Why culture is a resource for health, and Italy is at the forefront of developments

Arts and culture can help us recover from the collective trauma of the pandemic. How can we gain a deeper understanding of the links between health, culture, and the social sector? How can we build on them? We learn about how Italy is leading the way.

by Catterina Seia, Alessandra Rossi Ghiglione and Claudio Totone

The Current Challenge

The global COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of culture and art to our mental health and our capacity for social cohesion. It contributes to individual and collective human development (IUHPE, 2021). The crisis has left us, as a society, with a kind of post-traumatic stress. The enormous social costs of the crisis have touched on various social and political dimensions. The chasm of inequality thus widens. It exposes the vulnerable, who pay the highest price in economic, social, and human terms.

The impact of culture on multiple dimensions of the health and wellbeing of individuals, groups, and communities is based on an increasingly robust body of scientific evidence, culminating with the WHO Report What is the evidence of the role of the arts in improving health and wellbeing? (2019). Art and culture are key health resources. They matter both in the dimension of healthcare and medical humanities, and in the construction of equity and social justice.

 

Cultural Welfare: a Strategic Alliance between culture, health, education, and social sectors

The relationship between culture, health and the social sector may become a strategic alliance as Italy emerges from the pandemic. Within this great crisis, it is possible and indeed urgent to work on a new model of wellfare or wellbeing. In this model, the themes of human development become an integral part of prevention, health promotion, and medical humanities strategies. By involving public and private actors and stakeholders, working from a multidisciplinary, multilevel, and inter-sectoral perspective, we can generate an authentic contribution to a new form of wellbeing through art and culture. A cultural wellfare.

The North-West Italy: a region of good practices

In Italy, some pioneering regions scaling up their local cultural welfare practices. They are capitalising on existing actions, further implementing and transferring them, and using them as a resource for new social challenges. In summer 2020, in three Italian North-Western regions (Piedmont, Liguria, and Valle d’Aosta) the Compagnia di San Paolo (CSP) – one of the largest foundations in Europe – commissioned a survey on culture and health. This survey was developed thanks to the collaboration between the Cultural Welfare Centre, the Social and Community Theatre Centre of the University of Turin, and DoRS Piedmont Region.

The research highlights a great richness of experiences. It mapped 247 entities and 2,821 projects realised in the last 10 years, of which 389 are described in detail. This is not an exhaustive study of the existing landscape. It does, however show the vitality and the cultural, professional, and civic heritage of the North-West of Italy.

Flagship projects

To support work in this area, the CSP has launched an experimental multi-annual programme. Aiming to strengthen the territorial fabric, it has chosen

four flagship projects within the Cultural Wellbeing Lab which will be inspirational for other future initiatives:

  • Dedalo Vola, a community project that promotes a healthy lifestyle through cross-sectoral collaborations.
  • Verba Curant, a storytelling project implemented in health care settings.
  • Cultura di Base, a project that moves the GPs’ offices to cultural settings.
  • Danzarte, a process of advanced research dedicated to vulnerable people that provides them with the opportunity to “see” a work of art throughout the body.

Advocacy and Capacity Building by CCW

In this context, on the very first day of the first lockdown in Italy, the Cultural Welfare Center (CCW) was born. CCW is the first Italian competence centre on culture and health. It was founded thanks to the willingness of ten opinion-leaders, practitioners, and researchers who operate in different disciplinary fields, committed to the promotion of the virtuous relationship between culture and health over the last 15 years, collaborating on many projects.

CCW is active in advocacy, capacity building, and project promotion. The main targets of the advocacy action are public and private policy makers. The capacity building actions are designed to answer the skills’ needs which emerged from the survey mentioned above. In this regard, at the beginning of December 2021, the first Executive Master on culture and health is launching in Italy. It will be an opportunity of networking between practitioners, researchers, and decision-makers who operate in the fields of culture, education, and health and social services, together building projects that combine arts and culture with well-being, health and care.

It is a fruitful moment to create virtuous connections between practices and policies, and to relaunch human, social, and economic development to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic while learning the valuable lessons it has taught us.

References

IUHPE, Critical Actions for Mental Health Promotion, 2021 (https://www.iuhpe.org/images/IUHPE/Advocacy/IUHPE_Mental-Health_PositionStatement.pdf)

WHO What is the evidence of the role of the arts in improving health and wellbeing? (Health Evidence Network Synthesis Report 67), 2019 (https://www.dors.it/documentazione/testo/202005/oms_arti_eng.pdf). Italian translation (https://www.dors.it/documentazione/testo/202108/report2019OMSartisalute_20210727.pdf)

Catterina Seia
President at CCW Cultural Welfare Centre | + posts

President at CCW-Cultural Welfare Center, the first Italian competence centre in the field of Culture and Health. She is a pioneer in cultural crossovers and since the beginning of her professional career she promotes the empowerment of people, organizations and communities as a source of well-being, connecting arts and science. She is co-founder and Vice-President of Medicina a Misura di Donna Foundation and Fitzcarraldo Foundation, a leading research body dealing with cultural policies.

Alessandra Rossi Ghiglione
Dramatist and Director at University of Turin | + posts

Dramatist and director, she is a performing arts expert in urban regeneration and social cohesion contexts. She founded the Social and Community Theatre Centre of the University of Turin (SCT Centre | Unito). Since 2000, she created and directed the early editions of the Master in Cultural Events of the Cattolica University of Milan, and the Master in Social and Community Theatre of the University of Turin, where she has been carrying out research activities since 2003. From December 2021, she directs the first edition of the Executive Master in Culture and Health of CCW-Cultural Welfare Center, of which she is co-founder.

Claudio Tortone
Plans and Projects Manager at DoRs | + posts

Medical Doctor in Public Health. Plans and Projects Area Manager at DoRS Piedmont Region Health Promotion Centre. I’m supporting the development of National/Regional Prevention Plan through the empowerment approach. I’m developing advocacy, capacity building and research actions for the connection between culture/performing arts and health/wellbeing to promote equity and social capital. I’m a member of the CCW knowledge community and collaborates with the Social and Community Theatre Centre of Turin University.

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