A study on the impacts of a remote arts programme for older adults during the transition out of lockdown offers three key recommendations for other arts organisations.
Participants may derive greater benefits from arts programmes that offer a range of creative activities that tap into different areas of artistic practice, a new report has found.
The Identifying the art of wellbeing report details the results of an 18-month research project investigating the design, delivery and impacts of a remote creative programme offered by Entelechy Arts during the pandemic. The organisation collaborated with Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) on the study, which was funded by UK Research and Innovation and Arts and Humanities Research Council.
The report details findings and recommendations based on longitudinal surveys and interviews with participants in the remote programme, Staying Connected, which was offered to members of Meet Me, a long-running social and creative programme for older adults.
The report identified three key recommendations for arts organisations and the wider sector to maximise the benefits of their programmes: ensuring variety, cultivating group membership and allowing time for practices to develop.
Fostering a sense of agency
Among the report's chief findings was that allowing programme participants to select how many and which creative activities they wish to participate in “may foster an environment where agency is implicitly valued”.
“Allowing that choice, being able to do what you want, when you want to do it, allows people to engage with the arts on their own terms,” said Dr Janelle Jones, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology at QMUL.
She added that their findings showed that as enagagement increased, “general wellbeing and satisfaction with life increased and anxiety and depression decreased”.
The report recommended that individual arts organisations that are not equipped to offer a range of artistic activities should consider collaborating with other local organisations to pool resources and coordinate programming.
The report also found that while most participants preferred in-person delivery to online sessions, offering hybrid delivery to allow participants to choose whether to attend in-person or online can further enhance feelings of agency and facilitate consistent access for individuals who may struggle with mobility, illness or transportation issues.
“There are so many reasons people may struggle to get out of their house to participate in, see culture or access it digitally, or maybe they just prefer to engage from the comfort of their own home,” said Maddy Mills, Director of Entelechy Arts.
“Ensuring people at home can access, engage with and create art that moves them, makes them laugh, cry, think about the world, understand new stories and perspectives and connect with others must continue.”
Creating community bonds
The report also found that cultivating group memberships was crucial to allowing participants to forge connections and expand their perspectives and their social lives.
Feeling part of a group “was linked to less social isolation and more life satisfaction”, the report found. It also found correlations between identification with groups strengthening or lessening over time and the overall wellbeing of participants.
Embedding sharing and discussion in artistic practice is one way to leverage additional benefits for participants, the report recommended, advising organisations to “bolster feelings of connection and identification to promote engagement and wellbeing”.
Rather than assigning groups randomly, Jones advised that “when the group is based on something that's a little bit more meaningful, whether that's the programme identity or your community identity or your age… you could derive a stronger sense of identification, a stronger sense of support”.
Over time, “people really started to connect to the other members... They started sharing things about themselves. They started sharing things about their lives.”
Allowing time for growth
Participants in the study stated that the amount of time spent on activities was important, “partly because they were able to ‘get lost in the moment’ and ‘time was forgotten’”, the report noted.
As well as the time spent on activities, the overall length of the programme is important to allow providers to assess its impacts and improvements. The report calls for “consistent and sustained funding for arts organisations that enables long-term delivery of programmes rather than short-term or one-off programmes”.
The report demonstrates a need for a sector-wide shift in approach, Mills said.
“I think it's important for the art sector to allow arts organisations to have the time to reflect on their practice, to engage in co-production of their practice, and to have a chance to evaluate their practice over a longer span of time without a worry that the money is going to run out.”