Integrating Community-Arts Programs into Social Work Practice and Education

BA Teater, Chonody Jill

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Contribution (Conference Proceeding)


Summary: Community-arts programs are increasingly found to have positive benefits on health, wellbeing, social inclusion and social cohesion. This presentation provides an overview of the evidence supporting the benefits of community-arts programs, illustrative examples of community-arts programs, and a rationale for incorporating community-arts programs in social work practice and education. Abstract: The design and implementation of community-arts programs have often been left to professions rooted in the Arts and Humanities. Although there is a general consensus that arts are “good for you,” other professions have been reluctant to embrace the use of arts when attempting to provide environments promoting positive change and growth. The medical field is one such profession where the presence of arts has been marginally integrated into practice and increasingly appreciated as either an intervention or as a contributing factor to promoting and sustaining health and well-being. For example, the presence of the arts in hospital settings has been traced back to the 14th century (Baron, 1995) and evaluations and experiments of the impacts of the arts on health and well-being are still being explored today (Staricoff, 2006). Community-arts programs are often developed and implemented by voluntary or private organisations who employ professional artists, art education practitioners, teachers or amateurs (Newman, Curtis, & Stephens, 2003) to work with community members who have been identified as experiencing some type of problem or difficulty (i.e., mental health; physical health; social isolation; anti-social behaviour) or are at risk of experiencing such problems or difficulties in the future. The incorporation of arts in the community/group activity promotes an environment that is safe and one that encourages creativity where the individuals are able to express themselves in order to promote self-awareness, insight and self-expression (Quinn, Shulman, Knifton, & Byrne, 2010). A growing body of evidence illustrates the social impacts of community arts programs on individuals, communal and societal levels. Community-arts activities have been found to develop critical awareness among disadvantaged adolescents (Mantie, 2008), improve children’s emotional well-being and reduce risky behaviours (Fauth, Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2007; Hampshire & Matthijsse, 2010; Harrison & Narayan, 2003; Lindbald, Hogmark & Theorell, 2007), promote the mental health and well-being of adults (Johnson & Stanley, 2007), reduce self-stigma and promote mental health recovery (Quinn et al., 2010), reduce stress, anxiety and depression levels in patients confronted with difficult circumstances (Staricoff, 2006), create a stronger sense of community and more cross-cultural understanding (Newman et al., 2003), challenge and reduce stigma against people with mental health problems (Quinn et al., 2010; Twardzicki, 2008), and impact on the number of new jobs, improved image of community helping inward investment, and more investment in arts programs (Kay & Watt, 2000; Newman et al., 2003). A recent evaluation (Teater & Baldwin, 2011) of a group for individuals with mental health difficulties that participates in creative activities, such as pottery or gardening, has highlighted the benefits, and potential preventative aspects, of the program on the group members. One member reported the benefits to her and her relationship: ‘my partner said to me a few days ago – when I first came out of hospital I was very vulnerable and needed a lot of support – it was quite a relief for him – I would go to pottery and come back all happy and it’s “oh my god, it’s stopping.’ Another respondent reported the importance of the creative aspect of the program versus a support group that specifically focuses on mental health: ‘being able to create things does things to you on a deep mental level – emotionally, spiritually – it drags things out of you and changes things inside you – much more deep things than you know.’ Such statements support the prior evidence that positive change is possible through arts and creative activities and have therapeutic effects outside of, or in addition to, the typical counseling, therapy and medical interventions often used in social work practice. With the many positive benefits of community-arts programs on individuals, communities and society increasingly being evidenced, the social work profession should capitalize on such programs as potential interventions to prevent or tackle social problems. This presentation will support this statement by providing an overview of the purpose and aims of community-arts programs, the evidence of the effectiveness of community-arts programs, particularly on promoting health and well-being, reducing social isolation and enhancing social cohesion, and the links to the social work profession’s overall purpose and aims. The argument for the inclusion of community-arts programs will be strengthened through the use of two illustrative examples of community-arts programs with which the authors are currently working. The presentation will end with a discussion of how the use of arts and community-arts programs can be integrated in social work education through the use of arts projects in the classroom, use of examples of projects when discussing creative interventions, or through field education opportunities. Learning outcomes: 1. Describe the purpose and aims of community-arts programs 2. Explain the evidence supporting the benefits of community-arts programs 3. Describe at least two specific types of community-arts programs and their relationship to social work practice 4. Explore how community-arts programs can be integrated into social work practice and education
Translated title of the contributionIntegrating Community-Arts Programs into Social Work Practice and Education
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCouncil on Social Work Education, Atlanta, Georgia
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Bibliographical note

Conference Organiser: CSWE


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