But much more could be done if cultural organisations and government better understood the impact the arts make.
The Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health and cultural regeneration consultancy Nick Ewbank Associates carried out research in three coastal towns where there has been significant investment in culture-led regeneration in recent years, focusing on the impacts of Turner Contemporary in Margate, the Creative Foundation in Folkestone and the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea.
The resulting report, ‘Cultural Value and Social Capital’, found that despite an intuitive feeling that there is a “connection between cultural activity and feeling good”, health and wellbeing is not prioritised as a driver of either programming or outcomes.
The three organisations were found to make a “significant, but at present largely undefined, contribution to social capital and to delivering health and wellbeing in their respective communities”, but outside the specialist field of arts in health practice “this important aspect of cultural value is currently hidden”.
The report proposes the introduction of guidelines with models of best practice, an idea supported by the three organisations involved in the project, who also said they would "welcome the introduction of simple-to-use evaluation tools that might shed light on levels of wellbeing generated by their everyday activities". The report also suggests that cultural organisations should do more research into barriers to public engagement with their work, and give more consideration to programming and commissions aimed at "addressing specific health and social issues".
The research was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of its Cultural Value Project.
Both the report and a short film of the House of Commons launch event can be viewed here.