Some arts activities should be funded from the Welsh Government’s health budget, according to the new chairman of the Arts Council of Wales.
Phil George said the benefits of the arts to people’s well-being needed to be grasped by ministers.
He said work was already being done in this area, but further investment would bring long-term health benefits.
The Welsh Government said it was “open to further discussions” about more use of creative arts therapies.
Mr George told BBC Wales an “extraordinary, rich vein of practice” involving arts and healthcare was already established in Wales, but it could improve with government backing.
“The Arts Council of Wales (ACW) already supports a lot of activity from artists in the area of health, particularly in fields like dementia, mental health and in physical areas like Parkinson’s,” he said.
“We want to make sure this work is more strategically joined up. We want to make sure that it’s thought of in terms of particular Welsh needs, that it’s fit for purpose. And finally, we just want to do more of it.
“And if we want to do more of it, we have got to attract funding from the health budget. We have got to convince Welsh Government ministers and officials that a preventative premium can come from the arts.
“In other words, you spend on arts initiatives in the area of healthcare and you will get a financial benefit, because you will be spending less on putting right problems that can be prevented by arts engagement.”
Dementia choirs and dance classes for Parkinson’s patients already happen on an ad-hoc basis across Wales. Creative activity, including arts and crafts, are also part of community therapies aimed at tackling anxiety and isolation and aiding the recovery of stroke patients.
Valley and Vale Community Arts organises creative activities in south Wales.
In Ogmore Vale, the charity runs groups for people with anxiety or who suffer from loneliness or isolation, offering the opportunity to meet new people over an arts and crafts session.
Stephanie goes to the group every week.
“I find it quite fun and exciting. It’s an activity to do, and it’s quite creative.
“We are continually making things and we get to take them home.”
Rhys Hughes, who oversees the activity, says it has a direct impact on people’s sense of well-being.
“We look after initiatives in the community where artists can work hand-in-hand with social care departments, identifying people who can benefit from opportunities for creative expression.
“It’s about connecting people to their communities. It reinforces their sense of identity, it certainly improves self-confidence and self-esteem and over a period of weeks we see people becoming much more relaxed, much more comfortable in themselves and much less anxious.”
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We recognise that engagement in creative activity can have a significant impact on health and well being and that cultural and creative activities can improve the health of people who experience mental or physical health problems,”
He pointed to arts therapists, researchers and curators who already manage arts and culture programmes and activities in hospitals and in social care and said the government was open to see how such activities might be extended.
A cross-party group of AMs is also examining the case for increasing the role of the arts in helping to treat some health conditions.
Chairwoman Eluned Morgan has written to the cabinet secretaries for health and the economy to ask them to commission ACW to undertake new research in this area.
“There’s a lot of evidence already that proves that popping pills into people’s mouths is not always the best solution to their health problems, that actually their well-being needs to be looked after,” said Baroness Morgan.
“We need to be looking at transferring that funding. But you can’t do that without a really strong evidence base. Some of that evidence base exists, we need to pull that together and make sure it is adapted to the Welsh situation.”