Some news for those with an interest in the arts and health
A National Arts and Health Policy Forum in Canberra this week looks set to generate some efforts to advance the cause of the arts and health, reports Gordon Gregory, executive director of the National Rural Health Alliance.
Could the health sector make better use of the arts?
Gordon Gregory writes:
A fascinating forum was held in Parliament House, Canberra, this week on the subject of arts and health.
The political context for the Forum is encouraging. Thanks to the common interests of State, Territory and Commonwealth Ministers for both health and arts and culture, a special working group has been established to report to both groups of Ministers on how arts and health can be further developed and encouraged.
The working group is being led by South Australia, reflecting the fact that John Hill is Minister for Health (including mental health) and Minister for the Arts in that State.
The Forum, convened by the Arts and Health Foundation, was designed to provide advice from the sector to the officials Working Group. Much of that advice is now bundled in a proposal that the two groups of Ministers should sign up to a National Arts and Health Framework and Action Plan.
Among other things, this would formalise the work that needs to be done to collate and test the evidence base for the effectiveness of arts and health, and confirm the need for an audit of activities in train (who is doing what, in what area and with what resources ).
Simon Crean, Minister for the Arts, addressed the Forum and was very encouraging – including from personal experience – about the benefits that arts and health work can deliver. He made it clear that his view is that further developments in the area should be led by the health sector, reflecting the balance of resources and authority between the health and arts sectors and ministries that most people at the Forum agreed exists.
There were some fascinating discussions about precisely what ‘arts and health’ encompassses.
It was readily agreed that ‘Arts’ means art, music, literature, architecture and design, etc. And it was also relatively easy to agree that health should be deemed to be that wide construct comprised of physical, mental, social and spiritual wellbeing.
There was also an easy acceptance that arts can contribute at all stages of the health system (in health promotion and illness prevention, early intervention, primary care, in hospitals and aged care facilities) and to all population groups (those with mental health challenges, those with a disability, in rehabilitation, and as a valuable part of therapy for almost any condition).
The inclusion of health promotion and illness prevention among the areas in which arts can be effective is a reminder that arts and health is much broader than what might be termed ‘arts and illness’. There is evidence about the beneficial impact of arts on patients in hospital, for example, but there is, if you like, an even bigger ‘market’ for arts activities in health promotion: as a means of communicating health messages, as a means of helping people remain healthy, whatever their age and whatever the setting.
Notwithstanding the momentum that has built up in arts and health activities and the quite evident enthusiasm of its practitioners, at the Forum in Canberra there was still uncertainty about what exactly arts and health is.
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