The Positive Power of Art

You might be surprised to know that the arts and health have over 100 years of partnership.

Visual art, music, dance, creative writing, dramatic play and theater have been used for decades to enhance individual experience in hospitals, mental health treatment centers, senior care facilities, emergency rooms, occupational therapy clinics, pediatric care facilities and more. Wherever people are in crisis – health or otherwise – creative activities can be found.

Why such a long history?

Over time, creative activities have been accepted in a very general way as simply being “good” for people. Intuitively, most health practitioners know that art makes patients feel better and happier, especially those who are very unwell. While most people intuitively know that creative activities have value in health settings, for a long time the benefits were not clearly defined or explained. As such, the creative arts have occupied an essential, yet ill-defined position in the health and human service industries.

However, in the last 10-15 years, researchers have increasingly attempted to define what happens when the arts and health meet. In 2010, The American Journal of Public Health published a review of this research entitled, “The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health”.This review provides an overview of findings at the crossroads of arts and health, specifically the impact on our emotional and physical well-being.

Generally speaking, studies included in this review found that creative activity has a positive impact on our sense of hope, self-worth, and well-being, improves our sense of connectedness, and widens our social networks, in addition to decreasing depression and anxiety and reducing stress. The benefits to our physical health are extraordinary and unexpected: creative activity actually improves cell function, boosts brain function and memory, decreases the need for medications & treatment in hospitals, decreases length of hospital stays and speeds overall recovery time, and is associated with longevity.

Creative activity has a direct impact on our brain.

Creative pursuits promote the growth of neurons and boost the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is the body’s natural antidepressant, and is associated with feelings of happiness and well-being. Neurons, the cells that build the nervous system and transmit information throughout the body, absorb dopamine. Apparently, creative activity has a double impact on your potential to feel healthy and happy, setting the stage for greater overall health and specific health outcomes. For those of us who practice an art form regularly, this might feel pretty obvious. However, to have research backing up our intuitions, and explaining how and why we feel so great when we make art, is remarkable

Armed with what you know about the positive impact creativity has, take a moment to think about the impact arts organizations like the Lawrence Arts Center have on the health of our city.

At the Lawrence Arts Center, we believe everyone should have access to improving their lives  and leading a healthy life, because the more people who have access to these benefits, the better – and healthier – Lawrence will be.

-Margaret Weisbrod Morris, Chief Program Officer