Why Doctors Think Art Can Help Cure You

Why Doctors Think Art Can Help Cure You

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by Chris SHARRATT for Frieze

Image detail by Damien Hirst

The forthcoming World Healthcare Congress, Europe, which takes place in Manchester in March, will ‘have an arts, health and social change agenda throughout’ explains Clive Parkinson, head of Arts for Health at Manchester Metropolitan University, the UK’s longest established arts and health unit. Parkinson, who has co-programmed the conference with Manchester Museum director Esme Ward, describes the arts focus of the conference as ‘telling’. Bringing together medical professionals, academics and policy makers, and including a keynote speech from Arts Council England CEO Darren Henley, it signals how the arts and health agenda is moving from the periphery to centre-stage. With initiatives such as doctors being encouraged to prescribe art lessons as part of a GBP£1.8 million UK government strategy, and a trip to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts now part of the prescribing options for members of Médecins francophones du Canada, art and wellness are increasingly being talked about in the same breath. As MMFA director general Nathalie Bondil put it last year when the Montreal scheme was announced: ‘In the 21st century, culture will be what physical activity was for health in the 20th century.’

The recent Calm and Collected report by Art Fund is yet another example of the foregrounding of cultural consumption as a healthy lifestyle option. The report’s key finding was that those under 30 are twice as likely to visit a museum or gallery at least once a month in order to ‘de-stress’. These visitors are, it would seem, turning to art galleries and museums as a therapeutic third space. Stephen Deuchar, director of Art Fund, says of the report: ‘We thought we should commission some proper research to investigate how regularly engaging with museums and galleries can contribute to an individual’s sense of wellbeing. The outcomes of the Calm and Collected research clearly confirm that visiting museums more frequently does indeed have a positive effect on one’s overall sense of personal balance and fulfilment.’

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