More Prescribing Arts To Cure You

Artsjournal linked to a piece in a University of Florida journal about a program the university is piloting in the hopes of eventually rolling out a national program of prescribing arts to solve mental and physical ills. I have written about similar programs before where doctors prescribe arts and nature to patients.  My biggest issue is that instead of proactively working to change society and culture to emphasize taking care of yourself mentally and physically or normalizing participation in creative activities, the approach of these programs is to essentially prescribe carving out time to relax and take up enjoyable activities.

The article even alludes to the fact that medical care is associated with a degree of unpleasantness in the US.  Many people feel some wariness about arts experiences so making it a medical cure can compound a sense of alienation.

“Our health care system doesn’t have a structure that enables people to engage in things that are enjoyable and support their health. We’re acculturated toward taking medicine,” Sonke says. “If your doctor says, ‘I think you need to take a pottery class or a dance class, to get out and be more social and more creative,’ is that going to feel like you’re not being taken seriously?”

Even the name presents an issue.

“Social prescribing as a term works in the U.K., because social care is a concept that everyone understands. In the U.S., social services are highly stigmatized and highly politicized, so that language is problematic,” Sonke says.

The only upside I see from the description of this initiative is that it is intentionally disassociated with medical facilities and personnel.

Social prescribing differs from arts in medicine in a few key ways. Instead of bringing arts into a health care setting, it aims to infuse social and cultural activities into daily life. Second, the activities are led by artists and community-based organizations, not health care workers or therapists. Third, while clinical treatments are intended to serve their purpose, then end, social and creative arts involvement can continue after medical intervention concludes.

When a health care provider identifies a patient who could benefit from social and cultural engagement, they refer them to a “link worker” whose role is to match them with an activity in their community, Sonke explains. And while it’s not meant to replace medical intervention, it gives primary-care providers more ways to help patients who aren’t thriving.

Creative activities shouldn’t be in a position of being an option of last resort for your health and well-being. The first time people are encouraged to visit a museum shouldn’t be after suffering years of sleepless nights, mounting anxiety, and heart palpitations.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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