A really healthy dose of art: State teams with Art Pharmacy to buttress mental, emotional health

Massachusetts patients could be referred to a painting class under a new arts prescription model.

Massachusetts patients could be referred to a painting class under a new arts prescription model. Tyler Lagalo/via Unsplash


State House News Service

Published: 07-02-2024 4:34 PM

Modified: 07-08-2024 3:13 PM

BOSTON — Some Massachusetts patients seeking physical and behavioral health care services could receive treatment in the form of arts and culture activities under a new model being embraced by state officials.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council, the state’s arts agency, has teamed up with health care provider Art Pharmacy to offer art-based social prescribing, after a three-year pilot garnered positive feedback. The program represents the nation’s “first statewide arts prescription solution,” an intervention that’s already been adopted in other countries but not yet in the United States, the council said.

Under the model, patients are connected to workshops, classes, gallery visits and performances in a strategy designed to bolster their mental health, reduce isolation and loneliness, and address potentially chronic illnesses. Patients referred to Georgia-based Art Pharmacy are typically prescribed 12 “doses” over a one-year period, and they can choose from a variety of activities, said CEO Chris Appleton.

“What we find is that we have a positive impact on mental and emotional well-being. We help build social interaction and community building,” Appleton said. “There’s a real accessibility and convenience to what we do. We provide access to diverse and enjoyable activities. We stimulate personal growth and learning.”

Patients also develop a desire to stay involved with arts and culture programming after their prescription ends, Appleton said. The doses are free for patients whose providers and insurance companies participate in the program, he said.

The cultural council expects to allocate $100,000 in its fiscal 2025 spending plan to help Art Pharmacy with the program, an agency spokesperson said.

Patients ranging from young adults and older residents can benefit from social prescribing, said Appleton, who encouraged interested residents to contact their health care providers and inquire about referrals.

Art Pharmacy says it matches patients to arts and culture engagements based on their health goals, access needs and interests, and it coordinates logistics like tickets, transportation and other accommodations, according to its website. A primary care provider may order the prescription, for example, for a patient who has hypertension with a goal involving stress management, Appleton said.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Two killed in Royalston collision
Subdivision site in Athol to be examined for historical significance
Storms leave hundreds without power in Athol, Greenfield
Homeless living in Athol garage say cost of housing is biggest obstacle
Global tech software outage zaps local courts, hospital
Phillipston’s administrative assistant withdraws resignation

Seventy percent of clients participating in the program experienced an improvement in their mental health, according to Arts Pharmacy.

“We know that the arts have healing powers — both for physical and mental health,” Gov. Maura Healey said in a statement. “Massachusetts is proud to yet again be pioneering a transformative medical innovation with the nation’s first statewide arts prescription solution.”

Mass General Brigham is participating in the initiative, and Appleton said the pharmacy plans to announce more health care partners.

“We are excited to use this novel social prescribing model in a pilot program as an additional tool in addressing blood pressure control,” said Dr. Anne Klibanski, CEO of Mass General Brigham. “We will focus this care at the primary care sites where patients are at most risk, given the long-standing disparities in blood pressure control for underserved communities. This initiative will work in parallel with our clinical equity efforts and our commitment to a personalized, quality experience for every patient at Mass General Brigham.”

Social prescribing is considered a crucial treatment option in Massachusetts amid severe health care workforce shortages and lengthy wait times for patients, Appleton said.

The program is expected to reduce health care visits, including trips to the hospital, and shorten wait times, said Michael Bobbitt, executive director of the Mass Cultural Council.

Bobbitt, asked how many Massachusetts residents could benefit from social prescribing in the first year, said it depends on how many providers and insurers join the program. One provider who participated in the pilot likened giving arts prescriptions to doling out Willy Wonka golden tickets, he said.

Bobbitt said the program will also strengthen the state’s arts sector by providing cultural organizations with a new revenue stream.

“From a cultural perspective, more people will see the value in arts and culture in their regular lives,” Bobbitt said. “It also means potentially more patrons for arts and culture.”