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The Critical Role of Art in Health, Healing & Sustainable Development

Updated: Jan 7, 2022

Written By: Laura Hobeiche

Candace Wilson's Liquidity of Light/The Third Ray of Intelligence

oil on canvas with gold, amethyst, carnelian

60x30"/152x76 cm

In September 2015, the United Nations added mental health to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – officially acknowledging the burden of disease of mental illness, and defining mental health as a priority for global development. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, mental health plays a key role in efforts to achieve social inclusion and equity, universal health coverage, access to justice and human rights, better physical health and sustainable economic development [1]. To put matters into perspective, the economic burden of mental illness — reflected in the costs of healthcare utilization, lost productivity due to absenteeism from work and long-term disability, as well as deterioration in health-related quality of life — is estimated to be $50 billion/year in Canada alone. [2] As communities around the world grapple with the collective trauma inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, these sobering facts are even more relevant today.

A 2019 WHO Health Evidence Network synthesis report summarizes an extensive evidence base showing how the arts sector plays a critical role in promoting good health— preventing myriad mental and physical health challenges and supporting the management and treatment of acute and chronic conditions. It reveals that increasing engagement with the arts can also enhance wellbeing and reduce the risk of age-related mental and physical decline. On a physiological level, looking at art boosts cortisol and serotonin levels in the brain; an effect on the body similar to exercise! The seemingly passive act of observing any form of art (whether a beautiful painting, sculpture or musical masterpiece) encourages people to lower their guard and engage in self-reflection. Just imagine the possibilities for societal healing when more active, intentional and immersive engagement with the arts is normalized and made widely accessible everywhere. Consequently, providing easy access should be ensured across the entire human lifespan— in the general community, through the workplace and in healthcare settings to help promote good overall health, happier individuals and more constructive communities.

During the past twenty months, we have seen traditional art spaces - such as museums and galleries - take the lead in the global response to the pandemic, by addressing mental and physical health concerns with unprecedented intensity. [3] For example, The Rubin Museum of Art in New York developed an online care package with an option to meditate amid chanting monks in a virtual version of its shrine room. In Doha, Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar is teaming up with the National Museum of Qatar to design a telehealth art therapy program to alleviate children’s anxiety and depression. The Louvre Abu Dhabi has developed a series of physical and social offerings to support mental wellbeing by leveraging the museum’s exquisite space and architecture, exploring the history of human creativity across time and space. Nonetheless, this heightened activity is just one of the latest sagas in an eighty-year history of art therapy initiatives. Back in 2017, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts had already hired a full-time art therapist and permitted physicians to formally ‘prescribe’ free access to their galleries—a novelty that gained wide media attention inside and outside the art world.

Candace Wilson’s ‘Purple Series #8

oil on linen with amethyst, pyrite

36x48"/91x122cm Contact us to learn more

While the pandemic has undoubtedly heightened the art sector’s promotion of therapy, taboos around mental health and skepticism towards therapy continues to pervade societies everywhere. The application of therapeutic art activities, is generally only taking place at well-established institutions or as an added ‘bonus’ to their regular programming. Thus, it remains incredibly pertinent for governments, civil society and the private sector alike to come together with the common goal of fully prioritising and integrating art therapy across art education programs, traditional art spaces and private collections, as well as public policy, government subsidies and fundraising efforts.

As part of my research into the emerging disciplines, and initiatives in this field, I recently sat down for a heart-to-heart with an incredibly innovative Toronto-based artist named Candace Wilson. Candace has intuitively integrated quantum energetic healing modalities (Energy Medicine) in all of her art. EM is the “use of known subtle energy fields to therapeutically assess and treat energetic imbalances, bringing the body’s systems back to homeostasis (balance).” [4] Quantum physics provides a solid paradigm with which to understand these therapies as it teaches us that there is no difference between energy and matter.

Candace Wilson’s ‘Into the Heat of Transmutation’

oil on canvas with carnelian, onyx


Contact us to learn more

Colour has been used for healing since ancient Egypt. Gemstones have been recognized for thousands of years for their individual healing properties especially in India and China. These are channelled, cleansed, programmed and awakened before being added to each of Candace’s paintings. When combined, the gemstones are no longer simply a sum of their combined metaphysical properties but instead, create a new synergy. Merged with the energy of both the colour and the chakra with which they are partnered, this synergy forms a healing resonance. All of Candace’s work contains the same quantum healing energetics. In addition to creating individual paintings that help balance the energy in a room, home or office space, Candace creates healing series that hang best as a group. In fact, she is noted for providing art collections to a range of healthcare institutions such as Toronto Western Hospital and St Michael’s Hospital. The paintings in this article are currently available for sale or donation. Dive into her novel approach by watching the inspiring guided art meditation video below, narrated by the artist herself.

What are your thoughts on the accessibility of art therapy programs in your city? Have you ever engaged with the arts in a therapeutic way, either in the community or in a healthcare setting?Let us know in the comments section below.

If you enjoyed this article and want to read more like it, subscribe to this blog by hitting the subscribe button at the bottom of this page. Stay tuned for upcoming posts, in which we’ll explore other disciplines and forms of art therapy, such as neurologic music therapies and next-generation storytelling technologies.

This article was also published in the Distillery District Magazine's January 2022 issue.

References: [1] WHO, 2011 [2] Canadian Mental Health Association, 2011 [3] Art in America, 2021 [4] Ross, 2019

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