The vital role of the arts in ensuring the well-being of future generations
As we celebrated our National Patron Saint’s Day last week, we were reminded of our country’s strong cultural identity and affinity with the arts.
I spoke last Thursday at the Federation of Museums and Art Galleries Annual Conference in the Cardiff Story Museum.
After finding out just why Greyfriars Road is called Greyfriars Road and reminiscing about the stories my Nan told me about her time growing up in Grangetown (and the mischief her and her cousins used to get up to on a ship wreck in the Docks called the Old Louisa), I had an opportunity to set out why I believe access to the arts and culture is such a crucial part of people’s well-being.
There is a huge amount of good work going on in museums, not just in their traditional role of being guardians of our past but also in how they can help us shape our future. They are already offering support for people with dementia, providing opportunities for people to volunteer and getting children and families engaged. However, they are often forgotten by mainstream service providers and opportunities to use them to support wider well-being are missed.
If we are to realise the aspirations of integrated thinking in the Well-being of Future Generations Act we should recognise that the arts can and should play as much a part in keeping people well, or helping those who are not, as the health service. That museums have as much of a role in providing opportunities for older people to avoid isolation and loneliness as our social services.
For museums and galleries, this of course means involving the public – and young people in particular – in the work that they do. The Arts Council of Wales’ 2016 Children’s Omnibus Survey showed a 5.8% decrease in levels of young people attending an arts event once a year or more. How can the culture sector do more to involve young people in the arts and make it relevant to their lives and how can we help our mainstream public services to see them as an asset?
Here in Wales, we are unique in being one of the few countries that include ‘cultural well-being’ in our definition of sustainable development. This holistic view takes account of how valuable a trip to your local museum, seeing a film at the cinema or a show in the theatre, can be to a person’s quality of life, and to a community’s feeling of culture.
There is a chance for the arts to open doors to a more equal Wales. When we know that education in arts and culture is associated with improved transferrable skills that bring benefits in later life, such as communication, social skills, and confidence, we must do more to ensure museums and arts galleries reflect the diversity of Wales and what it means to live here.
Because we know that a vibrant sense of culture has multiple, integrated benefits. Not only can participation in arts activities improve the health of older adults, improve blood pressure and reduce anxiety in cardiac patients, local investment in arts and culture can revitalise local commercial creative endeavour; helping to rebalance economies that have seen traditional industry decline.
If we are to make museums – places that are typically seen as places that house relics of the past – relevant for the future, we must be innovative in the ways we engage and inspire, and collaborate effectively with the public sector; ensuring we are acting today for a better tomorrow.