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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.
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 and ConnectorCare Card to Culture programs have made this possible by putting arts and culture in the hands of our most vulnerable populations through free and reduced admissions. When people create, socialize, and have fun, they protect themselves from the epidemic of loneliness that leads to serious health consequences.
We are working with partners across sectors to reach people where they are. Massachusetts Health Connector and the Department of Transitional Assistance help deliver the protective factor of arts and culture to low-income people across the state through Card to Culture. And we are also engaging with professional care providers through a few local pilots. In those communities, doctors, social workers, community health workers, therapists, and teachers are connecting clients with cultural experiences.
Along with Caring Health, a community health center, Enchanted Circle Theater, Community Music School of Springfield, and Springfield Museums, we are building on underlying capacity for collaboration and referrals for patient-informed engagement in relevant cultural and arts experiences.
Along with MACONY Pediatrics, a collaborative care provider, Austin Riggs Center, a mental health facility, and five cultural organizations, we aim to increase the connectedness of the arts, social services, and healthcare. Participating cultural organizations include Norman Rockwell Museum, MASS MoCA, Berkshire Theatre Group, Mass Audubon Berkshire Wildlife Sanctuaries, and Community Access to the Arts (CATA).
Social prescription is common in other countries. Massachusetts will lead the practice here. Doctors, social workers, teachers, and others will prescribe cultural engagement as a protective, healthy habit. Mass Cultural Council will reimburse cultural organizations for the social prescriptions they fill and the services they provide. This improves health and well-being and contributes to the overall fiscal health and stability of the cultural sector. Learn more about our statewide Social Prescription Pilot.