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Social Prescription Pilot Explores Positive Health Impacts of Cultural Experiences for People & Communities

Käthe Swaback. Program Officer

people sitting socially-distanced in chairs doing dance movements with their upper bodies.
Urbanity Dance, part of the Social Prescription Pilot Cohort, reported one of their students who had been struggling with recovery from COVID-19, streamed a dance class from their hospital bed for weeks. That student said dance was the medicine that was non-negotiable. Bearing witness to that person’s incremental physical recovery and being a part of their social prescription was one of the greatest honors of the last year, said Urbanity Dance.

“The arts are a mechanism that can drive social change faster than many other approaches that we can take in public health.” – Dr. Jill Sonke, The Nation’s Health

As part of the Agency’s CultureRx Initiative, in 2020 Mass Cultural Council worked with cultural organizations on a Social Prescription Pilot Program designed to positively affect the health and well-being of the people of Massachusetts and the fiscal health of our nonprofit cultural institutions. Social prescribing is where health care providers refer patients to arts and culture experiences to support their health and well-being.

Our intention with this pilot has been to further develop cross-sector partnerships, demonstrate the protective and therapeutic effect of cultural and arts participation, and to create a model where the services provided by cultural organizations are funded. After two pilot cycles taking place, and enduring, during the COVID-19 pandemic, this year (FY22) is the first full year Mass Cultural Council is able to support a social prescription pilot, providing access to cultural experiences to individuals working with professional caregivers as a means of treatment. (Read more about our finding from this work in FY20 and in FY21.)

Organizations that were part of the Social Prescription Pilot Program in FY21 have been re-certified to receive continued funding and trainings in FY22 to support the development of a practice that places cultural organizations as key pieces of the public health infrastructure in Massachusetts. These organizations include:


five overlapping ovals - the smallest "individual", then "interpersonal", then "community/organizations/institutions", then "policies", then "culture" being the largest oval
A chart showing a Social Ecological Model of Health adapted Dr. Tasha Golden.

This year Dr. Tasha Golden, Director of Research at the International Arts + Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins Medicine, has agreed to join Mass Cultural Council to develop and deploy evaluation strategies and tools to measure the impact of social prescribing activities as we prepare to scale the program.

Dr. Golden’s research focuses on impacts of arts and culture, music, aesthetics, and sociocultural norms on well-being, research, and professional practice in both health and arts sectors. She is also leading the newly-formed Social Prescription Task Force to help connect this work to other social prescription efforts, assist in evaluation research, and enhance access to needed resources. Through multifaceted documentation of direct feedback and data, the task force, Dr. Golden and the Social Prescription Pilot cohort will create responsive strategies with equity and innovation at the core of the work.

We are also collaborating with Dr. Jill Sonke, Director of the Center for Arts in Medicine at the University of Florida (UF), the Senior Advisor to the CDC Vaccine Confidence and Demand Team on the COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence Task Force, and Director of the EpiArts Lab. In 2020, Dr. Sonke and Dr. Golden co-created and published the white paper for Creating Healthy Communities and co-authored: the Evidence-Based Framework for Arts in Public Health, a detailed report and framework that helped Mass Cultural Council and the Social Prescription cohort navigate through the first two phases.

With these experts in the field and with our dedicated cohort organizations, we have a strong foothold to better understand and demonstrate the protective and therapeutic effect of cultural and arts participation while creating a model where the services and health impacts provided by cultural organizations can be scaled and become sustainably funded.

In FY22 Mass Cultural Council looks forward to learning more about the health benefits offered by our cultural organizations and reported by their health care partners across the state as we assess the impact and challenges, compile best practices, and make recommendations for FY23.

Read More About Social Prescription Research

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