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Woman and a boy seated in a gallery at Peabody Essex Museum, marvelling at an animal exhibition.

Social Prescription

About the Program

Whereas the practice of social prescription is common in other countries, Massachusetts has begun to lead the practice here in the United States. Mass Cultural Council chose 13 cultural organizations interested in participating in a Social Prescription Pilot Program designed to positively affect the health and well-being of the people of Massachusetts and the fiscal health of our non-profit cultural organizations. Our intention was and is to further develop cross-sector partnerships, demonstrate the protective and therapeutic effect of cultural and arts participation, and to create a model where the services provided by cultural organizations are funded.

In FY20 and FY21, Mass Cultural Council reimbursed cultural organizations services they provided for the social prescriptions they fulfilled.

  1. Phase 1: The Social Prescription Pilot Program was launched in January 2020 with eight organizations working with two professional care providers in Western Massachusetts. As part of the CultureRx Initiative, this pilot focused on building a cohort of cultural organizations to work with professional care providers to positively affect the health and well-being of the people of their community. Read about the findings from the pilot. (The full report and summary are also available.)
  2. Phase 2: From July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021, Phase II of the pilot expanded the program to include 12 organizations as we extended our capacity to offer the first statewide Social Prescription Pilot. Expanding our provider list to include doctors, social workers, community health workers, therapists, and teachers, prescriptions were made to help connect clients with cultural experiences. Read the FY21 brief report here.

Although much of the work in both Phase 1 and 2 had to be paused during the pandemic, many organizations were able to pivot to virtual and outdoor programming and find other inventive ways to connect with their communities. Along with adapting programming, many developed sustainable practices, deepened their investment in DEIA, expanded their partnerships, and found ways to utilize time in the pandemic to create innovative methods and materials for recruitment.

In FY22, the Social Prescription Program will offer a re-certification of support for the existing cohort and will provide funding for social prescription activities from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022.

We will further develop cross-sector partnerships, demonstrate the protective and therapeutic effect of cultural and arts participation, and to create a model where the services and health impacts provided by cultural organizations are sustainably funded. In order to meet that goal we will be changing the structure so that each participating organization will receive an upfront grant of $10,000 to be used for all expenses related to Social Prescription activities that take place between July 1 2021, and June 30, 2022.

The Agency will also build a four-person Social Prescription Task Force and hire a Social Prescription Consultant to help with the challenges of the prescription process, documenting and communicating impact, and finding ways to ensure that referred clients follow through and have successful experiences with services in cultural organizations. We will begin to collaborate with the University of Florida, Arts and Medicine and a national cohort of researchers, arts agencies, health practitioners, and program directors to help advise and support social prescription in Massachusetts.

These efforts will contribute to the three FY22 programmatic goals for Social Prescription:

  1. Continue to recognize and elevate the impacts of social prescription.
  2. Create and deepen a learning community to identify systemic barriers with effective practices that promote active participation in social prescription.
  3. Continue to partner with the broad arts and health ecosystem to inform and enhance the work of social prescription with the following outcome areas:
    • Support cross sector partnerships
    • Remove barriers for community participation
    • Cultivate knowledge and advocacy through research and evaluation

WATCH: What is Arts in Health?

LISTEN: Anita Walker betting culture is good for your health, Commonwealth Magazine’s Codcast, January 21, 2020

Social Prescription Research and Advocacy


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