12 December 2019

”Cultural Welfare: what role arts play in the health and wellbeing of citizens?” with the EFC Arts and Culture Thematic Network

A movement is underway to better recognise the role of arts and culture, in supporting the well-being and health and society. Recent studies and research has verified the existence of a link between cultural activities and major topics such as social integration, health and innovation.

The EFC’s Arts and Culture Thematic Network held its autumn meeting in Turin on 21-22 November seeking to explore the use of arts and culture for health and wellbeing and to address the following questions:

  • How the arts can play a more prominent role in the health and wellbeing of people?
  • What is the role of funders when speaking about cultural welfare?
  • What solutions have already been implemented and can be taken as examples and inspiration for others?
  • What are the challenges?

During the 2 days, participants had the chance to meet like-minded colleagues working in the arts and culture philanthropic sector, academics and experts, to learn, discuss and connect, inspired by the topic of cultural welfare.

The meeting was opened at OGR Torino by Ignasi Miro Borras, Director of the Cultural Area, ‘la Caixa’ Foundation and Chair, EFC Arts and Culture Thematic Network, Alberto Anfossi, Secretary General, Compagnia di San Paolo and Massimo Lapucci, Secretary General, Fondazione CRT welcoming everyone to Turin, and wishing everyone fruitful discussions and exchange between funders.

The meeting kicked off inspired by three selected projects each looking into the innovative dimensions of arts and culture related to the issue of health: the cultural, social, and civic and wellbeing dimensions.

The Cultural Dimension was presented by Armando Toscano and Daniela Airoldi Bianchi  through a project supported by Fondazione Cariplo called ‘’Teatro Officina’’. They explained the details of the project that provided a space for personal stories to be shared in a theatre by patients. Utilising ‘’narrative medicine’’ a patient would use the stage to tell his/her first-person stories and their direct experiences. Art increases patient’s wellbeing by offering a chance to build new, nourishing relations, opening up to a new vision of the self, and connecting to the community. Narrative medicine is a practice to gather and listen to stories: it’s not about individuals but is a social practice involving a plurality of subjects, putting them in relationships.

The Social dimension was presented by the project ‘’Museum Operators and Disability’’ supported by Fondazione CRT and Fondazione Paideia. Valentina Iebole, Project Officer, Fondazione CRT and Fabrizio Serra, Secretary General, Fondazione Paideia explained the ideas and aims at the beginning of the project back to 2012, beginning as a training course, the project has been now replicated in several Italian regions and can be considered as a “multifunctional tool” as well as a “building site”.

The Civic and Wellbeing Dimension was represented by the project ‘’Creative Recovery Mapping Refugees’ Memories of Home as Heritage’’ supported by European Cultural Foundation. Ioana Popovici, Research Assistant, University of Plymouth presented the principle behind it, using a participatory research methodology for refugees to recall their ideas of home to make a journey into the acceptance and (integration) into a new reality. The storytelling became the focus of the project, more than the artistic result, as a way of using arts as a mean to create debate.

Pier Luigi Sacco, Professor of Cultural Economics, IULM University Milan, gave a keynote speech on The New EU Agenda for Culture, highlighting the fact that Culture, Health and Wellbeing are one of the three pillars together with Culture and Social Cohesion as well as Culture and Innovation

There were some interesting videos presentations providing small introductions to meaningful initiatives. Stefano Giacomelli, highlighted ‘’Opera Show’’ a project supported by Fondazione CRT and run by Fondazione Accademia Perosi; Novella Pellegrini presented the idea behind ‘’Base Camp Project’’, supported by ENEL nel Cuore ONLUS, aiming at giving educational opportunities to young people in Italy. Lastly, Roberta Giassetti, Fondazione Altamane presented ‘’Othello Theatre’’, an initiative involving people with disability in theatre plays.

