‘Art is a universal language. Art has no borders and promotes diversity in unity. It responds to our need to share, inspire, and transform. It transcends our perceptions and senses to reveal our infinite potential.’
Isabelle Wachsmuth, World Health Organization.
Fruit boxes and running club. That is probably how I would have responded if asked what businesses were offering their teams as part of their wellbeing experience ten years ago. And there is a lot to be said for getting out together for a breath of fresh air and physical challenge in the middle of a busy, desk bound day. But it is also amazing to watch how individuals, communities and businesses are currently embracing the many facets of wellbeing and recognising how central it is to any organisation’s strategy and productivity.
Conversations on wellbeing in building design were already showing the signs of being more conscious and integrated prior to the pandemic. With new buildings looking at technological solutions and WELL Certification to fully embed wellbeing considerations. Living through a global health crisis accelerated this to something more mainstream, as property owners are increasingly looking at how to improve ventilation and lighting, as well as using flexible work practices to support our physical wellbeing.
Many of us have experienced a change in where and how we work. This has given us a fresh take on how the environments that we work in and what we see around us, impact our wellbeing. While creativity is widely acknowledged as a powerful response to this, it can be perceived as something intangible and subjective, based on a feeling from an individual or shared experience of art or in the process of making. Possibly for this reason, creative projects are less frequently listed alongside other wellbeing activities in property, which tend to be more focused on the physical factors or deliverables. What the following recent artistic projects seek to demonstrate, are some practical and positive examples of the impact creativity has on our wellbeing – creating connectedness, tackling loneliness, and providing inspirational environments to all.
One such project is the partnership between Dulwich Picture Gallery and Tessa Jowell Health Centre. A new mural called ‘The Health Centre’s Quilt’ created by Bamidele Awoyemi, Livia Wang and Farouk Agoro, brings together stories from the whole community and speaks to the simple idea that all of us are creative. Staff contributed to its design through workshops and it reflects a patchwork of different communities and identities in a specially designed tiled mural in the waiting area.
The Health Centre Quilt (Banner Image and Article Images) Source: Dulwich Picture Gallery. Bamidele Awoyemi, Farouk Agoro and Livia Wang, (Bottom Right) Source: University of Brighton School of Architecture & Design.
Arts organisations and the NHS are also seeing the positive impact of art on wellbeing through the growing application of Social Prescribing. Dulwich Picture Gallery is continuing its partnership with Tessa Jowell Centre to develop a participatory arts programme. Southbank Centre’s Art by Post was set up to tackle increased loneliness during the lockdown, providing over 40,000 booklets including creative resources designed by artists to individuals or organisations, including caregivers, those living with dementia or long-term health conditions, as well as practitioners and professionals working in social and healthcare settings.
Combining creativity and wellbeing is not only for healthcare. Approaches and attitudes to corporate and workplace art are becoming more integrated and conscious, too. A study by University of Exeter’s School of Psychology, looked at the most effective work environments. This found that individuals working in ‘enriched’ environments – those featuring art and plants already arranged – worked about 15% faster and had fewer health complaints than those where these features were not available. This figure doubled in environments where individuals could choose how to arrange the features themselves. Workspace provider Myo, has looked at this in developing their workspace art strategy, recognising that “Serendipitous and social connections make us happy at work” and how artwork can facilitate these informal, nonwork related conversations. They do this by rotating their collection every six months, and their latest collection showcased art from graduates whose degree shows were cancelled this year due to Covid-19.
Following from this, we are conscious of how important it is to support artists’ and makers’ wellbeing, through the provision of sustainable, affordable creative workspace that they can feel invested in. And there are some important ways that this can be improved through lighting, design, access, and layout that are not explored here. But what the above examples hopefully begin to illustrate, are the far reaching contributions of artistic and creative production to our wellbeing that extend across communities and our environment. So that we can feel empowered to stretch ourselves beyond the purely physical factors when it comes to looking at approaches to wellbeing.