Readout of Federal Interagency Working Group on Arts, Health, and Civic Infrastructure Meeting 

During Mental Health Awareness Month HHS and NEA highlight the ability of the arts to improve mental wellbeing

On Thursday, May 16, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra participated in the second meeting of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Arts, Health, and Civic Infrastructure. Founded in 2024, the Working Group facilitates the exchange of insights and information about arts and cultural resources and strategies across federal agencies, with the goal of helping to improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities.

Secretary Becerra and Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson serve as Co-Chairs of the Working Group and provided remarks to open the meeting. Secretary Becerra emphasized the critical role of the arts in promoting mental health and he thanked Working Group members and Dr. Jackson for their shared commitment to promoting the arts. The Secretary specifically underscored music’s potential to decrease stress, heal trauma, and build social connections.

“As we look towards the future, we have the opportunity to weave the power of the arts into our efforts to support a wellness care system,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “We know that arts and culture can have profound impacts on health. Access to the arts is not a luxury, it’s a resource that should be available to all.”

Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Maria Rosario Jackson, PhD, said, “Through this interagency working group, the NEA is dedicated to advancing understanding of the power of the arts and to strengthening their roles in building healthy communities. Artists and cultural institutions can help to drive more meaningful community engagement, create physical spaces and practices that promote wellness and belonging, and help us imagine solutions to wicked problems that require creativity.”

Arts-based approaches are recommended throughout the Equitable Long Term Recovery and Resilience (ELTRR) Plan, an HHS-led initiative spanning multiple agencies and departments.

On May 7, 2024, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced the launch of the Art of Recovery Project. This initiative highlights the impact of art on mental health and substance use recovery, showcasing how creative expression can serve as a pathway to solace, healing, and empowerment.  Artists with lived or living recovery experience may submit artwork for this initiative until June 28, 2024.

HHS has also funded research to better understand the application of the arts in health settings. Since 2017, the National Institutes of Health and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts have partnered, in association with the National Endowment for the Arts, under an initiative called Sound Health. This initiative seeks to expand knowledge of how listening, performing, or creating music could be harnessed for health and wellness applications in daily life and be a potential therapy for neurological disorders, among other topics of research. As part of the initiative, NIH and the NEA co-support funding opportunities for music and health research.  In addition, the NEA—in partnership with the University of California, San Francisco, and in collaboration with the NIH, the Kennedy Center, and Renée Fleming—established the Sound Health Network, which promotes research and public awareness about the impact of music on health and wellness. NIH has also created a toolkit to support research into the potential for music as a treatment for brain disorders of aging like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

The NEA’s own grantmaking portfolio includes many projects that integrate the arts with strategies promoting the health and well-being of people and communities. Our Town, the NEA’s creative placemaking grants program, supports activities that integrate arts, culture, and design into local efforts that strengthen communities, with many projects fusing arts and design with public health strategies. The NEA’s Research Grants in the Arts and NEA Research Labs programs have supported numerous studies about the arts’ physiological and psychological impacts on health and social and emotional well-being. The NEA also leads other initiatives at the intersection of arts and health, including Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network, a partnership with the U.S. Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs that seeks to improve the health, well-being, and quality of life for military and veteran populations exposed to trauma, as well as their families and caregivers.

Participating members represented the following agencies:

  • AmeriCorps    
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency 
  • General Services Administration    
  • Institute of Museum & Library Services    
  • National Endowment for the Arts    
  • National Endowment for the Humanities    
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • National Science Foundation    
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • U.S. Census Bureau
  • U.S. Department of Defense
  • U.S. Department of Education
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development    
  • U.S. Department of Interior    
  • U.S. Department of Justice
  • U.S. Department of Transportation
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency