On 25 September 2023, a landmark announcement emerged from the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The World Health Organization (WHO) in partnership with Jameel Arts & Health Lab, declared their impending collaboration for a Lancet Global Series examining the health benefits of the arts.
Bridging the Gap Between Art and Health
This cooperative endeavour marks an extension of a 2019 WHO report that underscored the pivotal role of arts in promoting health, wellness, and health equity. Documenting how engaging in artistic pursuits could prevent illness, support the treatment of acute and chronic conditions through all life phases. Such practices include dance programs tailored for those living with Parkinson’s Disease, music therapy for pain management, and drama therapy that bolsters social-emotional growth, to name a few.
In the words of Sir Jeremy Farrar, Chief Scientist at WHO, “We have categorized Science and Arts as disparate disciplines for too long. Rich in human history, the blend of different disciplines has spurred innovation and recuperation. The partnership between Jameel Arts & Health Lab and Lancet seeks to present a scientific foundation for the arts’ role in health.”
The Power of the Arts in Health
Building its foundation on an innovative conceptual framework, the research series emphasizes the vital contribution of art forms in health and well-being. The primary focus will be on noncommunicable diseases, a leading cause of death and disability globally.
Dr Miriam Lewis Sabin, North American Executive Editor at The Lancet, points out that the series aims to place arts at the center of health practices, a sector where its value has been overlooked for too long.
Artistic Contributions During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The announcement of this research series is timely, coinciding with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, where creativity showcased through balcony performances and window exhibits fostered a sense of togetherness and instilled hope. It has ignited conversations around the interface of arts, culture, and health, attracting high-profile engagement from major cultural institutions and media platforms.
Christopher Bailey, WHO Arts & Health Lead, explains that the health measurement should reflect a holistic approach, concentrating not only on symptom reduction but also on how arts can help us manage and maintain our well-being.
The Global Introduction Event and Future Endeavors
The research collaboration was unveiled at a special WHO75 Wellbeing Concert and Reception at Carnegie Hall during the UNGA Healing Arts Week. WHO75 Healing Arts Programme is part of a global initiative celebrating WHO’s 75th anniversary. The program includes events in Dublin, Lagos, and Geneva, soon extending to Cairo/Alexandria, Copenhagen, Riyadh, and Dubai.
The Jameel Arts & Health Lab, introduced earlier this year under agreements with WHO Regional Office for Europe, NYU’s Steinhardt School, Community Jameel, and CULTURUNNERS, focuses on underserved communities to amplify scientific research on the potency of arts in enhancing health and stimulating policy implementation throughout 193 UN member states.
This collaboration is an exciting step towards integrating arts into conventional healthcare practices and policy implementation. By spotlighting the arts’ role in achieving optimal health, the research series will provide the needed empirical grounds to establish the arts’ necessity in overall health and well-being.