This area of assessment is one that needs further work, as it is currently a knowledge gap. This is particularly exacerbated by a lack of clarity about what we mean by culture. Furthermore, the inherent value of culture is, in part, a philosophical assertion that can’t be measured in numbers. This is very much an area of well-being assessment that presents some challenges to understanding and quantifying the topic.
There is a paucity of hard evidence about the value and impact of culture on well-being, particularly at the local level. In order to understand the importance of a thriving culture for the well-being of the area and gauge how well we are doing we need to know a number of things for which we have limited (or even absent) information as they are not currently measured or monitored. Amongst other things we need to know:
what do we ascribe as culture / cultural activity
what cultural assets or provision do we currently have?
where is it, what is it, who is it experienced by or delivered to, who is providing it?
are these the right places / people / types of provision?
what counts as a ‘good’ standard of cultural provision?
how do we measure the impact of culture?
There has been some secondary research on the subject, however. In a 2014 report the Arts Council for England states that:
“..art and culture make life better, help to build diverse communities and improve our quality of life. Great art and culture can inspire our education system, boost our economy and give our nation international standing.”
The report lays out some of the positive impacts that access to and participation in arts and cultural events can have on:
Those who had attended a cultural place or event in the previous 12 months were almost 60% more likely to report good health, compared to those who had not, and theatre-goers were almost 25% more likely to report good health.
Research has evidenced that a higher frequency of engagement with arts and culture is generally associated with a higher level of subjective personal well-being.
Engagement in structured arts and culture improves the cognitive abilities of children and young people.
A number of studies have reported findings of applied arts and cultural interventions and measured their positive impact on specific health conditions which include dementia, depression and Parkinson’s disease.
The use of art, when delivered effectively, has the power to facilitate social interaction as well as enabling those in receipt of social care to pursue creative interests. The review highlights the benefits of dance for reducing loneliness and alleviating depression and anxiety among people in social care environments.
There is strong evidence that participation in the arts can contribute to community cohesion, reduce social exclusion and isolation, and/or make communities feel safer and stronger.
Culture and sport volunteers are more likely than average to be involved and influential in their local communities.
High-school students who engage in the arts at school are twice as likely to volunteer as those who don’t engage in the arts and are 20 per cent more likely to vote as young adults.
Employability of students who study arts subjects is higher and they are more likely to stay in employment.
Taking part in drama and library activities improves attainment in literacy.
Taking part in structured music activities improves attainment in maths, early language acquisition and early literacy.
Schools that integrate arts across the curriculum in the US have shown consistently higher average reading and mathematics scores compared to similar schools that do not.
Arts and culture can boost local economies through attracting visitors; creating jobs and developing skills; attracting and retaining businesses; revitalising places; and developing talent.
Businesses in the UK arts and culture industry generated an aggregate turnover of £12.4 billion in 2011.
For every £1 of salary paid by the arts and culture industry, an additional £2.01 is generated in the wider economy through indirect and induced multiplier impacts.
The impact of culture on well-being is highlighted by the Chief Medical Examiner for Wales’ annual report. Social prescribing is a non-medical health and well-being based approach that expands the range of options available to primary care clinicians and patients to improve healthy life behaviours, for example services such as choirs, gardening and walking clubs, debt advice, volunteering networks and befriending. The social prescribing approach can improve self-esteem, mood and self-efficacy, social contact and the development of transferable skills to help the management of chronic conditions. Demand for health services can be decreased where the medical model of care is not the most effective solution.
Religion and spirituality
In the past decade or so, researchers across a range of disciplines have started to explore and acknowledge the positive contribution spirituality can make to mental health. Service users and survivors have also identified the ways in which spiritual activity can contribute to mental health and well-being, mental illness and recovery.
Depression is the most common mental health problem in the UK and has been the focus of much of the research exploring the relationship between spirituality and mental health. The evidence shows a positive association between attendance at a place or worship and lower levels of depression amongst adults, children and young people. It also shows that belief in a transcendent being is associated with reduced depressive symptoms.
Similar research has examined the relationship between spirituality and anxiety or stress. Quantitative research demonstrates reduced levels of anxiety in a number of populations, including medical patients in later life, women with breast cancer, middle aged people with cardiac problems and those recovering from spinal surgery. Qualitative research also demonstrates that yoga and meditation are also associated with improvements in mental health and reductions in anxiety.
