Coronavirus (Covid-19) has provoked a unique second kind of global outbreak: creativity. From virtual choirs, dancing and theatrical performance to so many other individual or shared creative practices, the arts and humanities are providing a vaccine to boredom. As governments mitigate deaths from the virus globally, creative practices are extending social and cultural assets to help people survive socially and psychologically. As the leading figure in health humanities worldwide, Professor Paul Crawford, gives a unique insight to the creative pandemic.
In an unprecedented confinement of people to their homes around the world with the outbreak of Coronavirus we have witnessed a new and inspiring outbreak of creativity. As the hunt is on for a medical solution, people have turned increasingly, actively or passively, to creative practices in the arts and humanities. These have become the vaccine against boredom – an alternative, creative pandemic to counter the social and psychological challenges of mandated social distancing.
This confinement has led major organisations, not least the World Health Organization (2020), to flag up the mental health challenges of this radical social change. Recently, Holmes et al (2020) raised the alarm on the threat that increased social isolation and loneliness from the lockdown can pose in terms of increasing levels of anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide attempts. This position paper is congruent with early research in China noting the mental health impact of Covid-19 (Xiang et al, 2020; Liu et al, 2020). We have also witnessed a rise in domestic violence reporting and increased economic uncertainty that adds to the oppressive physical, social, psychological and financial fallout of the pandemic-inspired confinement.
Domestic environments can appear like a prison as people spend lockdown at home alone or with others, shielded from the virus, or shielding loved ones. Dealing with this situation is by no means easy or deserving a one-solution-fits-all. People are living in many different kinds of spaces with or without access to gardens or other green places. While there has been a renewed interest in the comforts of nature at this time, what has stood out is the turn to creative practices in the arts and humanities.
Within the early weeks of the pandemic, people around the world have engaged on social media or from their homes or streets directly in sharing creative resources or assets. Stories, film, animations, music, theatre, comedy, art and a diverse range of creative activities have helped to bring respite during these unprecedented times. In Italy, for example, people were singing or playing instruments from their apartment windows, balconies or rooftops to the wider community. In the UK, each Thursday across the nation, people have been standing at the thresholds of their homes and percussed their way into social engagement clapping or bashing any household equipment, including saucepans in support of health and social carers. This raw orchestral show has lifted spirits and broken the straitjacket of homes in lockdown. Indeed, Thursday nights under lockdown have produced a regular, informal national orchestral performance. As we join in such creative sharing, we are not just applauding but also performing. We are engaged in creative survival. We are drawing on creative comforts.
Over recent years, a substantial body of research and policy has established the value of arts-based or creative practices, such as singing, dancing and drawing, to mitigate the mental health burden in society*.
Creative practices are a vaccine against boredom. They counter social isolation and loss of purpose and provide opportunities for emotional and cognitive expression, and help build positive identities. They also help advance resilient individuals and communities, enhancing social connectedness or ‘mutual recovery’ (Crawford et al, 2018).
The amount of creative practice engagement by the public in the arts and humanities is simply staggering. The public intuitively know the creative arts and humanities are our lifeblood – the very things we turn to when we are hurting. They are, as I wrote a while ago ‘a shadow health service’ (Crawford, 2018), providing non-medical routes to enhanced health and wellbeing. More importantly, while they do not replace medical interventions they are more available than hospital beds. In the UK alone, six million people are engaged in visual arts, crafts, literature, music and theatre (Dodd, et al, 2013; 89). In 2018, there were 40,000 choirs (Voices Now, 2018). As enforced virtuality (sic) extends during this pandemic, such activities are finding new outlets, new combinations, new contributors and audiences. We are witnessing online mass sharing through community-driven orchestras, choirs, theatre, video production and many other kinds of visual and audio creativity.
So as medical research pursues the all-important therapeutics and a vaccine to deal clinically with Coronavirus, let us celebrate and appreciate the contribution that creative practices in the arts and humanities are making to public health. In a recent example, Kate King who suffers from anxiety and depression revealed that one of her ways of coping with the enforced social isolation was playing her squeeze box or melodeon (Roxby, 2020).
Few of us will have a squeeze box to hand but we can all dig out a couple of saucepans and bash them together on Thursday nights. Or we can join one of the many online discos and dance the night away as part of the digital evolution. Or we can bring down our cortisol levels from colouring in, watching a good film or reading an uplifting book. Active or passive, the creative vaccine can work its magic on all our minds at this dreadful time. We can consider what has happened with Covid-19, in all its appalling impacts, while also generating the largest artistic display in human history.
