Art for Health

In 2002 Richard Smith wrote “Spend (Slightly) Less On Health And More On The Arts: Health Would Probably Be Improved”. He poses the argument that we are all going to die anyway, become sick, and suffer pain. If we know this is true, more public money should be spent on the arts as “great books or films (let’s call them art) will ultimately teach you something useful about your pain”.

if health is about adaptation, understanding, and acceptance, then the arts may be more potent than anything that medicine has to offer

Smith’s article talks about many groups the public healthcare system in the UK fails, including people who suffer from addiction and mental illness. He states that patients would likely benefit from more opportunities for creative refuge, in arts organizations that have long-term financial sustainability to support a population in need.

In Toronto, the Creative Works Studio at St. Michaels Hospital “offers healing and recovery through creative arts” to those living with mental illness. Workman Arts at CAMH provides programming for those who suffer from mental illness and addiction to express themselves through film, theatre, visual, music, and literary art. The Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care offers 30 creative arts programs a week to engage seniors in woodwork, ceramics, stain glass, and knitting. My 95 year old grandfather participates in this program, and I am the lucky recipient of 2 of his creations – a wooden carving of a small dog, and a jewelry box painted with an elephant.

These programs are a few of many that invest in populations who need innovative attention. As stated by the Creative Works Studio, its program is an “oasis from the daily rigours and challenges for people living with a mental illness”. In my own experience, escaping into art is applicable to any suffering. While artistic expression provides the opportunity for personal exploration, as noted by Smith it is also an occasion to forget for a short while.

Creative City documents repeatedly call attention to art adding to quality of place and improving neighbourhood and individual well-being. There is a disconnect in these statements, as regardless of acknowledgement, many community arts groups struggle to sustain programming among needy neighbourhoods, populations, and communities.

What would you think if a small chunk of money from Canadian healthcare was put into arts programming? How can one justify such a decision? How do you argue in favour of creative refuge to those who have never picked up a paintbrush?

As said so poignantly by Smith, “if health is about adaptation, understanding, and acceptance, then the arts may be more potent than anything that medicine has to offer”.

Robyn Shyllit is a graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and a student in the Cities Centre Community Development Program at the University of Toronto completing a Masters degree in Planning.


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