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New Reference Guide Released to Advance the Practice of Arts on Prescription

Bethann Steiner, Senior Director of Public Affairs

cover for Arts on Prescription Field Guide - geometric shapes fill the top part of the image and a row of logos is along the bottom
Cover art for Arts on Prescription Field Guide

Mass Cultural Council today announces the release of a field guide that offers a roadmap for communities to develop programs that integrate arts, culture, and nature resources into local health and social care systems. Arts on Prescription: A Field Guide for US Communities, developed by the Agency in partnership with Dr. Tasha Golden and the University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine, is now publicly available.

“Massachusetts is a national leader in the practice of utilizing the arts and culture in arts on prescription. Today marks an important milestone, as sharing this field guide with practitioners and the creative and cultural sector will inspire and make it possible for many others to join the movement,” said Michael J. Bobbitt, Executive Director, Mass Cultural Council.

Mass Cultural Council, Social Prescription, and Arts on Prescription

Mass Cultural Council launched its CultureRx Initiative and brought the practice of arts on prescription to Massachusetts in 2020.

Our program allowed us to develop key partnerships between cultural organizations, state government, and care providers, measure the connection between participation in arts and culture and personal well-being, and offer a new source of financial support to cultural organizations. Arts on prescription has an exciting future,” said Bobbitt.

Common in other parts of the world but sparsely utilized in the United States, arts on prescription refers to any program in which health and social care providers are enabled to prescribe arts, culture, or nature experiences to patients or clients to support their health and well-being. This type of program is grounded in evidence that engaging with arts, culture, and nature has positive impacts on mental and physical health, social connection, and overall quality of life.

Since that time, Mass Cultural Council has administered its Social Prescription Pilot Program, the first statewide arts on prescription program in the nation, during which more than 1,940 prescriptions were issued to Massachusetts residents by their wellness providers and participating cultural nonprofits benefited from a new revenue stream.

More recently, Mass Cultural Council and its partners adopted the term “arts on prescription” over “social prescription,” as the latter is used more globally to include all community-based referrals that a provider might make — including to food banks, support groups, housing assistance, etc.

The Field Guide

The field guide is available and can be accessed and downloaded free of charge from both the Mass Cultural Council and the UF Center for Arts in Medicine websites.

“Human beings have always recognized the value of the arts. They feel good. They connect us. The Arts on Prescription model is an evidence-based approach that can be integrated into existing systems of care to enhance individual and collective wellness, reduce the burden on primary care systems, expand the arts and culture sector, and shape a culture in America that recognizes arts and cultural assets as readily available health resource in every community”, said Dr. Jill Sonke, University of Florida.

Dr. Golden explains further, “Art’s proven health impacts compel us to think bigger about how we create health. We can no longer afford to ignore or sideline community assets that advance well-being, and arts, culture, and nature are rich health resources. They’re critical tools in whole-person care, and I’m thrilled to have led this practical, actionable resource to help communities integrate these tools into health and social care.”

With the release of this new field guide, Mass Cultural Council and its partners expect the practice of arts on prescription to become more widely available across the Commonwealth, and beyond.

The Future of Arts on Prescription in Massachusetts

This fiscal year, FY24, Mass Cultural Council will partner with Art Pharmacy to administer Massachusetts’ next steps in arts on prescription. Art Pharmacy will partner with health systems and other healthcare organizations to expand the practice statewide.

Art Pharmacy enables the ecosystem of healthcare providers, payors, and healthcare systems to address mental and behavioral health treatment shortages with arts and culture prescriptions. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Art Pharmacy’s network currently includes hundreds of arts and cultural organizations and healthcare organizations, along with providers ranging from medical doctors to social workers in primary care, behavioral health, oncology, and palliative care. This partnership with Mass Cultural Council enables Art Pharmacy to expand the evidence base for arts and culture engagements on cost of care, and further support the mental and behavioral well-being of the people it serves.

“Art Pharmacy is honored to be recognized as an industry leader and featured in the Arts on Prescription Field Guide,” said Chris Appleton, Art Pharmacy Founder and CEO. “Through our partnership with Mass Cultural Council’s incredible team, we are proud to lead the charge of the social prescribing movement in the U.S. by working with payors and healthcare plans, institutions, and systems. This guide offers tangible advice on social prescribing that positively impacts the individuals who are suffering from a variety of mental health concerns.”


Download the Field Guide

About Mass Cultural Council

Mass Cultural Council, an independent state arts agency, is charged with bolstering the Commonwealth’s creative and cultural sector. The Agency’s efforts advance economic vitality, support transformational change, and celebrate, preserve, and inspire creativity across all Massachusetts communities.

About the University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine
The UF Center for Arts in Medicine is a pioneering institution at the forefront of integrating the arts into healthcare and public health settings. Committed to advancing research, education, and practice in the field of Arts in Health, they understand that arts, culture, and health are integral partners in the realization of healthier, more equitable lives for all people everywhere.

About Art Pharmacy
Art Pharmacy’s proprietary smart-matching technology considers clinical needs, patient preferences and decades of research to address the shortage of mental health providers while improving patient health. Art Pharmacy offers a closed-loop referral system, care plan integration, and outcomes monitoring. Art Pharmacy remains committed to reducing the operational and cost burden for payors and providers.

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