The Arts, Health and Seniors Project
A Three Year Exploration of the Relationship between Arts and Health
IssueSocial and health benefits of the arts
Based on qualitative and quantitative evaluations, this report examined the relationship between the arts and well-being among 51 Vancouver seniors who participated in the arts in four community centres. The long-term goal of the project was to “contribute to the development of strong, healthy communities that engage seniors as full and active participants and that value the arts as a key contributor to health”. The project’s institutional partners were Vancouver Coastal Health and the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation.
The project, which examined physical and emotional well-being as well as social inclusion, “involved weekly participatory workshops led by professional artists, and yearly exhibitions and performances of the works created at community and professional venues”. The project’s participants, most of whom were female, “ranged in age from 55-90 years”. All of the seniors experienced “some form of barrier or marginalization beyond age, including language barriers, stigma related to sexual orientation and/or economic challenges”.
The participatory arts aspect of the project was related to seniors’ sense of creative accomplishment, pride, hard work, and dedication, and also contributed to their learning, discipline, focus, self-esteem, confidence, and sense of identity. As stated by one participant, the program “has given me confidence [and] a new interest that I wish to pursue for a long time and at every opportunity”.
The study found that the seniors’ involvement in the arts was “associated with improved physical well-being and higher degrees of social inclusion”. Correlations between arts participation and self-perceived health, chronic pain, and sense of community were statistically significant.
A key conclusion of the study concerned the “pivotal role that the arts can play in promoting healthy aging” because “quality arts programming can help to improve quality of life”. The report also concluded that the arts contribute to “true health promotion and disease prevention”. While the report provided substantial research evidence, the authors cautioned that “the psycho-physiological ways that the arts contribute to positive health and well-being are just beginning to be understood”.