There is an emerging literature examining the association between spirituality and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One review found 11 studies that reported links between religion, spirituality, and trauma-based mental health problems. They found that religion and spirituality are usually, although not always, beneficial to people in dealing with the aftermath of trauma.
Associated with, but not limited to, Welsh language-related cultural experiences, are cultural assets such as activities, skills, crafts, practices, sports, rituals and so on, that form a core part of people’s cultural well-being and participation in these experiences can lead to sense of individual and community belonging. Our local economies are often intrinsically linked to cultural expression, for example farming. Participation in sport and events also leads to higher self-reported physical and mental well-being.
Heritage sites are key cultural assets that provide a sense of place and belonging. These are often connected to our natural environment, for example heritage walking trails, they could be artefacts or museums themselves. The recent use of North Wales as a location for ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!’ is a good example of heritage and culture resulting in economic benefits.
Culture-led regeneration could pose some serious opportunities for communities in Conwy County Borough and Denbighshire. A notable example from elsewhere in the UK is Margate. Margate was a similar seaside town that had fallen victim to the rise in overseas travel. Fortunately, community groups and other partners could see a connection between Margate’s past – its association with the artist JMW Turner – and its future, in the form of a new Turner Contemporary Art Gallery in Margate. This led to jobs creation, increased visitor spend and economic growth. This trend, stimulating economic growth through cultural investment is not limited to the UK. The Guggenheim in Bilbao, with its spectacular architecture, is another globally recognised cultural centre that has stimulated tremendous economic growth, known as the ‘Bilbao effect’.
The Wales Centres for Public Policy suggests that Covid-19 and Brexit will have an impact on young people developing ‘soft skills’, particularly within the arts and culture sector.
Food production, farming and culture
The Wales Centre for Public Policy expects Brexit to have varying impacts on different aspects of the agricultural and food sector, which means its effects will be felt differently across different areas of Wales. For example, sheep production is likely to become less economically viable, due to changes in market access and public funding restrictions. Some researchers argue that land currently used for sheep farming in Wales will most likely be converted into forest. The growing desire for natural, healthy food with a low carbon foot print will continue to grow as a trend over the longer term. These changes will have consequences potentially for cultural well-being, as food related-events are increasingly connected to local food production.
 Wales Centre for Public Policy (2021). Briefing on well-being and the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit.
 Wales Centre for Public Policy (2021). Briefing on well-being and the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit.
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There is a strong association between culture, language and heritage. People care deeply about our local heritage. The link between visiting sites of local heritage and well-being are less well documented, but the positive impact local heritage and culture has on individual and community well-being, education and the economy is widely accepted.
As we emerge from the global Covid-19 pandemic, we are uncertain as to whether access to local heritage sites and cultural experiences and events will return in the same was as prior to the pandemic. Perhaps people will place greater value on these experiences than ever before, or perhaps, over the longer term, people will look for more sophisticated online/virtual reality experiences from across the globe, especially as we all adapt to the consequences of climate change. Authenticity and uniqueness will be critical to making these experiences fun, fulfilling and worthwhile.
Will regular users of and visitors to churches, galleries, gyms, cinemas, entertainment etc. be enough to sustain physical buildings and infrastructure in the future?
People have told us they would like to see:
More done to sustain, value and protect Welsh language and culture
Accessible and affordable Welsh language classes within the community and in schools
More cultural and community events e.g. Eisteddfodau, carnivals, pavilion events, food festivals, Christmas markets etc.
More done to promote our cultural sites to increase tourism, and make the most from our assets (for example, St Peter’s Square in Ruthin).
We do not currently have evidence locally to suggest that well-being is worse for certain groups because of dis-engagement from cultural opportunities. However, some cultural experiences maybe unaffordable or in accessible (see our ‘transport‘ topic for more information) for those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage or for those with protected characteristics.
Government social research though, has recently concluded that “access to arts, culture and heritage is highly dependent on intersecting socio-economic factors such as: tenure, employment, health and disability.”
The future trajectory of cultural hubs, particularly in rural areas, is not clear. Will village halls, pubs and other rural institutions like churches attract enough participants to keep them economically and socially viable?
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