visit http://www.creativityandwellbeing.org.uk/ and check out @LahfArtsHealth on Twitter.