About the report

Today, in collaboration with Global Cultural Districts Network (GCDN), we are delighted to release a new report: ‘Culture for Health: Implications and Opportunities for Cultural Districts’. The report explores how cultural districts can promote health and wellbeing; the challenges they face in doing this work, and potential ways forward for new partnerships, policy reform and shifts in ways of working to better serve communities. This report was developed in partnership with our team at the Social Biobehavioural Research Group, University College London (UCL SBB), as part of GCDN’s mission to catalyze new thinking on ways to improve the quality of urban life through the contribution of the arts, culture, and the creative industries.

Culture for health was authored by scholar and independent arts and health consultant Rosie Dow who herself has led the development of numerous successful projects at the intersection of arts and public health. The report draws evidence from UCL SBB’s extensive research base – including a report commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) which reviews over 3,000 studies on this area – as well as case studies submitted by GCDN members and observations gleaned from focus groups comprised of GCDN members, who are located across the globe and who operate in diverse contexts.


Research findings

Research suggests that there is an inherent public health benefit in engaging in arts and cultural activities; cultural districts, as places where such activities are concentrated, also deliver a multitude of benefits. This report provides leaders, artists, scholars, and policymakers with the strategies and considerations to do even more to promote further public health outcomes in cultural districts, including ensuring sustainable and equitable access through arts activations, community-centred events and more.

Headline research findings in the report include discussions on: 

  • The wider evidence base around culture, health and wellbeing; 
  • Targeted arts projects for improving health; 
  • Arts and cultural engagement and population health; 
  • Barriers and access to cultural participation for health and wellbeing; and 
  • Policy interest. 

The report concludes with a call to action for cultural districts, partners and researchers with practical actions for cultural district leaders, policy proposals for city planners and developers, as well as future imperatives for academic researchers.  


Reflections from the team

GCDN director Gregorio Scarpella noted:

“GCDN exists to advance conversations on how the arts, culture, and the creative industries can enhance the lives and wellbeing of people around the world. Our members are home to some of the world’s most vibrant cultural communities and they are always looking for new ways to deepen their service to their audiences and improve the quality of urban life for these communities. We are honored to have partnered with UCL SBB to produce this report, which we hope will help spark positive momentum in the integration of arts and public health.” 

Dr Alexandra Burton, Senior Research Fellow at UCL SBB said:

“It is vital that key messages from the research conducted by UCL SBB are reaching those who work in the cultural sphere; so that our work can be translated into policies and practice that lead to improvements in population health. Being able to share our work with GCDN and its members was important as it enabled us to provide cultural district leaders with robust information that they could take away and use, but also allowed a space for exploration about what our findings mean in practice, and, what we as a research group need to consider going forward. It was a real privilege hearing from individuals who are doing, or, who want to do work in the creative health sphere within their cultural organisations. This study presents some of the key messages, challenges and highlights taken from those rich discussions.” 


Read more

The full report is freely available to download here.

You can also learn more about our research in this area by reading our Arts and Population Health: summary report (2023), which shares findings from over 70 papers detailing the long term impact of arts engagement on health.