This review article seeks to draw on experience in the UK to describe the different forms that arts in health activity can take and to examine the challenges for research in this field.
A case study is used to describe the kind of arts in health project that intends to enhance the social capital of its community and to show how difficult it is to measure the effects of this work using conventional measures of health improvement. However, those who are responsible for providing funding for arts in health are increasingly demanding results that indicate a measurable health gain from the projects.
A literature review of the evaluation of arts in health projects in the UK has shown that few aim at direct health improvement but rather at intermediate indicators of health gain, such as raising awareness of health issues and social activity and participation. This suggests that artists instinctively locate their work as having value within a social model of health where improvements in social inclusion and social cohesion are the important indicators which may go on to lead to long‐term improvements to the health of the community in which they are working.
Understanding the nature of this work has implications for the kind of research appropriate to measure its effect and the timescale required for such research.
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