The Possibility Club

#MoreCultureLessMedicine: Brighton is experimenting with arts-based wellbeing as a city mission

Can Brighton & Hove be a Centre of Excellence for Arts & Health?

In June 2019, Lucy Stone FRSA convened 100 people at the University of Brighton to explore.


“I have seen arts interventions do better than any medication I could have prescribed”

– Dr Laura Marshall-Andrews

Despite rapid advances in healthcare, we are living more years with health conditions and can’t treat our way out of this crisis. Health and arts practitioners from Brighton & Hove will lead a discussion on how the arts can provide a solution for creating health and wellbeing for people and communities.

The latest Brighton & Hove Public Health report ‘The Art of Good Health’ asks ‘Should we look closer at the role of arts in health?’. There is a growing base of evidence that the arts can have a positive impact on health and wellbeing at all stages of life.

As part of Brighton Creativity and Wellbeing week experts and interested people from a wide range of sectors came together to think about Brighton & Hove as a Centre of Excellence for Arts, Health and Wellbeing.


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Panel Reflections

Chair, Alistair Hill (Director of Public Health for Brighton and Hove) talked about why he wrote the annual public health report on arts and health? Alistair talked about how the arts help us to get active, get involved, and strengthen our communities. They can be important at all times of our lives – starting, living, ageing, and dying well. He talked about some of the stark differences in life expectancy throughout the city. The full report is here.

Dr Laura Marshall Andrews (senior clinical partner at Brighton Health and Wellbeing Centre). Shared her thoughts on ‘Why should doctors be interested in arts and health?’. She is interested in the psychological measurements that can be made around arts engagement. In her view the arts can prevent, treat and cure disease and in some cases better than medicine can.“These interventions are not the soft stuff… they are the key centerstone for how we should be treating patients.”She reminded us that it’s good for doctors as well!. Within her practice she’s seen 30-40% reduction in GP appointments for people on the arts interventions.

Jo Crease (Chief Executive Officer of Impetus) explored ‘How can we make this happen at scale?’. She introduced the definition of Social Prescribing – linking people and patients with the services that can improve their health and well being. At Impetus this focus on a person-centred approach with guided conversations. It might take a number of meetings but people are given that time and are listened to. The main reason people are referred is social isolation and loneliness. They have seen a massive rise in referrals of people with 2 of more issues from 6% to 20%. Austerity is having this effect on our communities and we need to build the infrastructure to ensure support is there long term.

Vikki Parker (Artist and curator of the Brighton Creativity & Wellbeing Week) was invited to explore ‘What’s next after social prescribing? What is the role of the individual in their own wellbeing?’ from her own lived experience. For Vikki the conversation is summed up in this quote “Art is a wound turned into light”. We can use art to regulate a traumatised nervous system and through art she has built her resilience. She believes that individuals should be empowered to move from social prescribing to self prescribing.

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Duncan shared some of the research and cross-departmental projects at the University. Projects on everything from arthritis and breastfeeding to anatomical studies and scabies. The example below is a wheelchair for drawing developed at the University.

Conversations in the room

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There were some stimulating and inspiring discussions on the tables that were then shared with the room. We then moved onto a Q&A from the room to the panel. Below is the summary around 5 key themes.

1. Collaborative working

  • How can we foster co-production?
  • What are the vehicles to make things happen?
  • What are the big problems and how can we solve them?
  • How do people become aware of the opportunities?
  • Shared language between arts and health is needed/ already working well in places.
  • Does ‘impact’ mean the same to everyone?
  • Supporting people/ patients to move from being consumers to being makers.
  • What spaces could we use?
  • Ensuring that the practitioners are also supported
  • We can’t ‘helicopter’ in this work – there is ‘untapped’ talent in these communities we need to harness.
  • Developing trusted places and relationships.

2. Evidence base

  • The arts are continually asked for their evidence base in arts and health work. Some felt this is often at a higher level than other sectors.
  • The evidence is there!!! Is it systemic issues stopping this happening.
  • Is the focus on mass trial data useful? “We don’t need evidence to show that friendship is good for you” – Dr Laura Marshall-Andrews
  • Sports is 20 years ahead of the arts in this work

3. Systemic issues

  • How do we get medical students bought into this to create systemic change?
  • Funding, funding, funding! How does this all get paid for?
  • Is a preventative message getting through?
  • There are bigger political issues which currently get the focus.
  • How can the use of the arts in health be normalised?

4. Perception of ‘Art’

  • ‘Art’ can be seen as only visual art – would ‘creativity’ be more helpful?
  • Class issues – is art seen as middle class taking place in middle class areas? Does this just amplify this issue
  • Art seen as a ‘soft’ subject throughout school or a ‘nice thing to have’ and this bias continues.

5. Centre of Excellence for Arts, Health and Wellbeing?

  • Is Brighton & Hove one already?
  • What would a universal commitment to arts and health look like?
  • What are the outcomes?
  • Healthy workplaces throughout the city?
  • Should it be a ‘Centre of Excellence for Wellbeing’?

If you want to catch up on what was talked about at the event or want to contribute to the conversation now please look at Twitter #MoreCultureLessMedicine or the RSA South East feed @RSASouthEast.

You might also want to link with the Brighton & Hove Cultural Framework ( in which there is a Living Well strand. The Living Well group co-hosted last nights event with the RSA. As well as the website you can follow that conversation on Twitter #BHCulture @CreativeBTN.

The original event information and invitation is posted on The RSA website here


LUCY STONE MInstF FRSA is a charity fundraising consultant, Director of No Stone Unturned Fundraising and an Associate at always possible

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  • Sounds fantastic. Role of the arts in wellbeing is huge. It helps provide and shape hope and therefore lifts wellbeing.

    • We have the evidence, but not always the confidence or the permission. It is now time to break silos and embed new participatory activity into health prescription, treatment and prevention models.