The NeuroArts Blueprint: Advancing the Science of Arts, Health, and Wellbeing initiative is breaking new ground at the crossroads of science, the arts, and technology. Its mission is to cultivate an ecosystem for neuroarts, defined here as the transdisciplinary and extradisciplinary study of how the arts and aesthetic experiences measurably change the body, brain, and behavior, and how this knowledge is translated into specific practices that advance health and wellbeing. To realize its potential, neuroarts must become a fully recognized field of research and practice, with educational and training pathways, dedicated funding, supportive public sector and private sector policies, effective leadership, wellcrafted communications strategies, and infrastructure capacity.
The Blueprint initiative, launched in 2019, is designed to put all of that in place. A partnership between the Johns Hopkins International Arts + Mind Lab Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics and the Aspen Institute’s Health, Medicine & Society Program, the initiative engages leaders across a wide range of disciplines, as well as people with lived experience. Together, they are helping to drive the paradigm shift necessary to fully integrate arts and aesthetic experiences into activities that will advance individual and collective health across the planet.
The NeuroArts Blueprint is building a community of researchers, arts practitioners, artists, community knowledge keepers, 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 is an authoritative, first-of-its-kind roadmap to move this field into widespread use. Released in December 2021, it charts advances in brain science, identifies gaps in knowledge, policy and funding, and documents effective and replicable practices in order to create the conditions for a deep commitment to neuroarts, in all its transformative power. The implementation phase is underway to scale up the research, training, and practice components of the field.
Key components of the community-building process that have informed the Blueprint include:
To inform our work, the NeuroArts Blueprint initiative:
- Assembled a diverse 25-member Advisory Council
- Conducted in-depth literature reviews and analyses (NeuroArts Today: State of an Emerging Field);
- Held eight stakeholder convenings to explore communications, policy, practice, research, and technology, including two with a global focus
- Commissioned and published an economic analysis (Alzheimer’s Disease and Music Engagement Economic Impact Analysis) and a 300-person survey of neuroarts stakeholders (Findings from an Online Survey of Stakeholders);
- Published a World Bank report that linked art to economic development (Human Capital and the Arts at the World Bank Group); and
- Exchanged ideas with hundreds of other experts and stakeholders.
With these steps, the NeuroArts Blueprint initiative has identified gaps in knowledge and practice and recommended strategies for closing those gaps. It is designed to 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 Blueprint helps to answer those questions.
The NeuroArts Blueprint builds on the evidence to provide a roadmap forward. It offers five principles, five findings, and five recommendations, accompanied by key action steps, to guide the multiyear process of developing a neuroarts ecosystem:
- Experiencing art is fundamental to being human, a common thread across cultures, racial and ethnic backgrounds, age groups, income levels, and skill sets. The arts offer a shared language, a means of elevating diverse voices, and a catalyst for action.
- The arts, as expressed through many modalities, have demonstrable, evidence-based impacts on physiological and psychological health and wellbeing.
- Science and technology make possible the ability to understand and measure the biological effects of the arts and aesthetic experiences on individuals and populations.
- Neuroarts provides the connective tissue to bring together science, the arts, and technology as equal partners to advance health and wellbeing.
- The benefits of the neuroarts field must be readily, consistently, and equitably accessible to all populations across the lifespan and in every community around the world.
- The arts and aesthetic experiences impact human biology and behavior in ways that differ markedly from any other health intervention.
- Preliminary evidence suggests that the neuroarts field provides economic and social benefits.
- Neuroarts-related activities are everywhere, but they lack a cohesive structure.
- Now is the moment to cultivate the field of neuroarts.
- Leadership and community-based engagement are essential for neuroarts to progress.
- Strengthen the research foundation of neuroarts.
- Honor and support the many arts practices that promote health and wellbeing.
- Expand and enrich educational and career pathways.
- Advocate for sustainable funding and promote effective policy.
- Build capacity, leadership, and communications strategies.
The NeuroArts Blueprint lays out a collaborative action plan to implement these recommendations and ultimately to develop a new paradigm that explains how health and wellbeing are achieved.
In the first five years, we will measure success by the extent to which we assemble the elements of an interdependent, fully operational neuroarts ecosystem—a defined community of stakeholders, an established theory of change, shared language, agreed-upon outcome measures, and a well-defined mission. Effective framing, messaging, and communications are also fundamental.
As more transdisciplinary research flows through the pipeline and evidence-based pilot programs are scaled, we will see ever-greater synergies between science and arts practice. To become sustainable over the long term, neuroarts must foster institutional commitments—from governments, across global organizations, among scientific and arts bodies, and in academic, workplace, healthcare, and community settings.
Together, we can achieve the culture change that will drive better health for all.
Frequently Asked Questions
Neuroarts, an interdisciplinary field at the intersection of science, technology and the arts, is 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 health and well-being.
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.
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.
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. The NeuroArts Blueprint report provides the roadmap for action. 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.
These two institutions are a catalyst for engaging hundreds of other institutions in the shared goal of codifying the field of neuroarts. IAM Lab 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; HMS brings together influential groups of thought leaders, decisionmakers, and the informed public to tackle 21st-century US health challenges.
