Mike White

Mike WhiteMike White, Senior Research Fellow in Arts in Health at the Centre for Medical Humanities (CMH) at Durham University believes that the single greatest factor affecting our health is the extent to which we are socially connected. He also argues that ‘hard evidence’ is a misnomer: that evidence-based points of view are looking only at arts as a form of treatment – not for its wider range of benefits to health and wellbeing.

EVIDENCE

“There is a substantial body of evidence … that engagement in social activity contributes to health. There is also evidence from the New Economics Foundation about the impact of cultural participation on overall health and happiness.”

“There are intrinsic therapeutic qualities within arts activities … but we need … to be looking beyond the art forms themselves. If we are simply looking at arts as a form of treatment, then we might as well just focus on art therapy.”

A WIDER VIEW OF THE BENEFITS OF ARTS AND CREATIVE ACTIVITIES

“I don’t think that the arts are simply an add-on to healthcare. I think by the very nature of what they do they are in the business of public health and wellbeing.”

“… There are arguments that … a lot of the ills of our society are generated within our culture, and, therefore, we need to get into the culture and identify the benefits from cultural participation in order to change things around.”

“I think the more that the value of arts is perceived in looking at a whole range of social problems the better. My only fear is that sometimes the larger agencies like the health sector or local government want to see the arts as instrumental solutions to problems – ‘social elastoplasts’. [The arts need to be] to be placed alongside and integrated with a range of other interventions. Don’t just look to art alone to somehow have a magic solution as it would be foolish to think that it has. It would be even more foolish to try and prove it.”

MENTAL HEALTH

“The World Health Organization predicts that in ten years time mental ill health will be the second greatest cause of morbidity in populations within advanced economies, second only to heart disease … Depression affects one in three of the population at some time in their lives and yet only 2% of the national health budget is spent on interventions for depression. We have to start … addressing these insidious and often invisible illnesses. They impact upon our ability to be a well-functioning society, on our economy through lost hours of work, and they raise serious moral questions as to whether we are heading in the right direction as a society… All of our problems are interconnected, and I think that an important way of finding a solution … is to look at what we can shift within our culture to help us to address this and live better lives … I would like to see arts having a prominent role in building those connections.”

Mike White has been awarded a fellowship of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts to research community-based arts in health and build national/international links in this field. His work in the arts in health field for CMH has included workforce development and training programmes, audits, evaluations and literature reviews. His book ‘Arts Development in Community Health: a social tonic’ (2009) is published by Radcliffe.

Taken from ‘Restoring the balance’, a Voluntary Arts England publication. Download the full interview with Mike White or the pdf of ‘Restoring the balance‘.

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