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.

Art Or Advertising? And The Lost Context Of A Summary

Another entry in the “What is art” debate– A bakery owner in NH allowed students to paint a mural on his building. Because the mural depicted a sun rising over mountains made of donuts and muffins, last June the town said it was in violation of the sign ordinance restricting the size of advertisements. If the mountains had looked like mountains instead of baked goods, it would have been considered art, but because they were products sold by the business, the mural is considered an advertisement.

This caused a considerable amount of discussion in the town and apparently increased attendance at Zoning and Planning board meetings, but ultimately residents voted against a proposed change that would have provided clearer rules to allow for works of art.

An organization is submitting a federal case on behalf of the bakery which is leveraging the situation to fundraise for the local high school art department.

Since fighting for the right to display what Mr. Young maintains is a mural, Leavitt’s has become an advocate for the arts. The bakery recently began selling T-shirts with the mural on the front above the words “this is art,” and the Leavitt’s sign on the back with, “this is a sign.” Proceeds benefit the Kennett High School art department. And with the help of a local philanthropist, Leavitt’s is co-sponsoring a scholarship for one student a year from Kennett High who wants to pursue the arts.

“I’m not taking it down because it’s the kids’ artwork,” Mr. Young says.

The article has pictures of the mural and the tshirts. A number of the people interviewed for the story seemed pretty supportive of the mural, including a couple local government officials who appeared to have wanted to proposed change to pass in order to provide for greater clarity. While some people were concerned about murals going up willy-nilly and the appearance of billboards, it is pretty clear the bakery mural is not meant to be a sales advertisement. There are no words at all on that part of the building, nor are any figures beckoning people in.

As an aside, I noticed as I was re-reading the article that there is a feature that allows you to toggle between a Quick Read and Deep Read, with the latter indicating it make take 6 minutes to read the longer content. I think that must be how long it takes a computer to read it aloud, because that seems pretty long. I am not quite sure what to think about this feature. While folks do seem to have a shorter attention span and providing a shorter option may encourage people to engage with the topic, it also seems to suggest there is content that isn’t important to know and can be safely omitted.

Reading the abridged version of the article changes the tone of the article. The full article seems sympathetic toward the cause of the mural, the abridged version seems to suggest anarchy will break out in the absence of local self-governance.


The Pause To Refresh Employment Models

Earlier this month, the Albany Times-Union reported that there won’t be much theatre occurring at the storied Willamstown Theatre Festival.  The reason is based on the staff walkouts and subsequent investigative reporting by the LA Times I wrote about back in 2021.

Recognizing there are many issues to address in addition to the complaints of exploitative overworking of staff and interns and unsafe working conditions, the Festival is planning on presenting different performing artists, staging readings and cabaret performances and partnering with neighbors this summer.

The reason for the absence of theater at the Williamstown Theatre Festival amounts to what is essentially a public atonement for how the festival treated interns, apprentices and other staff for decades and a commitment to finding a new model for producing a season of world-class summer theater, the company’s artistic leader said.


In Williamstown, the theater festival launches in mid-July with four performances over three days by the stand-up comic Hasan Minhaj, followed by weeks of cabarets, staged readings and workshops by artists-in-residence. Williamstown alum and Tony Award winner Laura Benanti will perform a concert, well-regarded stage and screen actors will participate in readings by known and upcoming playwrights, and the festival will contribute financial and artistic resources to assisting its neighbors at Barrington Stage on a revival in Pittsfield of “A New Brain,” a 1998 musical by BSC’s longtime associate artist William Finn (“Falsettos,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”).

Near the end of the article, writer Steve Barnes wonders if the festival can continue in the same vein as they have historically operated if they have to pay a large swath of previously unpaid interns given waning philanthropy and diminishing audiences. The festival for their part says they will be working to create a stronger relationship with audiences:

In another symbolic choice, most audiences this summer will join performers on the stage. Minhaj and Benanti will do their shows for crowds in regular theater seats, but for staged readings there will be rows of seating on three sides of the stage, and tables, chairs and drink service will accommodate onstage cabaret patrons.

Gersten said she hopes the new perspective for audiences will make an impact on them. “It was important this summer for me that people share our point of view, that they’re on the same level with the artists as we work toward these changes,” she said.

A Link Between Awe And Generosity

Thanks to Barry Hessenius for providing my post topic today. He sent a link to an Inc magazine piece titled “Want to Raise Kind, Generous Kids? Take Them to an Art Museum.” Readers will know that I am not really big on discussion of art as a prescriptive solution based on inchoate theories and research. So I was interested to see they connected the sense of awe art generates to an increased generous impulse.

Certainly, museums make children more worldly and cultured, but how do they make them kinder? The link, according to the new study, recently published in Psychological Science, is awe. A whole line of research, and a much talked about new book, shows that experiencing awe can help adults. Feeling a sense of smallness in front of sites greater and grander than you–be that the Mona Lisa or the Milky Way–tends to tamp down runaway egos and make adults humbler, kinder, and more relaxed. This latest research looked to see if awe would have the same effect on children.

The research was conducted with 159 kids aged 8 to 13 so I am a little cautious about any definitive statements based on such a small sample size, but the results pointed to exposure creating a tendency to be more generous.

Of course, art isn’t the only source of awe in our lives. The article says ” simply looking for the awe-inspiring in the everyday can increase our perception of awe and its associated benefits” even if you don’t have ready access to museums. Some people experience awe from the natural beauty present in their every day activities, for example.

The bottom line is that nudging your kids to notice and appreciate the greatness and grandeur of the world around them won’t just make them more observant and aesthetically appreciative. The latest science shows it will also nudge them to be humble, kind, and caring.