Inspired by the projects presented, participants were asked to join different tables, each one tackling a different dimension illustrated by the case studies proposed. Each participant had the opportunity to join 2 different thematic tables for 30 minutes per round, and try and answer some of the following questions:

  • Which elements of the project(s) presented have raised your attention and interest concerning the methodology used?
  • Would similar projects be in line with the fields of action of your foundation? If not why?
  • What are the main challenges/major obstacles in carrying out projects of this kind?
  • Is your foundation active in this area? Do you have any examples to share?
  • What could be the specific role of foundations in these sectors? Investigators? Facilitators? Advocates? What possibilities/opportunities of collaboration between foundations in this area(s) of intervention?

The table on the Social dimension was hosted by Roberta Zendrini, Educational Department, OGR, and came up with many interesting points of discussion on the topic:

  • There is an ongoing revolution, whereas culture was once an accessory and somewhat on the sidelines, it now has a more influential role.
  • Culture and Social dimensions are still different, but inter-organisational collaboration must be overcome along with the ‘language’ obstacle.
  • The two sectors have different languages that they use when designing projects, involving stakeholders and promoting initiatives.
  • The challenge here is not to just experiment together, but to understand how to affect systems change by working together.
  • Welfare responds to poverty, Culture looks to elevate: we have a dichotomy of elevation vs need.
  • Foundations can play a role in bridging this gap between the two sectors, through designing new projects, creating new professional figures, working toward the creation of new methodologies that can consolidate into long term actions and mobilise different actors.
  • Both the culture and social sector have different measures which have to be merged when creating new projects.
  • Another challenge is the extraction good practice and convert it into policy.
  • It is important to work with different offices, public private, associations, and different cultures from the very beginning.
  • At the design stage especially it is important to include public offices, as it improves the chances of the initiative.
  • Co-design, co-creation and co-responsibility – passing to the citizens themselves an important role and opportunity to contribute.

The table featuring the discussions on the Cultural dimension was hosted by Dea Vidović, Director, Kultura Nova Foundation, and the main points referred to:

  • Participant divided in two groups: one working in the issues of health and the other not working dire but all shared their interest to the issue.
  • One of the main challenges/risks in this cross-sectoral approach is the “instrumentalisation” of arts – arts should be arts, if it is used as an instrument it changes its nature.
  • Two levels of arts: “art for art” without specific purposes vs new trend of inclusivity, diversity bringing many institutions together and re-programming with participants.
  • Holistic approach with a long term approach (Bozar 5P: Public, Place, Partner, Program, Personal) – change mindsets of institutions becoming more audience centred rather than a programming institution.
  • In many foundations the arts department is not the one working with these issues but it is the social department working with arts as an instrument to bring innovation and social change
  • In many cases still the foundation and different actors work in silos, the message is that foundations should take the experimentation approach and go beyond the basing needs which are those that the public sector should take care of.

The Civic and Wellbeing dimension was discussed at the table hosted by Bertram Niessen, “Che Fare” Association. Some of the highlights of discussion from the table included:

  • The need to develop a new approach to competences e.g. psychology, law, language.
  • Analysis of obstacles (e.g. request for high turn-over to participants could harm the quality of the project)
  • Quantify and measure impact.
  • Scaling-up/replication.
  • Focus on the context and participants for the project to be effective.
  • Cross-road between storytelling-art and simple representation of social issue.
  • Art for the sake of art vs art for the sake of social projects.
  • How to define the audience (and not the target?) – Who is the broader audience to take into account? How to engage different audiences to understand the meaning of the project?
  • Experimentation within the foundation sector is a very important point.

Participants also visited OGR – Officine Grandi Riparazioni before attending an unconventional dinner experience, divided into small groups and heading to dinner at the family houses of people with migrant origins. This initiative “Guess who is coming to dinner”, was created by Rete Italiana di Cultura Popolare and supported by Fondazione CRT. The aim was to change the idea of hospitality by opening up the houses for others and building a space for community. Participants were particularly moved to hear the different stories of the Chinese, Syrian, Egyptian and Moroccan families they were hosted by.

The second day began at the St. Anna Hospital, hosted by Fondazione Medicina a Misura di Donna where participants were first called to reflect on the dinner experience and then have the opportunity to discuss with Nesa and Antonio Damasco, Directors, Rete Italiana Cultura Popolare.

