Number 8 in our countdown of '70 Ways Art Improves Our Health' highlights how art in the community tackles health inequalities…

Currently, people living in the least deprived areas of England live 20 years longer in good health than people in the most deprived areas.

Health inequalities are what we call these unfair and preventable differences in people’s health. These differences don’t occur by chance, they are determined by social circumstances beyond a person’s control. These circumstances limit people’s opportunities to live longer, healthier lives.

A Paintings in Hospitals waiting room knitting activity with artist Françoise Dupré 

Community art comprises all art activities that open a conversation with the community in which they’re based. Community art often involves a professional artist or arts organisation working in partnership with people who may not usually engage with the arts.

Community art is looked down on by some because it is based on the principle of cultural democracy. Cultural democracy aims to equip a wider section of society with an awareness and appreciation of art. It looks to break down the boundaries between high and low culture in order to make art accessible to everyone.

If we are to reduce health inequities it is essential to take action on the social determinants of health – the ‘causes of the causes’ of ill health. That means working in partnership at local level to improve the social conditions in which we are born, live, grow, work and age… Empowering individuals and communities, and giving people a voice is integral to addressing health inequalities.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Director, UCL Institute of Health Equity

We already know that community arts contribute to healthy living habits and improved understanding of health. In 2012, Be Creative Be Well, an evaluation of 100 community arts projects across deprived parts of London found a wide range of benefits. These benefits included: increases among participants in healthy eating, physical activity, and emotional wellbeing.

Prior to this in 2003, Arts, Health and Community, a study of five arts in community health projects, suggested that arts activities contributed to healthy personal development, including healthy eating and mothering, mental health improvements, and increased absorption of health information.

Community group discussions as part of Paintings in Hospitals' collaborative project with the Wallace Collection

Bringing art and art activities into the community is at the heart of our mission at Paintings in Hospitals. While some arts programmes prescribe the type of art to be experienced, we work in a more democratic way. We strive to collaborate with patients, carers, families and other members of the community throughout the process of introducing art into hospitals, GP surgeries, health centres, healthy living centres, SEN schools and more.

For people who are prescribed medications, scheduled treatments, or told what they can and can’t do on a regular basis, simply being asked about what they would like to see or do can make all the difference to their experience of healthcare, their community and their wellbeing.

If you know of place that is in desperate need of our art and creative activities, let us know by nominating a care site. We'll get in touch with them and see what we can do.

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