CultureForHealth – How art and culture are contributing to community-based approaches to health promotion and care throughout the life-course

EuroHealthNet recently joined the Advisory Board of the CultureForHealth project (2021 – 2023), which is an EU Preparatory Action – Bottom-Up Policy Development for Culture & Wellbeing in the EU, launched and co-funded by the European Union. Its aim is to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, experience and success stories in the EU related to the role of culture in supporting wellbeing and health. But what impact do art and culture activities have upon health and wellbeing?

EuroHealthNet's Lina Papartyte, Project Coordinator in Practice, alongside Senior Policy Coordinator, Dorota Sienkiewicz, and Projects and Operations Director for Culture Action Europe, Kornelia Kiss, discuss the outcomes.

Art and culture strengthen population health

©Photo by Maick Maciel on Unsplash
©Photo by Maick Maciel on Unsplash

There is mounting evidence on both a European and global scale that demonstrates how arts, creative and cultural activities can support and strengthen a populations health and societal wellbeing. An extensive literature review captured in the WHO Report: What is the evidence of the role of the arts in improving health and wellbeing? (2019), highlighted how different arts activities – such as music, literature, writing, theatre, dance, visual and participatory cultural activities – positively affect psychosocial and behavioural processes. Such activities, for instance, can encourage individuals to take up and maintain healthier lifestyles, avoid risky behaviours, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve health literacy and self-confidence, which in turn can lead to improved motivation and life satisfaction, in addition to fostering social inclusion.

As described in some of our previous Magazine editions, it is clear that arts and culture are a resource for health. This is already being exemplified by some European countries and regions – the North-West of Italy notably –  illustrating the benefits towards health promotion and disease prevention.

These processes fit well within innovative and emerging economic models for societal progress too. One such model, the Economy of Wellbeing, emphasises the principle of health and wellbeing-in-all-policies, and aims to reduce environmental, work-related, and economic stressors.

Citizen and community empowerment and engagement in health co-creation


The CultureForHealth project also conducted a scoping review[1]: a research synthesis that aimed to summarise more recent literature on the evidence of culture, wellbeing, and health interventions.

The outcome was clear: culture can support both prevention and treatment strategies. For example, the review found that active dance and drama-based participation can encourage social competences, reduce risk behaviours in youth, foster social engagement and improve mental and physical functioning as well as  acting to enhance resilience in older age.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, culture allowed for the emergence of innovative strategies to help individuals cope with challenges, reduce stress and short-term anxiety, and counteract negative effects of social isolation. More broadly, the review found strong evidence that cultural participation supports quality of life in people of all ages.

Not only are culture and the arts effective in sustaining and improving health, but also treatment, care and disease management can benefit from it. For example, psychotherapy centres increasingly use art to rehabilitate their patients. Participatory photography therapy enables people with mental illness to work through problematic issues.

The project strives to continuously collect such initiatives. This is exemplified through the project's recently launched map directory which features over 500 examples of relevant policies, projects and programmes carried out at a local, regional, national, European and international level.

©Photo by Hamish Kale on Unsplash
©Photo by Hamish Kale on Unsplash

Culture on prescription

In this context, arts on prescription schemes are available in a growing number of European countries. (Have a look at a report of our recent Country Exchange Visit on social prescribing and community-based approaches to health for examples.)

Referrals to community activities, including participatory arts activities[2] are often done via primary care practitioners, or in some countries, medical/social workers. Such referrals are available to those citizens who present with non-medical problems, and who perhaps experience social isolation, loneliness, or require additional psychosocial support. A report released by NHS England and NHS Improvement, claimed that 20-30% of all present doctor visits in England are from individuals who seek such support.

Evaluations have shown the benefits that both art and culture activities can have upon mental health, chronic pain, management of complex and long-term conditions, social support and wellbeing.

Partnerships between sectors

Working together in the health, cultural, academic, social, and urban development sectors, we can create a more holistic understanding of health. Systematic opportunities for collaboration should be created. The presence of enabling factors such as dedicated resources, policies and champions in the community make such initiatives more likely to take root and scale up.

