Health and the Arts combine to improve health and wellbeing

Fusion banner

“Engaging with the arts can transform communities and have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of individuals.”

That’s the key message from a symposium of specially-invited guests from the arts, health, business and government sectors taking place today, [24 October], in The MAC, Belfast.

Arts Care NI, with support from the Public Health Agency (PHA), organised this one-day event, entitled Fusion, to bring together key innovators and experts from the UK and Ireland to strategically enhance health and wellbeing through creative partnerships.

Dr Jenny Elliott, Chief Executive of Arts Care, welcomed delegates: “Today’s event is an excellent opportunity to showcase and grow the understanding of the contribution that arts can make to health. The model of best practice that has been developing over the past 27 years in Northern Ireland has drawn significant global attention particularly from partners in the USA and Europe who are looking towards the innovation and sustainability of Arts Care to influence their respective arts and health practice and research.”

“Another central focus of today is to identify opportunities which can further enhance partnership support and joint working with colleagues in health and social care in Northern Ireland by considering the outcomes and recommendations from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing (APPGAHW) inquiry Creative health: The arts for health and wellbeing which examines evidence of models of arts and health practice in England and Wales.

“One such opportunity is to encourage more use of ‘social prescribing’ which is when GPs and other frontline healthcare professionals refer people to 'services', such as use of the arts in their local communities, instead of offering only medical solutions.”

The symposium will also help strengthen cross-sectoral links and develop new strategic partnerships locally, nationally and internationally and help influence and develop relevant policy and legislation to strengthen the role of the arts in health, social and community care.

Brendan Bonner, Acting Assistant Director of Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement at the PHA commented: “There is a growing body of evidence that supports use of the arts in improving health and wellbeing. At the PHA we have adopted this approach through partnering on innovative programmes that enable Arts Care’s expertly trained team of artists, musicians, dancers, poets, film-makers and animators to make a real difference to the lives of many vulnerable and sick children and adults who are often experiencing life-limiting illnesses such as cancer, dementia, cystic fibrosis and other conditions that impact on their quality of life such as poor mental health or abuse.

“We look forward to exploring further opportunities that encourage the development of evidence-based projects that improve health and social wellbeing through the arts.”

Keynote speaker, Dr Michael McBride, Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health, said: “I’m delighted to be here today to contribute to this important discussion. The range of organisations represented at this symposium demonstrates the value we place on the arts within the healthcare and health improvement arenas, and the growing understanding about the positive impacts taking part in the arts can have on health and wellbeing and its potential as a catalyst for healing.

“In the future, I see the arts having an increasingly important role to play both within health and social care settings, with highly skilled arts facilitators inspiring and supporting people and their clinicians through recovery journeys, and beyond, within communities as part of a wider system which promotes a healthy and health creating society.”

Dr Tony Stevens, CEO Northern Health and Social Care Trust will also deliver a keynote speech highlighting creative partnerships in health and wellbeing and realising the potential of the arts.

There will also be contributions from the UK’s Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance; the Arts Council of Northern Ireland; Queens University Belfast; Roehampton University, London; and from the arts and health sector in the Republic of Ireland. 

The event will feature live performances throughout the day, including Arts Care’s integrated dance companies, poets, medical students, young service users and community groups, as well as art exhibitions of service user and artist work.

Further information

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Notes to the editor


Arts Care was established in 1991 and is Northern Ireland’s leading arts and health organisation developing excellence in arts and health practice and research. It delivers comprehensive weekly arts programmes through a wide range of health, social and community care services across the region. It aims to:

  • Establish a regional arts and health partnership hub in Northern Ireland with relevant partners to produce research evidence and models of best practice.
  • Establish an all-party arts, health and wellbeing group in Northern Ireland, similar to Westminster’s.
  • Develop critical and creative partnerships locally, nationally and internationally to enhance the fast-growing field of arts and health.
  • Promote and advocate for the arts within health, social and community care.
  • Build a strong shared vision that places the arts at the centre of transforming the health and wellbeing of the individual and communities.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) is a multi-disciplinary, multi-professional body established in 2009 within Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland. Its purpose is to protect and improve the health and social wellbeing of the population in Northern Ireland, reducing health inequalities through strong partnerships with individuals, communities and other key public, private and voluntary organisations.

Examples of partnership working

Arts Care and the PHA partner on several innovative and best practice models of arts, health and wellbeing programmes, with a focus on vulnerable older people, children and young people.

  • Arts Care in partnership with the PHA and The Pushkin Trust have designed and trialled a significant five years Town Arts, Health and Wellbeing Programme in Strabane, Western Health and Social Care Trust. Roehampton University has been the academic partner on the project collecting five years of data to demonstrate the positive and transforming impact of the arts on individual and community health and wellbeing.
  • Arts Care impact in healthcare and hospital environments transforms clinical spaces into ‘Creative cared-for spaces’
  • The Arts Care Galleries that are located throughout different Trust areas are now encouraging the local communities to visit these very specific art galleries that are located in the heart of everyday clinical spaces.
  • Twilight Zone Looked After Young People’s Regional Project engaging the most vulnerable teenagers with the arts to improve self-esteem, self- confidence and build useful life and creative skills.
  • The Here and Now Older People’s Arts and Wellbeing Festival. An annual arts festival that reaches out to the most vulnerable older people as well as older well people over the age of sixty with an opportunity to participate in a wide range of arts activities.
  • Let the Dance Begin Town and Wellbeing Project in Strabane, now in its seventh year, is a uniquely designed project that puts the arts at the heart of a border town that has experienced high levels of social depravation in some areas. This project generates vision for transformation by delivering a lively series of arts, music, film, dance etc workshops in the heart of the community, schools, healthcare and businesses.