Most people agree that culture is good for us. But have you ever thought about culture as something necessary to treat a specific problem, something that can be prescribed? That’s exactly what Denmark’s Kuturvitaminer or ‘Culture Vitamins’ program does.
Part funded by the Danish health authority and organised by local jobcentres, Culture Vitamins facilitates engagement in cultural activities for people who are unemployed or on state sick leave. It’s currently in trial stage, with pilot schemes operating in the municipalities of Aalborg, Silkeborg, Nyborg and Vordingborg.
Participants, many of whom are struggling with stress, anxiety or depression, complete a 10-week culture crash course in the local area. They take part in two or three activities a week, with eight different options for activities in total. These include singing and listening to music as a group, and participants are also taken to Aalborg Symphony Orchestra rehearsals and performances. The group visits the local art museum and takes part in creative workshops, as well as going to the theatre. They are also given coaching sessions from actors about body language, to increase their confidence in job interviews.
According to the program conveners, many students have gained in energy and self-confidence, strengthened their ability to establish and maintain relationships, and been able to complete internships or enter the job market again. Students get a break from their illness, and end up with more self-care and more energy, they say. The process helps to remove focus from the disease and instead create new self-images of people with skills, who want something from life.
There are likely three reasons why the program is so successful. The first is the exposure to culture, to art or music or theatre, and it’s hard to say how large a share of the success culture is responsible for. The others are the sense of community created by experiencing culture as a group, which helps to tackle loneliness and isolation; and the structure of having a set number of excursions at a set time each week, organised and facilitated by someone else.
I think all three are probably responsible for the good results felt by program participants, and all three could be replicated by the rest of us, whether by scheduling regular visits to the nearest museum or art gallery or by making the effort to join a choir, team or community group.