Creativity and culture can support mental health if commissioners...


  • Work in partnership with the people delivering the work and the people who will benefit from it.
  • Commit to meeting creative practitioners halfway by being open to different languages, skillsets and priorities, and to researching the role creative practice has to play in a holistic model of health.

Match intervention to need

  • Creative work can support prevention and early-intervention or management and recovery; it can also catalyse organisational and systems change. (See for example Evidence summary for policy: The role of arts in improving health and wellbeing, DCMS 2020).
  • Consider the ways in which commissions can respond to both local need and structural inequities.
  • Creative interventions may look different and may require different skills, commitment of resource, and levels of support at different stages.

Support practitioners

  • Make sure you understand and communicate support needs of your beneficiaries with creative practitioners you are commissioning.
  • Don’t commission creative practitioners to work alone if they are dealing with complex mental health issues or working in challenging settings; ensure any creative practitioner is paired with a support worker or health partner when delivering work.
  • Commit to reasonable pay, using recommendations made by Artists Union England or equivalent unions as a minimum.
  • Project work may take more resources than you realise. Ensure support is built into your commissioning models to cover freelancers’ preparation including research and planning, relationship building, project management, evaluation and emotional resilience (find suggestions and ideas here).
  • A substantial proportion of creative and cultural work for mental health is led by people with their own experience of mental health challenges or the mental health system. This leadership by lived experience is hugely beneficial and should be supported at every level of commissioners’ governance, strategy, design and delivery by providing additional support where it is needed, and ensuring institutional practice is founded on this knowledge.

Encourage safe practice

  • Support practice that considers the wellbeing and safety of practitioners, partners and beneficiaries in its frameworks; this may require investment in support workers, training, additional facilitators and supervision, for example.

Help build a representative sector

  • Role models are vital.
  • Provide targeted, fully paid arts and mental health apprenticeships and mentoring for ethnically diverse practitioners and practitioners identifying as Disabled.
  • Match this with a commitment to improving recruitment practices across the board – in part to ensure apprentices are not isolated in their working environment. (See e.g. IncArts’ Anti-racism toolkit, Creative Access or WeAreUnlimited’s top tips for accessible recruitment.)
  • Ensure your marketing highlights role models from diverse backgrounds and identifying as Disabled.

Support local ecologies

  • Recognise that impact is determined by partnership across lived experience, creative practice, health/social care structures and a wider community sector.
  • How can you support freelancers’ professional development? Can you provide spaces that support freelancers with their own mental health? Can you cultivate cross-disciplinary networks in your area?

Model good practice

  • Support a caring working culture in your own organisations, adhering to the principles of practitioner support outlined above, built on good communication, reasonable and flexible working hours and expectations, appropriate pay, and opportunities for skills development and peer support.

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