Subscribe to the latest news from the Nordic Labour Journal by e-mail. The newsletter is issued 9 times a year. Subscription is free of charge.

You are here: Home i In Focus i In focus 2016 i How are you doing in the Nordic countries? i Art, culture and wellbeing
Art, culture and wellbeing

Art, culture and wellbeing

| Text: Berit Kvam, photo: Björn Lindahl

What if we turned the pyramide upside down and allowed the ministry of culture, rather than the ministry of finance, to be in charge of social development? What would happen if that ministry, which is usually bottom of the hierarchy, could prioritise measures to promote sustainable development? Would it make a difference?

This image was presented to the participants at the conference ‘How are you doing in the Nordic countries’ by Efva Lilja, head of Dansehallerne in Copenhagen. She was one of the artists who talked about the importance of art and culture to health, wellbeing and sustainability in the Nordic region. 

It is nearly 100 years since Director Johan Throne Holst at the Freia Chocolate Factory commissioned Edvard Munch to decorate the workers’ dining hall with 25 monumental works. Critics said this was a waste of time. Throne Holst insisted the art was important for wellbeing, health and productivity. Edvard Munch was not the only artist who was granted this honour, Johan Throne Holst wanted to engage the greatest contemporary artists. 

This resulted in works by Edvard Munch in the dining hall and sculptures by Gustav Vigeland in the Freia park, which was established for the workers’ healthy rest and joy. Director Thorne Holst was ahead of his time when it came to the development of occupational health services and the use of art to promote health, wellbeing and sustainability. The Freia dining hall is now listed and the Munch frieze is considered to be one of the artist’s most important works. The Freia park is still a green lung in Oslo’s east end, and Vigeland’s sculptures continues to please workers and visitors.

What should art be? Something only for art’s sake, or a tool for something more? The debate was alive 100 years ago, and is still a very topical issue which Efva Lilja highlighted.

Art as a spearhead 

Not everything which is called art is considered by the refined elites to be art. Finnish dancer and choreographer Tiina Lindfors used her presentation ‘Art spearheading wellbeing’ to demonstrate how she would differentiate between rubbish and good art, like van Gogh. At the same time she performed a dance which she had choreographed herself. Dans

The performance touched the audience both because of the dancer’s expression and because she literally touched the audience with her hands. This became an encompassing end to the conference, where art and culture took centre stage in the interaction for a sustainable development of the welfare society.

Dance was used to highlight the importance of art and culture to health and innovation in the care sector. A video showed how residents at an old people’s home were activated and energised through the use of music and movement, coordinated by the culture worker’s movements.

Artistic director Johanna Salander at Ögonblicksteatern (an independent theatre company) from Umeå in Sweden, used a range of examples to illustrate how artistic work could lead the way out of loneliness both for immigrants, people with physical handicaps and people on the edges of society. She told the story of a Syrian choreographer who came as a refugee and had ended up somewhere in northern Sweden far away from everything he was used to in Damascus. His meeting with Ögonblicksteatern gave new meaning both to him and to the theatre group, and showed the way into the new culture and new environment he was becoming a part of. 

“The welfare state looks after our needs, and that is good. But the flip side is that we don’t need each other the way we used to. That is why there is a lot of loneliness in our societies. Culture can help bring people together,” said Johanna Salander.

Art heals

The hospital clown has become a well-known phenomenon in all of the Nordic countries. 

“We don’t know whether this way of bringing the circus clown into hospitals has a healing effect on illness,” said Nina Svane-Mikkelsen from the University of Bergen. Her talk was called ‘Art heals’.

Yet there is no mistaking the joy that art can give children in hospitals or residents in old people’s homes through the use of clowns or dancers, and the importance this has to people’s health.

Nina Svane-Mikkelsen wants to investigate the existing research on art and healing.


Jennifer Joffs

Jennifer Joffs from the Dansfadder company visits different institutions with professional dancers 

 “Art is not medicine. It is not easy to measure cause and effect. Therefore you need to investigate the importance of art in different ways.” 

There is good evidence for saying that memory conversations, music and creative stimuli have a positive effect on people with dementia, for instance.

Another example is the work which the StormP Museum has done with art and inclusion. The museum wants to investigate how art, humor and satire can make a difference to the individual.

The StormP Museum works to bring art and culture out to people who cannot get to the museum themselves. The museum also runs a project to help people who are  psychologically vulnerable, which could help them get get back into working life.

Music therapy is the art form with the best documented healing effect. The authors of the book ‘Sansernes hospital’ (The Hospital of Senses), written for the Danish Rigshospitalet’s 250 year anniversary in 2007, wanted to highlight the link between medicine, architecture and art. One of the book’s main points is that there is scientific evidence for a link between stimulating surroundings and healing. One conclusion is that moving to a humanistic, stress-free hospital concept further improves the effect of already established medical science. The book’s authors write about how healing music has been used to great effect in intensive care. 

Art for equality

Finland has just launched the research programme ARTSEQUAl to look at the importance of art for wellbeing and sustainability. The programme focuses on gender equality, participation and a creative Finland, says ARTISEQUAI’s Deputy Director Kai Lehikoinen, who was one of the speakers on Nordic research initiatives on culture, wellbeing and sustainability. 

ARTSEQUAL: The Art as Public Service: Strategic Steps towards Equality is financed by the The Academy of Finland’s strategic research council.

One of ARTSEQUAL’s key ideas is that all people have the right to participate in art no matter the time or place, where you live, your age or your gender. The role of research is to find research criteria for how art and the use of it can strengthen wellbeing and a sustainable development in a systematic fashion, and support the development of creative, socially engaged and responsible people.

See all articles in theme

Filed under:

Receive Nordic Labour Journal's newsletter nine times a year. It's free.

This is themeComment