HEartS

Health, Economic, and Social impact of the ARTs

A joint venture between the Royal College of Music and Imperial College London has been awarded £1 million for a new research project on the arts and health.

The HEartS project will explore the impact of the arts and culture on health and wellbeing, from individual, social, and economic perspectives.

One area the team will study is the link between cultural pursuits – like joining a choir, learning an instrument, or attending art classes – and health and wellbeing in society. The work is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Previously, smaller arts intervention studies have found links between cultural participation, good health, and lower mortality rates. However, to date there have been few larger-scale studies involving the arts across the UK. The study will gather new empirical and qualitative data over three years.

Professor Aaron Williamon, principal investigator of the project and Director of the CPS, said: “We are keen to discover not only the effects of culture on health and happiness, but why those effects happen. For example, joining a choir after work may improve your health, but is that the result of socialising, creating something, or a combination of the two? Why might joining a choir have more social and creative benefits than going for a meal with friends?”

HEartS will investigate:

  • The effect of arts and cultural pursuits on health and wellbeing.
  • How the arts support health.
  • The financial value of engaging with the arts in relation to health.
  • How and why these effects might vary among different people.

To support the core team, the researchers have established strategic partnerships with a range of public health and arts organisations. Public health partners include Public Health England, NHS Health Scotland, Public Health Agency Northern Ireland, the Royal Society for Public Health and the What Works Centre for Wellbeing. Arts partners include Arts Council England, Arts Council Wales, Creative Scotland, Conservatoires UK (which includes eleven performing arts HEIs), Sage Gateshead, Beamish and Tunbridge Wells museums, The Ambassador Theatre Group, Rambert Dance Company and Akademi South Asian Dance.

Other cultural pursuits the researchers will explore include going to museums, galleries, and concerts.

Professor Robert Perneczky, co-investigator of the study from Imperial’s School of Public Health and the University of Munich, said: “We are interested in what hidden benefits the arts and culture may have in terms of improving health. If there are tangible benefits, there may be a case to be made for integrating them more fully within social and health services. It be will interesting to see if arts and culture can increase our resilience against age-associated changes of wellbeing and cognitive performance, a phenomenon known as cognitive reserve.”

Professor James Stirling, Provost of Imperial College London, said: “This funding announcement is a major success for our new Centre for Performance Science, and will further deepen the relationship between Imperial and the RCM.”

Project team

Aaron Williamon, RCM (PI)
Daisy Fancourt, RCM
Marissa Miraldo, Imperial
Rosie Perkins, RCM
Robert Perneczky, Imperial

Supported by 

Arts and Humanities Research Council
(2018-20)

Learn more

Project outputs will be listed here in due course.