The prevailing narrative in UK policy-making circles is that we lack evidence around how engagement in the arts – as an audience member and/or practitioner – affects our physical and psychological health over time. Between February and July 2014, research was conducted which sought to address this perceived deficit in several ways.
In the first place, this research adopted an international perspective to locate and critically analyse those English-language studies to have explored the association between arts engagement and health. This gave rise to an evidence base, comprising fifteen studies, which collectively suggest that arts engagement has a beneficial impact upon health over time. This observation, made in relation to a range of chronic diseases, prompted a detailed consideration of the likely physiological and molecular biological mechanisms underlying any positive results.
Attention was then turned to the likelihood of replicating and elaborating upon these results. This necessitated a critical appraisal of the population-based datasets underpinning international studies and a consideration of their UK comparators. Complemented by detailed consultation with leading researchers in the field, this part of the project yielded a series of recommendations for future analyses of the relationship between arts engagement and health in the UK and beyond. This takes account of the potential for further longitudinal studies, intervention into the surveys making up the relevant datasets and an ambitious new biomedical analysis. In this effort, it is suggested, attention will need to be paid to persistent inequalities of access to the arts, health and economic resources. It is to be hoped that past and future research in this area will provide the necessary evidence for policy-makers to invest in high-quality arts activities well beyond the clinical environment.
Download the report Exploring the Longitudinal Relationship between Arts Engagement and Health.