Arts For Your Heart (Health)
February 5, 2020
In our current over-saturated news cycle, public health is a critical global issue that often doesn’t get enough attention. We hear about the large-scale viral pandemics, but the everyday health issues that impact most everybody often don’t make it above the fold. In recent years, medical institutions have also been supporting the greater understanding that doctors need to treat the whole person, not just individual maladies as they arise. The human body is all connected, and we must treat it as such, realizing that mental health and social stresses can take a huge toll on physical outcomes.
Our partner and lead champion, Mass Cultural Council, recently launched their Culture Rx Initiative in an effort to solve some of these very problems by connecting arts and culture to the healthcare system here in Massachusetts. Their Social Prescription Pilot Program, launched in January of 2020, empowers healthcare providers to leverage the arts in their communities in ways that help their patients. Similar programs have been effective abroad, which has led physicians and lawmakers alike to the conclusion that the connection between health and the arts is one worth pursuing.
Strokestra, an award-winning healthcare partnership dedicated to helping stroke survivors with their rehab through a partnership with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, saw incredible results. 86% of participants reported a relief in symptoms, citing reduced epilepsy systems, reduced anxiety, and fewer dizzy spells, and 86% reported cognitive benefits, such as increased attention, concentration, and memory. All this not to mention the 91% of participants who noticed an increase in social relationships and communication skills—which for patients recovering from a stroke is no small feat, as loneliness and isolation contribute greatly to various health problems.
As the medical field searches for new approaches on ways to keep people healthy that go beyond stethoscopes and blood tests, they can turn to the arts to encourage preventative care methods. Perhaps you’ve seen this push in the form of mindfulness coloring books, or remember the Dance Dance Revolution craze of the early 2000s. These are certainly some fun ways to instill positive habits, but many researchers and community organizations have found ways to go deeper with this idea.
In Philadelphia, a collaborative effort between Mural Arts Philadelphia and the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services called the Porch Light Program has been using the arts to bolster public health outcomes for over a decade. Artists team up with groups of homeless youth or residents struggling with substance use to create fantastic murals or work on poetry readings. This doesn’t just result in more beautiful public space, but in fact researchers from the Yale School of Medicine observed decreased stigma in public attitudes towards those struggling with mental health/substance abuse challenges, as well as improved perceptions of neighborhood safety. Read more about this unique program and the results of this study here.
Past ArtWeek hosts have tapped into this mind/body connection to incredible results. In 2018, The Pao Art Center’s production of The Way We Live Now, a play adaptation of Susan Sontag’s short story exploring public health issues such as opioid use and chronic pain, was part of ArtWeek. The event, hosted in partnership with Fenway Health, was a participatory dress rehearsal where audiences were invited to share their own experiences and observations with the cast and creative team.
Last year, the Plymouth Youth Development Collaborative led students in photography projects that dealt with questions of substance abuse, and gallery attendees were led in a mindfulness meditation exercise by representatives from The Happy Heart. Downtown Framingham Inc. brought the community together in a celebration of dance, art, and movement with their Mural Mile Road Race. Spaulding Rehab in Sandwich made some noise with a community drum circle for healing.
The Malden Dance Mile is a fantastic example of an event integrating the best of movement and arts. Multiple site-specific dance performances occur along Malden’s Community Trail, and attendees get the chance to walk between them, enjoying fantastic performances. Their 2019 event was a blast, and we are excited to have them back for 2020!
If you’re inspired to start integrating the arts into your healthcare routine, ArtWeek 2020 already has some great events in store that are sure to engage your physical health as well as your creative mind. Both The World’s Largest Poem put on by WordXWord and the Woods Hole Traditional Music Stroll put on by ArtsFalmouth, Inc. will encourage participants to take in the art while walking along beautiful nature paths. The Cultural Alliance of Medfield has even created a “walking play” that audiences can enjoy, along with their PorchFest performances, in the outdoor grounds of former Medfield State Hospital. More information on these events and more will be available when our calendar goes live on April 1st!