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 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.
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.
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.
Phase 1 of the Social Prescription Pilot Program centered around two medical providers– Caring Health Center in Springfield and MACONY Pediatrics in Berkshire County and ran from January 1, 2020 to June 30, 2020.
Phase 2, which ran from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021 expanded the program across the state to a broader cohort of 12 organizational grantees who had existing partnerships with professional care providers. The Phase 2 cohort of cultural organizations represented a diverse set of disciplines and modes of delivering service and was ready to do the preliminary work of finding a workable model for improving public and personal health with access cultural activities and experiences. However, the ever-changing nature of COVID-19 required a significant delay in developing the relationships, processes, trust and best practices needed in social prescription.
In FY22, we will not be accepting applications from other organizations but are pleased to offer and receive applications from the 12 programs who wish to recommit for this fiscal year.
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 wellbeing of individuals and communities.
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 people across the state through Card to Culture.