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Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Arts and cultural organisations must begin a concerted effort to forge new alliances over the coming decade.

There’s this on the Arts Council England website: ‘We believe that great art and culture … makes life better.’ Others also make life better: the NHS, schoolteachers, local community volunteers and international aid charities. It’s time for bridge-building which connects arts and culture with these other sectors.

Arts and cultural organisations can take the lead - bringing their skills to the table and drawing on the growth of co-design and co-production and using new approaches to public engagement [1].

Arts and cultural experiences have a unique and powerful set of ‘active ingredients’ which can improve and transform people’s and communities’ lives [2]. But first, we need honest appraisals of where we are now. Take health: a 2017 report concluded that ‘the United Kingdom is still very far from realising more than a small modicum of the potential contribution of the arts to health and wellbeing [3] .’ Other sectors expect to and are able to provide more robust evidence [4]. Public funding pressure, scrutiny and accountability means faith in the benefits of the arts is no longer enough.

To chart our impact and the value created, the arts and culture sector needs its own outcomes frameworks. In other sectors these are well developed [5]. Artistic/cultural outcomes frameworks are essential for valuing culture, making sure artistic programmes are not just viewed through the lenses of other sectors [6].

For example, Aesop’s programme Dance to Health addresses a major health challenge, opening up new opportunities for creative practice, increasing volunteering amongst older people and growing local cultural activity [7]. A £2.3 million early-stage roll-out is under way. We have also developed an evaluation framework for arts in health programmes [8], but frameworks alone will not be sufficient. Training and capacity building will be essential in laying foundations for the growth of this agenda in coming years.


[1] We admire Genomics England’s new approach and its emphasis on earning and maintaining public confidence. See: www.genomicsengland.co.uk/about-genomics-england/how-we-work/patient-and-public-involvement. Also, Nesta, nef and Innovation Unit (2012) ‘People Powered Health Co-production Catalogue.’ London: Nesta

[2] An Aesop/BOP Consulting paper introducing ‘active ingredients’ will be published in 2018

[3] The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing (2017) ‘Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing - Second Edition.’ APPG

[4] What Works Centres are playing an important role. See, www.gov.uk/guidance/what-works-network

[5] See for example the outcomes frameworks for the NHS, public health and adult social care by the Department of Health and Social Care: www.gov.uk/government/collections/health-and-social-care-outcomes-frameworks

[6] One exception is Youth Music’s framework. See, National Foundation for Youth Music (2014) ‘Taking an Outcomes Approach. Guidance on Youth Music’s Outcomes Framework.’ London: National Foundation for Youth Music

[7] See, www.dancetohealth.org

[8] Daykin, N. and Joss, T. (2016) ‘Arts for health and wellbeing: An evaluation framework.’ London: Public Health England

For more information on Aesop and The Aesop Institute’s accredited, training programme see www.ae-sop.org or follow @AesopHealth Twitter