In early December, 2019, representatives of Cluj Cultural Centre together with international guests and specialists from Cluj-Napoca interested in the topic of arts and well-being gathered at the Arts and science dialogues | Better cities event. The guests were invited to initiate open discussions on how arts and cultural participation can be part of the solution to emotional, mental and health challenges of contemporary urban dwelling and what type of interdisciplinary programmes have the potential to increase the quality of life and well-being of people living in the city.
Building on strong evidence of the relevance of art for well-being provided by a recent scoping review of the World Health Organization, our conversation between artists and experts in health, psychology and urban planning looked at how collaborations between culture and these sectors may contribute to better cities. We discussed the challenges that urban dwelling currently poses for physical and mental health in general and sought to identify possible strategic measures through which culture can benefit the inhabitants of Cluj-Napoca, in particular.
Almost 40 artists, scientists, architects, health and psychology experts were part of the event. Among contributors, Adela Fofiu, Senior Social Scientist, Prisma Analytics, Dr. Daniel David, Babeș-Bolyai University, Faculty of Psychology, Guido Ferilli, IULM University, Milan, Nils Fietje, WHO Regional Office for Europe, Ralph Alwani, Urban Scale Interventions and Rarița Zbranca, Cluj Cultural Centre shared their experience on how art and cultural participation can contribute to the inner well-being of the city’s inhabitants.
We need to talk about art and well-being for at least two reasons: Firstly, because more and more international evidence is stating that artistic and cultural interventions have a positive impact on well-being. The studies show a positive impact for the prevention activities, management of certain pathologies or in the recovery period of patients after certain health events. Secondly, because these interventions also happen in Cluj-Napoca and in Romania. Now they are disparate, but such initiatives as Arts and science dialogues | Better cities put them on the same page.
Key emotional, mental and health challenges of contemporary urban dwelling
According to WHO, 2015, depression affected 322 million people in the world and 40 million in Europe (4.4%). Depression is the largest contributor to disability (7.5% of all years lived with disability in 2015) at global level, and the second in Europe. Cities and people within the cities are becoming more and more affected by the contemporary urban challenges.
What are the key challenges for Cluj-Napoca?
- Cultural participation and access: cultural activities are not distributed equally throughout the city;
- Burnout is increasing among the citizens of Cluj-Napoca: efforts regarding burnout are not focused on prevention, therefore it is important to teach people about it by using art;
- Air quality, traffic is another challenge for the citizens of Cluj-Napoca and art could have an important role in raising awareness around these issues;
- The well-being is not measured in a comprehensive way at the moment
Arts and science dialogues | Better cities was a step forward in terms of inter-disciplinary dialogue in topics related to well-being, urban development, urban development strategies, intervention strategies in public spaces. I think that the things we have built so far have some results that can be quantified and can be used as tools for intervention in the future: I mean art as a way of intervening in public space, to make a balance between applied art and tactical urbanism in terms of architecture and urban development strategies, to transform art from a luxury into a necessity and use it both in the analysis of public space, in the analysis of community intervention strategies, and in the implementation of projects that we develop in the Cluj area.
Arts and cultural participation as part of the solution to these challenges
A broader approach of quality of life is required, a transition from individual level to group and society level, by working with art’s capacity to create meaning in life. In this respect, interdisciplinarity plays a key role, especially the joint approach between art, psychology, philosophy, public health experts and urbanists. Programs and initiatives which encourage empathy and raise awareness on these aspects could contribute to the creation of generous communities, which are less anxious.
Cities as persons, cities that become present and human, a way to a general state of well-being
Cultural consumption and artistic activities participation increase subjective well-being (Harvard MetaLab). But what happens with the objective well-being? A balance between public art and tactical urban planning should be defined, being important to understand the synergies between them and the impact on subjective well-being. It is important for those who are responsible for the well-being in the city to carefully consider the following aspects:
- Involve people in the rethinking of the public space (including those no longer living in the city – as memory);
- Defining and updating identity through engaged art;
- Public space needs programming, not just colour and made shiny;
- People need to express their perceptions and expectations on the urban commons;
- From civic participation to co-design;
- Social cohesion – two types of connections that are both essential for healthy community relations, bonding and bridging;
- Arts can benefit in terms of life meaning and inner well-being
A reliable example of how cultural interventions improve well-being in the city was emphasized during the event by Ralf Alwani from Urban Scale Interventions, a people-centred design and innovation studio. He presented their initiatives on River Foyle aimed to decrease the high rate of suicides in Northern Ireland and to improve the well-being of the people.
Their strong believe is that best innovation happens at the intersection between people, place, and purpose and they succeed to create the country’s largest public art installation through a inclusive design approach.
Learning from the best practices implemented in other cities we can develop at the local level initiatives aimed to contribute to the well-being of Cluj-Napoca city’s inhabitants. Other cities may learn as well, because sharing is caring. Collaboration and interdisciplinary approaches are the key elements to the well-being, not just for the subjective well-being, but also for objective well-being.