APPG (2017) All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing Inquiry Report Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing. July. https://www.artshealthandwellbeing.org.uk/appg-inquiry/Publications/Creative_Health_Inquiry_Report_2017.pdf
Arts Council (2010) Great Art and Culture for Everyone. London: Arts Council. https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/great-art-and-culture-everyone
Arts Council England (2007) A Prospectus for Arts and Health. London: Arts Council. http://www.artsandhealth.ie/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/A-prospectus-for-Arts-Health-Arts-Council-England.pdf
Arts Council of Wales (2015) Consultation on the Statutory Guidance. Response from the Arts Council of Wales. Cardiff: Arts Council of Wales.
Arts Council of Wales (2006) Review of Arts and Health Activities in Wales. Cardiff: Arts Council of Wales.
BOP Consulting (2017) Reading Well Books on Prescription. The Reading Agency and Society of Chief Librarians.
Brown, W. & Kandirikirira, N. (2007) Recovering Mental Health in Scotland. Report on Narrative Investigation of Mental Health Recovery. Glasgow: Scottish Recovery Network.
Cayton, H. & Hewitt, P. (2015) A Prospectus for Arts and Health. Arts Council England.
Coulton, S., Clift, S., Skingley, A. & Rodriguez, J. (2015) Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of community singing on mental health-related quality of life of older people: randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Psychiatry 207(3); 250–255.
Crawford, P. (2018) The arts are a shadow health service – here’s why. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/the-arts-are-a-shadow-health-service-heres-why-105610
Crawford, P., Hogan, S., Wilson, M. et al (2018) Creative Practice as Mutual Recovery: Digital Showcase Report. Published online at www.cpmr.mentalhealth.org.uk
Crawford, P., Brown, B., Baker, C. et al (2015) Health Humanities. Palgrave: London.
Crawford, P., Brown, B. & Charise, A. (Eds) (2020) The Routledge Companion to Health Humanities. Routledge: London.
Department for Culture, Media and Sport (2016) The Culture White Paper. London: Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Devlin, P. (2009) Restoring the Balance. The Effect of Arts Participation on Wellbeing & Health. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Voluntary Arts England.
Dodd, F. Graves, A. & Taws, K. (2013) Our Creative Talent – The Voluntary and Amateur Arts in England. London: Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
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, 2019.
Fujiwara, D. & MacKerron, G. (2015) Cultural Activities, Artforms and Wellbeing. London: Arts Council England.
Holmes, E.A., O’Connor, R.C., Perry, V.H. et al (2020) Multidisciplinary research priorities for the COVID-19 pandemic: a call for action for mental health science. The Lancet Psychiatry. Published online 15 April. https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S2215-0366%2820%2930168-1. Accessed 16/04/2020.
Lee, D. (2013) How the Arts Generate Social Capital to Foster Intergroup Social Cohesion. The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society 43, 4–17.
Liu, S., Yang, L., Zhang, C. Xiang, Y-T., Liu, Z., Hu, S. & Zhang, B. (2020) Online mental health services in China during the COVID-19 outbreak. The Lancet Psychiatry 7(4): e17-e18.
Roxby, P. (2020) Coronavirus: ‘Profound’ mental health impact prompts calls for urgent research. BBC News.https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-52295894. Accessed 16/04/2020.
Royal Society of Arts and Arts Council England (2013) Towards Plan A: A new political economy for Arts and Culture. London: Royal Society of Arts and Arts Council England.
Secker, J., Hacking, S., Spandler, H. et al (2007) Mental Health, Social Inclusion and Arts. Final Report. DH, UClan and Anglia Ruskin University.
Voices Now: Big Choral Census (UK). Available at: https://www.rhinegold.co.uk/choir_organ/voices-now-reveals-results-big-choral-census/ (Accessed: 9th April 2020)
WHO (World Health Organization) (2020) Mental Health and Psychosocial Considerations During the COVID-19 Outbreak. Available at: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/mental-health-considerations.pdf [Accessed 5 April 2020]
Xiang, Y-T., Yang, Y., Li, W. et al (2020) Timely mental health care for the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak is urgently needed. The Lancet Psychiatry 7(3): 228-229
*For further reading: See APPG, 2017; Arts Council, 2010, 2007; Arts Council of Wales, 2006, 2015; BOP Consulting, 2017; Brown & Kandirikirira 2007; Cayton & Hewitt, 2015; Coulton et al, 2015; Crawford et al, 2020; Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2016; Devlin 2009; Fancourt & Finn, 2019; Fujiwara & MacKerron, 2015; Lee, 2013; Royal Society of Arts and Arts Council England, 2013; Secker et al 2007.