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Unveiling CultureRx at the State House

Bethann Steiner, Communications Director

Panel discussion on our CultureRx Initiative at the Massachusetts State House with Mass Cultural Council Vice-Chair Marc Carroll and partners from the Massachusetts Health Connector, Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center, Franklin Park Zoo, Norman Rockwell Museum, and Macony Pediatrics.

On March 4 Mass Cultural Council officially launched the CultureRx Initiative with a well-attended public briefing for legislators, staff, and cultural partners at the Massachusetts State House. Jointly hosted by Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development Committee Chairs Senator Ed Kennedy (D- Lowell) and Rep. Paul McMurtry (D- Dedham) and Senate Public Health Committee Chair Senator Jo Comerford, the event was a chance to fully outline our vision for using the protective factors of cultural engagement to improve the health and well-being of Massachusetts residents and communities.

The speaking program included Council Vice Chair Marc Carroll, Executive Director Anita Walker, our legislative sponsors, and Louis Gutierrez, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Health Connector, our partner in the ConnectorCare Card to Culture program. The event also featured a compelling panel discussion, moderated by Walker, featuring our CultureRx Initiative partners from the medical and cultural sectors, including:

Mass Cultural Council understands that arts and culture are as important to personal well-being as nutritious food, exercise, adequate sleep, and medical care. We believe everyone should have access to the things that contribute to a healthy life. With CultureRx, Mass Cultural Council is seeking to improve health and well-being, lower health care costs, and strengthen the cultural sector. We expect our approach will engage more people in the protective factors of cultural engagement that prevent serious medical conditions.

The CultureRx Initiative is based on scientific research and best practices already employed in other countries. In 2019 the World Health Organization released a report finding that arts and cultural participation are both effective and cost-effective.  And in the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Canada the practice of social prescription is endorsed by government and being used by professional care providers to promote health and wellness. This year, as we continue to rollout CultureRx, Mass Cultural Council hopes to position the Commonwealth as a national leader in social prescription.

There are two major aspects of the CultureRx Initiative: access to arts and culture and social prescription. We are promoting both in the following ways:

  • Access: Building successful, inter-state agency partnerships to encourage access to cultural organizations across the state. Through our ConnectorCare, EBT, and WIC Card to Culture partnerships, card holders can access free or dramatically-reduced price admission to hundreds of cultural sites statewide.
  • Social Prescription: Between January and June we are working with partners in the Berkshires, Springfield, and Boston to test the mechanics of how to manage a social prescription program. This effort is informing our Social Prescription pilot, which begins on July 1.  With social prescription, professional service providers will prescribe a cultural activity to their client/patient. When that individual/family presents the social prescription at the admission desk of a cultural organization, they will be admitted with no other charge. The cultural organization will then submit the prescription to the Mass Cultural Council, and we will fully reimburse cultural organizations for the costs of services provided.

Social prescription will allow Mass Cultural Council to promote cultural engagements to residents who typically do not seek out such activities, while developing a new funding stream for our cultural nonprofits. Through CultureRx we are implementing a plan to promote health and well-being for individuals, communities, and our cultural nonprofits.

This is exciting stuff and our message was enthusiastically received at our State House briefing. Here are a few key take-away moments from the event:

  • “Ninety seven percent of new Health Connector members surveyed said they intend to use the new ConnectorCare Card to Culture benefit,” Audrey Gasteier, Massachusetts Health Connector.
  • “Whole-person health is something we are very interested in. We want to make sure people’s lives are full and rich, and culture provides that opportunity,” Audrey Gasteier, Massachusetts Health Connector.
  • “CultureRx is allowing us to give visitors a sense of belonging where they might otherwise not feel welcome,” Mary Berle, Norman Rockwell Museum.
  • “Healthier people foster healthier ecosystems,” Dr. Eric Baitchman of Zoo New England.
  • “This partnership makes us a model for the nation,” Louis Gutierrez, Massachusetts Health Connector.

We hope you will join in our excitement about CultureRx. A Call for Interest is available now for the Social Prescription pilot – we are requesting Expressions of Interest from cultural organizations with established partnerships with professional care providers to participate in our year-long pilot. Responses are due May 31, 2020.

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