AHSW's Director, Trustees, and Members reflect on various aspects of arts, health and wellbeing.

Apps, Journals and Social Prescribing progress

AHSW Director Alex Coulter explores recent happenings around the Mappiness App, Arts Council England’s CREATE journal, and social prescribing progress in the south west.

The recently published research by Daniel Fujiwara, well known for his work at LSE on Wellbeing analysis, uses data from the Mappiness app. Mappiness measures ‘Affective Subjective Wellbeing’ – a person’s feelings in the moment.
Participants in the research have the Mappiness app on their iPhone and get random dings asking them a series of questions about what they are doing in that moment and how they feel on a happiness scale, and a relaxed scale. The research looks at the effects on happiness and relaxation of activities at an institution, such as at a theatre or concert hall, an exhibition, museum or library; and at activity only i.e. listening to music, reading, singing, making art. Together with the responses, the app transmits the satellite position of the individual at the time and the time elapsed between the ‘ding’ and response.

One cautionary factor is that wealthier people, young people and employed people are over-represented amongst the Mappiness respondents relative to the UK adult population. Results show that all arts and culture activities are significantly associated with happiness and relaxation after controlling for a range of other factors. In comparison to all of the 40 activities that people report in Mappiness, ‘theatre, dance, concerts’ ranks second for happiness (pipped to the post by ‘Intimacy, making love’!) and ‘exhibitions, museums, libraries’ ranks third for relaxation. You can read the full report here.

Arts Council’s CREATE journal, published in December, includes a wonderful piece by the journalist Tanya Gould on Meet Me at the Albany. She says this project is for older people to make: ‘Art of any kind. Art conventional. Art subversive. Art personal, or universal. Art for the first time, or at the end of a lifetime of art.’ And: ‘Without art, what are we? What will we leave behind? Nothing of course; just junk. Art and love are the only consolations.’ And: ‘This is either a unique experiment in provision for the elderly – if you write like a bureaucrat – or something as lovely and as hopeful as a poem.’ Also in CREATE, John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, writes that the arts must be an explicit part of a healthy society, and quotes Charles Winslow, founder of the School of Public Health at Yale, and William Morris as early apologists for theories of the benefits of a holistic life, including the arts, as crucial for health and wellbeing. He says: ‘art and culture, so instinctive to us, and taken so for granted, can help us find the route to the existential meaning that is fundamentally necessary to our wellbeing.’

Sir Peter Bazalgette wrote an article for the Observer ‘Use the arts to boost the nation’s health’ published on December 28th. He highlights the raised awareness of ‘social prescribing’ and links this to the need for a stronger evidence base. Arts Council England will be funding more research into arts and health this year and efforts to raise the game and the profile of arts and health research and evaluation are flourishing all over the place.

On the subject of social prescribing, you will know that we have been keen to develop work of this type at a more strategic level in the region. It is a slow process, of course, but when Dr Simon Opher (Artlift), Bill Boa (our Finance Trustee) and I gave a presentation to the Finance Directors of Clinical Commissioning Groups from across the South West, at the end of November, they seemed remarkably receptive to the idea. In particular we are following up the idea with North Somerset and have a meeting with arts providers there later in January to discuss capacity and partnership working. At a national level, in partnership with Art & Minds in Cambridgeshire and with the support of the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing, we are organising a meeting for those involved in delivering or researching arts on prescription and arts-based social prescribing around the country, to come together and see if we can co-ordinate our efforts to better effect.

Alexandra Coulter
Director, Arts & Health South West

January 2015

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