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Findings from CultureRx Social Prescription Pilot

Erik Holmgren, Käthe Swaback, and Cheyenne Cohn-Postell; Mass Cultural Council Staff

A smiling boy sits on his father’s lap in a gallery at the Norman Rockwell Museum.

This month, the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts released its findings from Phase I of the Social Prescription Pilot Program, which launched in January 2020 in Springfield and Berkshire County.

As part of the CultureRx Initiative, this pilot program focused on building a cohort of cultural organizations to work with professional care providers to positively affect the health and well-being of the people of their community. One health clinic participated in giving referrals (social prescriptions) by doctors to cultural organizations for specific health reasons such as social isolation, depression, and hypertension.

The Springfield pilot was focused on understanding patients’ readiness, interest, and comfort level with attending or engaging with three major cultural institutions in their community — Enchanted Circle Theater, Community Music School of Springfield, and Springfield Museums — often for the first time, and what effective community partnerships could offer. In Berkshire County, MACONY Pediatrics presented a choice of prescriptions to patients and their families to attend one of five different cultural organizations — Norman Rockwell Museum, MASS MoCA, Berkshire Theatre Group, Mass Audubon Berkshire Wildlife Sanctuaries, and Community Access to the Arts (CATA).

The Institute’s findings described the positive impact the social prescription of cultural experiences had on participants, cultural organizations, and medical providers. Specifically, the pilot program moved forward three priorities of participating organizations that are mirrored in the work of the Mass Cultural Council:

  1. The health and well-being of people in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is positively impacted through culture – Although the project was truncated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, of those who were able to fulfill their prescriptions, the evaluation found an overwhelmingly positive experience for those who received and utilized social prescriptions for theaters and museums in Berkshire County. A majority of patients described an overall increase in their happiness and sense of well-being while 100% of patients viewed the experience with these organizations as being a positive one. The report states there are, even from a one-time visit, positive impacts on “…general satisfaction, increased happiness, decreased stress, and sense of connection to others.”
  2. Medical professionals and cultural organizations both believe there is a critical link between the arts and culture and Public Health – Doctors, RNs, community health workers, and cultural organizations all felt the experience was a net positive for patients with one medical worker commenting, “These conversations have given us an opportunity to deepen our connection to our families which we hope results in overall increased patient satisfaction as well as increased engagement with their healthcare partners.” (Hear a Doctor and RN from the Berkshires discuss their experience with social prescription.)
  3. Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) are key areas of growth for cultural organizations through this initiative. Engaging new audiences is seen as a critical element for equity, growth, and sustainability throughout the cultural sector in Massachusetts. Every participating cultural organization in the pilot attended at least one training on cultural humility which involved creating welcoming spaces for new audiences. The impacts of these trainings and working with medical providers was evident, with organizations giving written feedback such as, “This initiative gave us the opportunity to speak more openly about the importance of cultural humility and make it a more formal policy.” and, “We have gained insight on how we can better serve our community, encouraging us to brainstorm ways that we can modify our programs to better meet the needs of families and young people with disabilities.”

Inspired with these findings, we are continuing to move forward on a statewide Social Prescription Pilot, which will include an innovative new program from the Franklin Park Zoo along with an expanded cohort of organizations dedicating themselves to advancing the role of culture as a protective factor for the health of everyone in the Commonwealth.

Read the Overall Summary of Findings

Download the Findings

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