Catterina Seia, Co-founder and Vice-President, Fondazione Medicina a Misura di Donna, introduced the site of St. Anna Hospital were 7000 babies are born every year, from approximately 90 countries making the location a very multicultural place. The hospital leans into the philosophy of placing importance on the surroundings for people’s wellbeing and aims to create a space for staff as well as patients. The foundation aims to humanise, and bring together science, technologies and art with the involvement of staff, private and public bodies, companies and citizens to bring a sense of community around the space.

Luca Dal Pozzolo, Director of the Cultural Observatory of Piedmont moderated the workshop with two interventions: the first explaining from the scientific point of view the relation between wellness and art and the second giving a concrete example of the systemic approach implemented in Hospital St. Anna.

Professor Enzo Grossi, Scientific Advisor, Fondazione Bracco, introduced research on cultural consumption and psychological wellbeing seeing cultural participation as a tool for new welfare. He explained how the concept of wellbeing, mental health, psychological wellbeing are interlinked and form the basis for successful ageing. Arts and culture contributes to longer lifespan; better physiological wellness and better physical wellbeing. He demonstrated how attending cultural events is rarely associated to a high mortality rate, and living a life full of cultural occasion reduces the risk of mortality. Another study demonstrates that visiting museums can reduce the risks of dementia, and the same for depression. He concluded by affirming that; cultural participation is a potent tool for a new welfare; through “neuro-aesthetic” and psycho-social mechanisms arts and culture promote social, psychological and physical wellbeing and that many stakeholders need to be informed and involved in this process of Cultural Revolution.

Alessandra Rossi Ghiglione, Director, Social Community Theatre at the University of Turin highlighted the concept of community engagement, considering the community as a vital stakeholder, bringing change and transformative effect in terms of social and culture innovation. The St. Anna initiative can be considered as a role model for community engagement: the methodology consists of transforming a place designed for care into a theatre of care involving and engaging doctors, nurses, patients, visitors. The Cantiere dell arte was started in 2012 as a first participative project, staff were involved to highlight the negative points of the hospital. As a consequence the stairs were transformed to look like a garden (metaphor of care) by progressive art actions involving all the community. Another milestone project is call Nati con la Cultura: every new born receives a passport for culture that can be used by the whole family to visit museums. As a result of this initiative many museums become more family friendly. Up to now approximately 50,000 passports have been released – example of a project started in a hospital that now is taken by the municipality and manage to bring change to cultural institutions. Another initiative is “Musical Vitamins”, that brings artists into the hospital to play music. These initiatives have had a spill over effect with the staff nowadays attending more cultural event in their free time, also musicians are changing the way they look at their audience, and it brought an improvement in patient’s mood.

Participants were then offered guided tours of the hospital and the chance to experience a participative art initiative by painting the wall of the hospital themselves. They finally had the opportunity to reflect further using a “questioning methodology” to try and find open points of suggestion to bring home. Here a summary of the questions raised:

  • How to make cultural institutions more committed and proactive on this field and how to communicate the relevance of this process to the sector and community?
  • How to stimulate, increase or enlarge the practice of designing a project with a multi-disciplinary approach among different sectors?
  • How can we include these practices in our everyday office lives?
  • How to provide a favourable environment to make the relationship between health wellbeing and culture possible at all levels?
  • How to build these kinds of processes and activity in such a way that they are sustainable by themselves?
  • What knowledge, competences and skills are needed to start to build such a systemic approach?
  • How could we think to create an exchange between sectors? Culture able to create bridges between sectors?
  • Strategic process into an institution, how to translate the experience into everyday activities?

Matteo Bagnasco concluded by saying that foundations have specific role to gather important resources, share competencies, and do advocacy. They engage in European networks, they are specialised in experimentation, they are testing models but this is not enough nowadays and they should also scale up experiementation and work more on impacting some of the biggest challenges facing the sector.

For information on the Arts and Culture Thematic Network contact Silvia Balmas.


Armando Toscano and Daniela Airoldi Bianchi

Valentina Iebole and Fabrizio Serra

Ioana Popovici

Pier Luigi Sacco

Catterina Seia

Enzo Grossi

Allessandra Rossi Ghiglione