The UK’s Arts on Prescription (AoP) programme entitles UK citizens to be included in arts and cultural activities as a prescription by their GP. While obviously relating to non-clinical, non-life-threatening problems, this solution demonstrates a belief that participation in creative activities can promote individual and also community health and wellbeing.
AoP was first established in Stockport in 1994 and in recent years programmes of this kind have spread throughout the UK.
This is what we refer to as cultural welfare: an expression that precisely denotes a model of health promotion based on the use of visual and performing arts and the strengthening of cultural heritage in general.
Defining cultural welfare
“Cultural welfare is a means of bringing professionals from different disciplines into a systemic relationship and, above all, of promoting integration between health, social policy, arts and cultural institutions”, explains Catterina Seia, president of the CCW Cultural Welfare Center, an organisation that works for the benefit of those who create, practice, promote and support the arts as a resource of wellbeing for the community.
“The Cultural Welfare Center is, in fact, a group of about fifteen people pioneering cultural crossover and osmosis between different subjects. We were the first to talk about cultural welfare in Italy”, says Seia.
If engaging in cultural and creative activities can reduce anxiety, stress and mood disorders, then these same activities can become a great way to reduce welfare costs while improving our quality of life.
“In addition to increasing social wellbeing in general, this dynamic is also, ironically, self-sustaining, in the sense that the savings generated by the improved quality of life of the sick would in fact go to finance the improved cultural interventions, with enormous savings margins”, she adds.
A World Health Organisation report in 2019 already recognised cultural welfare as very clear proof: the effectiveness of certain cultural, artistic and creative activities as a factor in promoting health, including in terms of developing life skills, subjective wellbeing and life satisfaction, and also as a measure to combat inequalities.
Even the 17 SDGs for the third millennium in the UN 2030 Agenda include culture and art as key elements: As the Cultural Welfare Center points out, the New European Agenda 2030 for Culture (May 2018) relaunches the dimension of cultural crossovers, i.e. the systematic and systemic relations of culture with other policy domains, as pillars in the health, social, civic, environmental policies of the next decades.
The Italian panorama
Cultural welfare has been practised in Italy for a long time, in many ways: there are good practices established over the last two decades, especially in Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, Tuscany and Lazio – according to information provided by the Cultural Welfare Center.
Twenty-five years ago, the Autonomous Province of Bolzano was the forerunner of experiments that influenced cultural policies, making them an excellent instrument for improving the quality of life for the people in the area. It comes as no surprise that Antonio Lampis, a member of the Cultural Welfare Center, was director of the cultural department of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano from 1997 to 2017, a position he re-assumed on 1 September 2020. Since his appointment, Bolzano has seen an upsurge in cultural consumption, carried out many initiatives on the theme of culture and health since 1998, devised dozens of conventional and unconventional cultural marketing initiatives and several exhibitions with a strong propaedeutic character in collaboration with major museums.
The first Urban Regeneration Plan was implemented in Turin in 2000, which organically included performing arts projects in the city’s ten districts in the Social Accompaniment Plans, aimed at promoting quality of life and social quality. For some time now, the Umbria Region has been promoting joint training activities between the health-social services department and the culture and entertainment department.
We are very good at putting in place very good projects, but there is still a lot of work to be done, especially to create a framework to regulate certain good practices more effectively
Catterina Seia, president of the CCW Cultural Welfare Center
“Until a few years ago”, Seia explains, “there was no talk of cultural welfare at all. This is however the country of good practices and poor policies: we are very good at putting in place very good projects, but there is still a lot of work to be done, especially to create a framework to regulate certain good practices more effectively, and then to systematise them to maximise their value and benefit”.
There is, however, one last point they insist on at the Cultural Welfare Center: culture is not medicine in the technical-scientific sense, it cannot replace social policies, it cannot and must not replace the work of a general practitioner and community medicine.
However, as Catterina Seia concludes, “it can play a key role in accompanying all this: It is therefore necessary to invest in designing a structured system of services which, in alliance with local communities, multiplies the range of health-giving factors and makes them accessible, thus closing the terrible social gap which today excludes more than five million people from health in Italy”.