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.
Our commitment to building a neuroarts ecosystem rises on the accomplishments of the many leaders and pioneers who are already deeply engaged in this space. Their knowledge, experience, wisdom, and achievements are our guide. Many types of research are already underway—from basic scientific discovery to translational investigation to clinical and community application and evaluation. Practice activities, too, are seemingly everywhere—in clinics and hospitals, community health centers and group care settings, community arts organizations and social service and advocacy agencies, workplaces, and public spaces.
What we need now is to reduce the fragmentation in the field, which limits the opportunity to share, adapt, and expand these efforts. To succeed, we need a center of gravity where the vast network of stakeholders interact, institutional commitments are forged, and arts interventions become an ever-more important component of health and wellbeing. We are reaching out to countless agencies and organizations already working towards that goal—or who might be willing to do so as they learn more about the field. The issues and activities are international and we are connecting with global players as well to bring them into a widening circle.
Our long-term goal is to have the arts recognized and integrated as a core part of mainstream medicine and public health, but that won’t happen quickly. The NeuroArts Blueprint initiative focuses on the next five years as we assemble the elements of an interdependent, fully operational ecosystem. That means cultivating a defined community of stakeholders to reach consensus on a common language, outcome measures, research priorities, and educational and career pathways; securing adequate resources; and developing effective framing, messaging, and communications strategies. During this time, we expect that more transdisciplinary research findings will emerge, evidence-based pilot programs will begin to scale, educational offerings will expand, and the synergies between science and practice will inform an ever-more-solid ecosystem.
An equity imperative is central to our definition of success. The neuroarts ecosystem must engage a full constellation of voices—not only as players invited to the table but as part of the community choosing the table at which they sit, and then setting it. We know that neuroarts will thrive only with diverse and inclusive participation.
To establish credibility, attract funding, and encourage supportive policies, the neuroarts field must rest on a foundation of rigorous research. The NeuroArts Blueprint initiative views evidence through a broad lens, understanding the need for objective data that demonstrates the efficacy of arts interventions while also respecting the many ways of knowing that can help determine what works. We see a role for traditional research designs, such as randomized clinical trials, as well as for community-based participatory research, qualitative narratives, and learning strategies that draw on the lived experiences of research subjects, arts practitioners, and the communities that will be served by the field. We are thinking broadly and deeply about what evidence “counts” and how best to develop knowledge-building partnerships between researchers and practitioners.
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.
Building a community is one of our core priorities and we are implementing a number of networking and communications strategies to do that. A Neuroarts Resource Center will enable stakeholders across sectors and disciplines to find one another, share information, develop collaborative projects, and learn about conferences, publications, academic courses and degree programs, and funding opportunities. The Center will include an academic research consortium to bring neuroarts researchers together across disciplines and a community arts coalition that will become a gathering spot for cultural organizations of all sizes. A growing presence on social media and virtual and in-person convenings are also essential to foster interaction. All of these outreach efforts will reflect our commitment to bringing everyone on board—researchers, arts practitioners, artists, technology pioneers, local advocates, educators, policymakers, individuals with health challenges, and other stakeholders. If we are going to succeed, we will need an all-hands-on-deck approach.
We are not, although the biological influence of music is particularly well-documented. More published research is available about music than other modalities and important advances are being made through the ambitious research agenda of the Sound Health initiative, a partnership that brings together Renée Fleming, the NIH, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in association with the NEA. But we are equally interested in the promising role that an almost infinite number of art modalities can play in advancing health and wellbeing—theatre, dance, and other performing arts; painting, sculpture, handicrafts, and other visual arts; virtual reality, digital art, and expressive arts, such as spoken word and journaling; architecture, design, and the built environment; literary arts; and so much more. We expect that the accumulating body of knowledge about music will inform the study and use of these and other modalities.
No, we are not a funding organization. Our role is to be a catalyst for cultivating the field so that more funding becomes available through public and private vehicles, healthcare payers, and others. The Neuroarts Resource Center will share information about funding opportunities as they become available.
To bring neuroarts into the mainstream, we need a community of people who believe in the power of the arts to transform health and well-being. Whatever your background, knowledge, and experience, we welcome your interest and value your contributions.
And consider how you can bring neuroarts into your own work and the work of your field and institution. More champions are crucial—you can help foster the momentum that allows partnerships to sprout, ideas to crystallize, and structures to be built. Together, we can pursue common goals, build knowledge and translate it into action, and innovate and scale effective pilot programs. In a field as potentially transformative as neuroarts, there is a role for everyone. We won’t move forward without you.
Sign our mailing list, share our website with your colleagues, and use social media to spread the word about this emerging field across your networks. Let us know about innovative practice activities, newly published research, cross-disciplinary convenings, and funding opportunities as you discover them. Tell us about the resources you most value and where you see fresh thinking about how the arts, science, and health intersect. Start using our communications platforms as we develop them so that you can exchange information and pursue collaborations.