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Arts for health: still searching for the Holy Grail
  1. C Hamilton1,
  2. S Hinks1,
  3. M Petticrew2
  1. 1Centre for Cultural Policy Research, Gilmorehill Centre, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK; c.hamilton@arts.gla.ac.uk
  2. 2MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Christine Hamilton, Centre for Cultural Policy Research, Gilmorehill Centre, 9 University Avenue, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ; 
 c.hamilton{at}arts.gla.ac.uk

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The potential health benefits of participation in the arts to the person and to the community have received widespread attention in recent years. The arts have been used as a medium for health promotion, as therapeutic interventions, and, in the case of the UK, health action zones and social inclusion partnerships’ arts projects have been specifically used to tackle social exclusion. As with other health care and social interventions, the arts may have the potential to have an impact on health, but these impacts need to be demonstrated, whether the outcomes are improvements in specific health outcomes, or increases in levels of social participation.

FINDING THE EVIDENCE

The evidence that art promotes public health and enhances social inclusion remains elusive. The most comprehensive recent review of arts participation projects in the UK was undertaken between September 1995 and March 1997.1 This was the first large scale attempt to come to grips with the issue of the social impact of the arts, in contrast with previous research that largely focused on the economic benefits.2 The review concluded that participation can have a positive impact on how people feel, can be an effective means of health education, can contribute to a more relaxed atmosphere in health centres, and can help improve the quality of life of people with poor health, but none of the existing studies seemed to include formal outcome evaluations. Similarly, the UK Health Development Agency’s report Art for health found that while there were many examples of good practice, actual evaluation was rare.3

Similarly, we recently carried out a scoping review to identify published examples of formal outcome evaluations of the role of arts in social inclusion and health, and found very few. This does not reflect the number of projects that actually exist, including some projects that are …

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