Improving health and well-being through cultural participation
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.
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 many 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.
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 positively influence health. Engagement in arts and culture can encourage physical activity, reduce stress and isolation, and help with the substance recovery process. Furthermore, 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.
In January 2020 Mass Cultural Council launched CultureRx, an initiative focused on advancing the role of culture as a protective factor for the health of everyone in the Commonwealth.
We are working with partners across sectors to reach people where they are, to find ways to collaborate and to build more inclusive arts and cultural experiences for the health and well-being of individuals and communities.
Social Prescription is a term used to describe when a healthcare provider refers patients to community based supports ranging anywhere from food banks and housing assistance to arts, culture, and nature. Launched in 2020, our Social Prescription program focused on adding arts, culture, and nature opportunities to providers’ toolkits. The program supported MA cultural organizations in accepting prescriptions from professional care providers.
In April 2023, Mass Cultural Council held a “Think Tank” where we discussed the path forward for social prescription in Massachusetts and asked cross-sector partners how scaling Social Prescription in MA could best meet the needs of communities, align with and support current initiatives in behavioral health, and positively impact providers, their patients, and the communities in which they live.
In September 2023 we are releasing the publication, Arts on Prescription: A Field Guide for US Communities, created in partnership with Dr. Tasha Golden, Director of Research at the International Arts + Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins, and Center for Arts in Medicine at the University of Florida. This Field Guide expands to view programs, policies, and practical steps to center health equity with a “roadmap for communities to develop programs that formally integrate arts, culture, and nature resources into local health and social care systems.”
Beginning in January 2024, Art Pharmacy will lead the scaling of this initiative across three regions of Massachusetts.
Card to Culture
Hundreds of thousands of people who may be unable to afford a family outing at a children’s museum, an evening of extraordinary music, the thrill of discovery in a science program, or the laughter and mystery of theater, are now experiencing all of these. Our first-in-the-nation EBT Card to Culture, WIC Card to Culture, and ConnectorCare Card to Culture programs have made this possible by offering access to arts and culture through free and reduced admissions. Massachusetts Health Connector, the Department of Transitional Assistance, and the Department of Public Health’s Women, Infants, & Children Nutrition Program, help deliver the protective factor of arts and culture to low-income and working families across the state through Card to Culture.