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CultureRx Initiative

Redefining the value of a culturally engaged life.

We see culture as a necessary ingredient for public health, one that is often neglected or underappreciated. The CultureRx Initiative aims to change that.

We envision a Commonwealth where culture is understood as an essential investment in health, both for individuals and for the community as a whole.

To build a public infrastructure that supports the role of cultural experiences as a protective factor in the health and well-being of all people in the Commonwealth. We engage in this mission as thought leaders, conveners, and facilitators, drawing on the strengths and values of the people, communities, and institutions we represent.

The Challenge
Massachusetts has one of the most renowned and expensive health care systems in the world. Even here, however, we see significant gaps in the way we provide care. There are vulnerable populations – including low-income adults and children, the elderly, veterans, and recent immigrants – who have health outcomes well below our state standards. There are many health conditions that we have not been able to address adequately or equitably: stress and trauma, chronic illnesses, and substance use disorder, among others. And we know that specific social determinants have an outsized impact on these and many other health factors, leading to diminished quality of life, shortened lifespan, and overall lack of well-being. Clearly, our investment in conventional health care has not been up to the task of providing for everyone’s needs in the Commonwealth.

The Opportunity
These gaps in care call for an investment in community-based, public health solutions that focus upstream on social determinants. The good news is that culture – and, specifically, the kind of cultural experiences that Mass Cultural Council already supports – can be a unique and effective social prescription for health. Research shows that access to culture can engage vulnerable populations; it can encourage physical activity, reduce stress and isolation, and help with the substance recovery process; and it can be a powerful factor in addressing social determinants such as poverty, racism, and environmental degradation – all at a much lower cost than conventional health care practices. We have an opportunity to redefine the value of a culturally engaged life by putting health front and center.

The Approach
How do we do this? By committing ourselves to four specific tasks:

  1. We will work to remove barriers to broad community participation in cultural experiences. This will involve helping organizations create truly welcoming spaces and make community participation fundamental to their mission. If culture is good medicine,
    we need to make sure that it’s accessible to everyone.
  2. We will create cross-sector partnerships to build a network that connects social services, public and mental health, and cultural health to support a comprehensive approach to health and well-being.
  3. We will develop a funding infrastructure to encourage cultural organizations to contribute to this effort – both by providing reduced-price or free admissions to vulnerable populations and by supporting programs that welcome new audiences.
  4. We will work with all our partners to make the case for cultural experiences as a social prescription, an effective public health investment, and as a cost-effective health care intervention both at the state and local level and within the healthcare industry. Serving as thought leaders and conveners, we will strengthen our case by supporting research on the health care value of cultural participation.

To bring about a true change of perspective, however, we will need to engage every level of the cultural and health care sectors, from individual practitioners to major institutions. We all have something to contribute, regardless of our scale, scope, and resources. As the agency responsible for advancing cultural life across the Commonwealth, we can provide leadership, drive collaboration, help define roles, and serve as tireless evangelists for the cause. We believe that culture has the power to save lives and improve our well-being. Together, we can make that power work for everyone.

As part of CultureRx, we are launching the following new programs:

ConnectorCare Card to Culture
Drawing on the success of EBT Card to Culture, Mass Cultural Council is launching a new partnership with the Massachusetts Health Connector to connect health and cultural sectors at a systemic level. For those with incomes less than 300% of the federal poverty level, ConnectorCare cardholders will be able to access more than 130 cultural institutions at a free or reduced-price beginning January 2020. This partnership will increase cultural participation of families, young professionals, and new immigrants in Massachusetts, who are the primary Health Connector clients. It is also a goal to increase the number of people with health insurance by offering cultural access as a benefit to policyholders.

The Social Prescription Pilot Program
In 2020 and 2021, Mass Cultural Council will work with professional care providers to begin social prescribing of cultural experiences in the arts, sciences, and humanities as a treatment option for people and roll out this new initiative in two phases:

Phase 1 (January – June, 2020 with eight participating organizations in Western Mass)

This pilot will support cultural organizations who work with eligible local health providers to provide cultural experiences to patients in order to have a positive impact on their health and well-being.  The pilot aims to achieve this by providing grants, training, and evaluation to participating organizations and by focusing on two distinct goals:

  1. Assessment: To Increase awareness and attentiveness to community needs and cultural resources, working with the community health center, Caring Health in Springfield MA. Building on the underlying capacity for collaboration and referrals for patient-informed engagement in relevant cultural and arts experiences, recommendations will be used to develop future pilot programs. Cultural organizations participating: Enchanted Circle Theater, Community Music School of Springfield, and the Springfield Museums.
  2. Prescribing: To Increase the connectedness of the arts, social services, and healthcare by offering the option of social prescription/referral to patients and connecting them to cultural partners. MACONY Pediatrics will be offering the referrals. Cultural organizations participating: Norman Rockwell Museum, MASS MoCA, Berkshire Theatre Group, Mass Audubon Berkshire Wildlife Sanctuaries, and CATA (Community Access to the Arts).

Phase 2 (July 2020 – June 2021 Statewide)

Our statewide social prescription and reimbursement program will launch in Spring 2020. By prescribing cultural experiences in the arts, sciences, and humanities with a broader geographical reach we hope to improve social and public health and well being, and, by fully reimbursing our arts and cultural organizations for the services provided, also contribute to the overall fiscal health and stability of the cultural sector in Massachusetts. Grant guidelines will be available in the Spring of 2020.

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