Arts on Prescription
by Andre Kimo Stone Guess, President & CEO, Fund for the Arts
My phone constantly barrages me with articles on all the millions of ways I can be healthier, many of which are based upon research that seeks to show the correlation between activities such as exercising and eating more plant-based foods and good physical and mental health. By now, we have all heard the claim that taking 10,000 steps a day can boost mood and brain function, improve mobility, and promote healthy weight loss.
I’m not sure that 10,000 steps is a magical number for everyone that unlocks all those benefits, but whether you walk for 30 minutes a day, do yoga to help wake up in the morning, or dance in your kitchen, we all feel and understand the benefits of moving our bodies. Science is just confirming what we know to have been true all along.
Similarly, science is catching up to what we know to be true about engaging in arts, culture, and nature. Increasingly, research is coming to light confirming the benefits of this engagement for physical and mental well-being, and overall quality of life.
A 2023 New York Times bestseller lays out some of this research. Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us, by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross, shares how art is good food and good medicine–an essential part of individual and collective health, healing, and well-being.
Magsamen is the founder and director of the International Arts + Mind Lab, Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. The Director of Research at that same lab is Dr. Tasha Golden: a Louisville resident and University of Louisville graduate who has been spearheading work at intersections of arts and health both locally and around the world.
In a brand-new publication she orchestrated, Arts on Prescription: A Field Guide for US Communities, Golden writes:
“Imagine that the next time you visit your doctor, counselor, or social worker, they write you a prescription for resources in your community to bolster your health and well-being. This isn’t your typical prescription for medication or referral to clinical specialists, but instead a referral to a music or pottery class, time in nature, or tickets to a dance performance, museum or botanical garden.”
This vision illustrates the concept of “Arts on Prescription,” a term referring to any program in which health and social care providers are empowered to prescribe arts, culture, or nature experiences to patients or clients to better support their health and well-being. And while it may seem novel or far-fetched, it’s been gaining traction worldwide.
Sometimes called “social prescribing,” programs like this have run in other countries for decades, and models have been emerging in the States. The practice aligns perfectly with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” In fact, the WHO’s Arts and Health Lead, Christopher Bailey, wrote the foreword for the new Field Guide, and he and I have spoken several times over the past few years about how Louisville can partner with the WHO on a city-wide Arts and Health initiative.
The Field Guide pulls together mounting arts and health research, best practices, and lessons learned from early models to create a “how to” manual that helps other communities join in on the movement.
And I believe implementing it is the project we have been looking for.
Louisville prides itself on the quality of healthcare in our community. With projects like LOUMED, the Louisville Medical and Education District, and the building of the new Norton West Louisville Hospital at 28th and Broadway, we are a city that is investing in a world-class healthcare infrastructure.
Even with all of this investment and infrastructure, we face ongoing challenges to make access truly equitable, to reduce stigma, and create healthcare environments that are culturally responsive. We also know that as great as traditional healthcare can be at reacting to illness and injury, it doesn’t yet have a way to provide for what Dr. Golden has called “the other half of health”: complete well-being. These are all challenges that partnering with arts and culture can help address.
Early models of arts on prescription have indicated that this model can expand resource knowledge and access, improve patient satisfaction, link healthcare with trusted community spaces, and even boost provider morale. By breaking out of the box of traditional care, it helps more people find more—and more meaningful–ways to connect and be well.
And the good news is that our city is alive with arts, culture and nature resources. Vibrant assets exist in every neighborhood, creating opportunities for healthcare to link with our culture-rich communities to create and share more “good food and good medicine.”.
Currently, there is no city-wide initiative for Arts on Prescription in the U.S. Let’s be the first, and lead in this effort.
Creating and launching a city-wide initiative doesn’t happen overnight. It will take partnerships with the city, healthcare institutions, arts, culture and nature organizations, universities, neighborhood groups, grassroots organizations, concerned and passionate individuals, and more.
A 10,000-step day begins with just one. Let’s take the first step. We already have a leg up. Dr. Golden, the lead author of the Field Guide, lives here.