Arts and Health - A View From Denmark

October 20, 2016

Last autumn, I published an article in Politiken, a national newspaper. The title was 'Culture - medicine with no adverse effects' (it sounds a lot better in Danish!) - but the editor chose to change the title to 'The healing powers of Culture'. Now, obviously I was thrilled to have my article published and since then, a whole new world of possibilities and networks in the field has opened up to me. However, the title just didn't feel right - and it's a spot on example which illustrates some of the paradoxes and challenges this 'new' field faces in Denmark.


Simply put, many health professionals think of any kind of cultural intervention in their field as, at best, harmless hippie nice-to-have-but-no-way-need-to-have stuff and at worst complete New Age BS. On the other hand, quite a few professionals in the cultural sector tend to view the use of art in a health as just another way of exploiting art and culture, another effort to undermine the inherent, intrinsic value of art.

This atmosphere obviously hasn't been conducive for developing the area and is still to be dealt with. I try to navigate among these convictions and to convince

Introduction by Victoria Jones


One of the main aims of Arts Health Associates is to unite and strengthen the arts and health sector, both nationally and internationally. With this ethos in mind we are delighted to introduce Eva Hjelms, who has written the first in series of guest blog posts sharing news and views from around the world.

Arts and Health - A View From Denmark


One should think that in a developed, civilised Northern European county as Denmark, the concept of Arts and Health would be a given thing. In a welfare state where so much of our cultural life is subsidised, the population is generally well educated and - according to some - among the happiest in the world, the field of Arts and Heath ought to be well embedded in our whole way of managing heath issues...


Not so! The field is not particularly developed in Denmark compared to our neighbouring countries and has only just recently come into focus as a way of dealing with health issues and as a supplement to the established methods of treatment in the health sector.


Naturally there have been projects and efforts within the field in many Danish institutions, in cultural as well as health institutions and music especially has been a field of research. But the wider comprehensive field, encompassing all the art forms and their possible influences on health issues, hasn't been described per se, nor  - until recently  - acknowledged as an actual field of research. We are only just beginning to realise the scope and the potential of the strategic use of art and cultural experiences in relation to general well-being.

both parties that working with the subject poses no threat to either - in my opinion it's a win-win for all.


Luckily a growing number of people (in both sectors) now agree with me and I'm happy to announce that during the past year, the interest in the field has grown exponentially in Denmark, resulting in public hearings in the Parliament, the first state-grants for four different 'Arts on prescription' projects; a growing number of collaborations; seminars, conferences and talks on the subject and networks across the nation, as well as across borders - the invitation for me to write on this blog as a good example! 


We're still not anywhere near the level of UK or Sweden or other nations and there is still a lot of scepticism and prejudice surrounding the field. We're still only taking our first steps and are bound to make mistakes - some of them will be made because the surroundings won't accept arts and culture as a legitimate means of dealing with different issues, some of them because some people also put too much faith in 'the healing powers of art.' 



As with any other developing field, there will be 'trial and error'. What works for one group of people in one setting, might not work for a different group. However, I'm convinced that within the next couple of years, we will witness a growing number of projects in Denmark aiming to not only cure and prevent diseases and illnesses, but to improve life quality in general through arts and culture. Also in design, architecture and welfare technology, a field where Denmark is a front runner, we will see many exciting new developments.



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