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Reflections from the Fostering Creative Health Conference

· Events,Health
During April 2024 I was fortunate to attend the Fostering Creative Health conference convened by CAWRI (Creativity and Wellbeing Research Initiative) and hosted by Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, The University of Melbourne. The two days sought to explore ways in which arts, health, social care and education can collaborate to produce positive results without resulting in higher costs.

The presenters and audience were from leading arts, health and therapy researchers from organisations as diverse as universities, NGOs, Creative Australia, The Australian Music Therapy Association and The Australian, New Zealand and Asian Creative Arts Therapies Association present papers on topics ranging from Creative Ageing, Dementia Care, Indigenous Arts & Health, Trauma and Arts, Dance, Music, Visual Arts, Social Prescribing and Policy and Leadership, amongst other topics.

The sessions looked at models, case studies, research and ideas to address the following core questions: 1

  • How do we best foster creative health across diverse settings?
  • What specific partnerships and programs of enquiry should we pursue to ensure optimal impacts?
  • How can we amass policy and financial support for partnerships and programs?
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My interest in creative health has come from the intersection of my science background, as an arts practitioner and from many years of research that lead to a book series. The third in the series, The Creative Advantage Life Cycle, has a strong focus on the significance of ‘every day or little c creativity’, crafting a healthier mindset through the arts and how we can maximise our creativity as we age.

During the research phase, I became aware of innovative approaches to healthcare and social prescribing and the growing evidence on how arts based approaches can help people stay well, recover faster, manage their long term health conditions and experience a better quality of life overall.

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There were a couple of very strong themes emerging, reflected in the structure of conference including

  • Art therapy collaborations
  • The attention being placed by governments in policy development
  • Specific age relevant methods of social and emotional wellbeing support for young people and people in aged care, and
  • The use of the arts in ‘creative recovery’ as a means to support community post natural disasters.

Of specific interest in the growing momentum for Australia to have a more deliberate approach through Social Prescribing’. This refers to situations where GPs prescribe activities in the community, in preference to prescribing medication. GPs integrate these activities into their suite of healthcare offerings, referring patients to a link worker – someone familiar with the local community who will recommend social and recreational activities including therapeutic art, craft, music and dance activities to match their interests.

Its strength is as a complement to, rather than a replacement of, more traditional forms of treatment. This approach is also linking social prescribing to another sad reality of modern life – loneliness and its associated symptoms of anxiety. A shift away from over-prescribing towards a more preventative approach has enormous potential to deal with disease, as well as stress, isolation and loneliness.

The United Kingdom is leading this discussion with healthcare and government professionals calling for informed and open-minded studies to progress this approach. There’s also growing recognition that the medical professions are under increased pressure to meet their patients’ needs. GPs know that people are living longer and in some cases are socially isolated with less community support.

“The UK’s National Centre for Creative Health and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing published a major report on 6th December 2023, the Creative Health Review. This report demonstrated that creative health approaches can not only offer significant benefits for individuals but can build social capital and aid in the reduction of health inequalities across multiple spheres.

The report makes crucial recommendations to support the UK Government, elected mayors and policymakers in maximising the potential of creative health, advocating for immediate, widespread adoption. It outlines the significance of creative health in addressing the formidable challenges health and social care systems face.” 2

In Australia, ASPIRE, the Australian Social Prescribing Institute of Research and Education, has pulled together research and evidence of the growing case studies demonstrating the effectiveness of these programs.

ASPIRE is developing a blueprint and its website says “ Our knowledge of social prescribing and its benefits is growing at a rapid pace. Social prescribing is a means of connecting individuals to non-medical support within the community to improve their health and wellbeing through access to non-medical, local, and community-based opportunities and supports which address the practical, social, and material things that get in the way of wellbeing and quality”. 3

What an exciting time with the arts playing such a crucial role in reframing how we age and support older communities, and our practitioners playing a role as brokers for intersectoral partnerships and collaborations.

As we find out more about the specific effects arts engagement has on the brain and cognitive health, we’ll understand further what activities enable the best results and how these positive effects can be sustained to support our health and mental wellbeing.





The Creative Health Review available at: