My personal experience in improving mental health with art projects has mainly been in relation to music making and theatre. These experiences go back to late 1990’s and to Finnish prison life. As a vice-governor I was in charge of organizing a theatre video project with professional actors, an English prison theatre director (Allen Owens), Finnish juvenile prison inmates and foreign adult prisoners. It was a very promising experience, which showed, how arts can make a real difference in prison life – and in prisoners’ mental health. A decade later I was responsible for two large scale music theatre projects with professional actresses and director, professional (rock) musicians, young mental health service users making music and adult service users acting and even writing jointly the theatre play.
Why are arts important in improving mental health? In the case of theatre, the answer is obvious. So much of our everyday and family life has to do with fixed role playing, which also has deteriorated many persons’ and family members’ mental health. In every traumatized family there is room for at least for one person “acting crazy”. So, with theatre a person and a group of theatre makers, can take a distance from those fixed roles. The more important and healthier the outcomes, nearer the subject matter is to the lives of the persons involved. In that sense, theatre is a near relative to research by experience! Besides, making a meaningful project together is socially valuable for the person and the group in itself. It often gives also a lots of fun, as well!
These experiences have shown that is not reasonable at all to restrict to “the therapeutical field of work” so that, the theatre or other art project makers do things just for themselves. Instead, the level of empowerment and recovery deepens significantly, when these art projects are held and put to their proper societal places. in public theatres with paying audience; in public art galleries; music clubs; ecc.
Read and learn more:
Fancourt, D. & Finn, S. 2019. What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? A scoping review. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe (Health Evidence Network (HEN) synthesis report 67).