The moment for building the field of neuroarts has arrived. The science is primed and the NeuroArts Blueprint: The Science of Arts, Health and Well-Being is positioned to take the field forward.
For too long, the problems of chronic and degenerative diseases, mental health challenges, trauma, and addiction have seemed intractable. But we now have the scientific knowledge to capitalize on a previously untapped therapy with extraordinary potential to transform health and well-being—the body’s response to art. In a diverse and aging society beset by challenges, we need to act with evidence-based urgency to harness this gift.
Scientists, clinicians, artists, technology pioneers, and practitioners are already engaged in rigorous work at the intersection of arts, health, and well-being but they have not come together across their many disciplines to share findings and build a field. As the institutional failures and health consequences of a pandemic, economic injustice, racism, and the climate crisis came into ever-sharper view, the importance of codifying and scaling neuroarts only intensifies.
That’s why we launched the NeuroArts Blueprint in 2019. Our commitment is to strengthen, standardize, and propel the emerging field of neuroarts. We are identifying the increasingly robust empirical scientific evidence that demonstrates how art can be used to advance health and well-being and creating a community to translate that research into arts-based solutions that address pressing global health problems.
The NeuroArts Blueprint is building a community of researchers, practitioners, and other allies who understand the imperative of using art as a science-based tool to advance our collective health and well-being.
The NeuroArts Blueprint will be an authoritative, first-of-its-kind roadmap to move this field into widespread use. By charting advances in brain science, identifying gaps in knowledge, policy and funding, and documenting effective and replicable practices, we will create the conditions for a deep commitment to neuroarts, in all its transformative power. Then we will move into an implementation phase to scale up the research, training, and practice components of the field.
Key components of the community-building process that will inform the Blueprint include:
- Convening an Advisory Board with some two dozen members—drawn from the disciplines of science, art, clinical practice, health policy, technology, business, and communication—to provide high-level strategic guidance.
- Developing foundational reports to inform our deliberations. These will include assessing how other evidence-based scientific fields have been built; scoping out the available research; examining the current state of the neuroarts field; and surveying professionals to learn how they view the landscape.
- Bringing experts, leaders, and creatives together in virtual interdisciplinary gatherings to explore the research, practice, community development, policy, financing, and communications dimensions of building the neuroarts field.
- Hosting virtual and in-person site visits to innovative settings and venues to see art in action and gather evidence about the ability of well-designed programs to enhance health and well-being, deliver economic returns, and strengthen communities.
- Issuing a Blueprint to propel the field forward. This roadmap to implementation will recommend research standards and processes, highlight policy and funding needs, and lay out education and training pathways. With a coordinated plan for scaling, disseminating, and sustaining the practical applications of neuroarts, the Blueprint will promote its value as a core part of any health-generating toolbox.
- Scaling up neuroarts as a powerful, research-driven field of science, based on the concrete, action-oriented recommendations that emerge from the first phase of the Blueprint. The body of knowledge and community of committed stakeholders we will develop through our process will allow us to move further together.
With these steps, the NeuroArts Blueprint initiative will identify gaps in knowledge and practice, make recommendations for closing those gaps, and ultimately serve as a catalyst to mobilize the full power of art. What stands in the way of action? How can we be deliberate in removing those obstacles? How do we illuminate the field so that all can recognize its potential? The search for answers is underway.
What is neuroarts? Neuroarts, an interdisciplinary field at the intersection of science, technology and the arts, is a shorthand term for neuroaesthetics, the study of how the brain and body respond to art. Rigorous research links various creative and expressive experiences (as maker or beholder) to parts of our multi-layered brains and illustrates how the brain changes nanosecond by nanosecond as it processes and perceives those experiences. Based on that science, neuroarts becomes the springboard for interventions and programs that translate knowledge into behaviors and practices in clinics, homes, workplaces, and communities that serve individual and collective well-being.
Why does neuroarts matter? Art—like exercise and a healthy diet—is essential to human health and well-being. The oldest archeological discoveries reveal the longstanding human pursuit of self-expression and the most recent pandemic reminds us again that people turn to art in times of need. By helping us understand how and why our brains and bodies respond to art, the field of neuroarts offers scientific evidence that we can treat seemingly intractable problems, such as chronic and degenerative diseases, mental illness, trauma, and addiction, in new ways.
How does neuroarts influence health? Science demonstrates that art can work hand in hand with traditional medicine to improve mobility, memory, and speech; relieve pain and the after-effects of trauma; enhance mental health and learning outcomes; build resilience; and prevent disease. Among many other peer-reviewed research findings, we know that music improves cognitive function in people with dementia and relieves trauma, dance eases symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, poetry helps patients face end-of-life challenges, and architecture promotes healing in the clinic and wellness in the workplace. The arts are also a community-building tool that can improve health for all.
What is the goal of the NeuroArts Blueprint? The NeuroArts Blueprint is building an interdisciplinary community to coalesce knowledge about how art influences the body and the brain and to translate that knowledge into tools that can promote health and well-being. During the first phase of the initiative, we are mining the research and engaging thought leaders in science and art, medicine and technology, education and community development, policymaking and philanthropy—and using the insights we glean to strengthen, standardize, and propel the neuroarts field forward.
What makes this the right moment for the NeuroArts Blueprint? Evolving science offers new possibilities for addressing escalating global health problems. What artists have sensed intuitively, a growing body of research now demonstrates definitively. Revolutionary advances in imaging capacities, portable devices, and wearable sensors have given us tools to map and measure what happens in the brain when we experience or create art. These technologies are the catalyst for connecting arts and science, yielding the potent insights we need to accelerate the development of the neuroarts field.
What is the relevance of the NeuroArts Blueprint to current health, economic, and social justice struggles? A ray of light in the dark period when COVID-19 ravaged lives across the nation and issues of racial justice came sharply to the fore has been the recognition that art helps to foster health and well-being. People in isolation and under stress might not fully understand the biological basis of their drive to seek out music, theatre, dance, and visual arts online, but they are experiencing its power. Public protests have been punctuated by music and street art as demonstrators find outlets for their anger, sorrow, and determination that are more emotionally forceful than words themselves. The NeuroArts Blueprint is harnessing the recent outpouring of artistic responses to raise awareness of art as a tool for health and well-being, not only in moments of crises but at all times.
Why are the Johns Hopkins IAM Lab and the Health, Medicine and Society Program (HMS) of the Aspen Institute collaborating? These two institutions are a catalyst for engaging hundreds of other institutions in the shared goal of codifying the field of neuroarts. IAM Labs is a multidisciplinary research-to-practice initiative that brings together brain scientists and arts practitioners to change the way we think today and enhance the way we live tomorrow. A commitment to art as a tool for building a just and equitable society was a founding principle of the Aspen Institute and HMS, the Institute’s domestic health initiative, is expert at identifying cross-disciplinary strategies to address some of the nation’s greatest challenges.