However, working together efficiently takes time and effort. There is an evident need for education and training to support the development and adoption of new ways of working. Having an increased awareness of the connection between health and wellbeing and the benefits of cultural interventions can greatly contribute to health promotion. Empowering health professionals to implement such interventions, not only benefits patients, but simultaneously improves the professional satisfaction of health care workers.

©Photo by Microsoft 365 on Unsplash
©Photo by Microsoft 365 on Unsplash

Way forward

The initial research findings from the CultureForHealth project resulted in three strategic principles, delineating the direction that close collaboration between the health and cultural sectors could take to support the health and wellbeing of our societies:

  • Increasing awareness of the potential culture can bring in supporting individual and community health and wellbeing, both as a treatment and  preventive manner to national, regional, and local health authorities.
  • Recognising culture, health and wellbeing as an interdisciplinary field of knowledge and practice.
  • Unleashing the potential of culture to promote an Economy of Wellbeing.

If implemented well, the above recommendations could ease the burden on health and social systems and help deliver better and more tailored services to the population. This is relevant in the context of the recovery and resilience re-building (as promoted via the European Semester process), the future crises preparedness (as suggested in the outcomes of the Conference on the Future of Europe, and the European Health Union), as well as contribute to the implementation of the actions of the European Pillar of Social Rights.


1. CultureForHealth scoping review to be published on project website later in 2022 (

2. Torjesen, I. (2016) Social Prescribing could help alleviate pressure on GPs. BMJ, 352:i1436

portrait of Lina Papartyte
Lina Papartyte
Project Coordinator at EuroHealthNet

Lina primarily works on the practice platform where she coordinates EuroHealthNet Country Exchange Visits between national experts striving to ensure that the best approaches and evidence for improving health and equity are translated into policy and practice. She also contributes to RIVER-EU (“Reducing Inequalities in Vaccine uptake in the European Region – Engaging Underserved communities”) project where EuroHealthNet serves as the Communication and Dissemination Work Package lead.

Most recently, she was involved in EuroHealthNet’s work on health promotion and disease prevention in the context of the EU Joint Action CHRODIS PLUS and developing an eGuide for financing health promoting services.

Dorota Sienkiewicz
Policy Coordinator at EuroHealthNet

Dorota is a public health advocate with almost 15 years of policy and advocacy experience at European, national and global level with strong interest in health equity, poverty and social exclusion, early years and vulnerable groups, mental health, gender policies, as well as food systems. As EuroHealthNet's Senior Policy Coordinator, Dorota leads the Policy Platform, providing policy advice and intelligence to the Partnership, developing consultation responses, liaising with EU institutions, its strategic and expert groups, and EU public health and social rights stakeholders.

Before joining EuroHealthNet, Dorota worked for a number of European civil society organisations in the field of public health and international development, as independent consultant for health and social justice NGOs as well as the WHO Europe Governance for Health and European Healthy Cities Network. She was also involved in several EU Health Programme and Horizon2020-funded projects (JA CHRODIS+ & Best-ReMaP, ESIF Funds for Health, iFamily, FRESHER).

Kornelia Kiss
Projects and Operations Director at Culture Action Europe

For over 5 years, Kornelia Kiss has been a Projects and Operations Director at Culture Action Europe (CAE) - the major European network of cultural networks, organisations, artists, activists, academics and policymakers.

CAE is leading the consortium of the CultureForHealth project, which is a Preparatory Action launched by the EU for "Bottom-Up Policy Development for Culture & Well-being in the EU."  Kornelia as an international project management professional with wide ranging experience in both the private and the public sector is a key figure in this endeavour.

Before joining CAE, she worked at the European Commission -DG Development Cooperation, at DG Trade, and also as a consultant for the OECD. Before joining the Commission, she acquired strong project management and organising skills at leading multinational companies and at an international training company. Her academic background is in economics and business and management consulting.

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