Triggering a true policy change


Diary and reflections from Culture and Well-Being Forum Romania 26.-28.10.2022

Writer: Pauliina Haouami /Finland

Art & Well-Being expert, artist and coach


I was privileged to be invited to this culture and well-being forum as a specialist from Finland having multiple years of experience from art and well-being business, policies and national level implementation. I was invited by NDPC (Northern Dimension Partnership on Culture) and supported by Taike (Arts promotion Centre Finland). So I said yes, when we messaged with my partners about could I contribute something in this event.

Because I am entrepreneur, a business owner I have nowadays different perspectives on developing art & health promotion but of course not too much different. Maybe things are going forward more quickly and with limited amount of time and other resources (like money). By this I mean because I run a business, I have to think always who is putting the effort financially and what do they get with that investment. Also as a private company owner there is just me behind my organization and huge amount of networks where I swim and sail. And it was interesting to be part of this forum in this perspective. In the history I was always representing the government, city council, municipality or culture organization.

I participated first art & wellbeing international conference year 2013 in Bristol, UK and has been participating many seminars and conferences since considering the subject of art & well-being & health. The difference between this and previous meetings is that there was specified target and mission for the meeting. The model was forum and these roundtables have been arranged before (Denmark and Italy) twice so this was the last one. After this forum, the group of experts will conclude report about how to implement culture and art in policy making level after WHO scoping review which was published 2019. The event itself describes the meaning of roundtables like this:

Through a series of Roundtables we aim to bring together policy makers, practitioners and researchers from all around Europe to discuss the opportunities for joint policy and action among the health, cultural and social sectors. Following the CultureForHealth policy workshops from Denmark and Italy, the event is facilitating cross-sectoral and trans-European cooperation aiming to generate knowledge and compile policy guidelines on how to enhance well-being through culture."

8 global challenges and culture

The team building the new policy report has gathered eight (8) global challenges where culture can be involved as a tool, triggerer, changemaker etc.

These challenges are (as far as I noted correctly):

1. The need for an increased focus on health promotion & prevention

2. A growing mental health issues (Suicide is the fifth most prevalent cause of death for adolescent boys and girls aged 10-19)

3. Support the broader health & well-being of young people

4. Changes of labor markets patterns of work, the economy

5. Ageing population

6. The association between ill health/patterns of inequality

7. Promoting active citizenship

8. Difficulties faced by forcibly displaced people

Cluj-Hub offered co-working space for entrepreneurs and students and our round-table sessions and ideathon first day was arranged here.

So what is going to happen next? The team (which they will introduce 24th November when launching the report) has gathered solutions and policy recommendations. It includes evidence report too. The target is to make EU -level preparatory action for bottom-up Policy development for culture & well-being in the EU. Long term aim is to make Europe the platform for experimentation and policy development for a new (culture and health system).

Kornelia Kiss from Culture Action Europe introduced her soup model. Kornelia is Projects and operations director in CAE and much involved in this process. Target for all meetings and recommendations is to trigger true policy change in the Europe because WHO report came 2019 but spreading the evidence and results can be much challenging in different countries and variety of systems. How to distribute systematic change towards healthier societies with the boost of culture & arts?

In targets, there are also considered important things like advocacy, building a database, collect evidence, foster cross-sectoral and cross border coopearation etc.

I was happy to find out that also international agency for Art & Well-being was considered in coming recommendations. Much interesting and relevant! This is the direction it should go that our common agenda can grow and be distributed easily. We need moderators and production in all levels.

Because this was a three day forum I am not going too much in details but I would like to highlight some of my personal impressions from the adventure in Cluj-Napoca (or Cluj, how the locals call it).

The Art Museum of Cluj was our second day venue. Also the session where I was participating was here in much old and beautiful location.

Five (5) important points of distributing culture for health

(according to my own experience from forum in Romania)

1. Be the change you want to see in the world

During our sessions, roundtables and workshops I heard a lot of discussion about for whom all the tasks should be delivered. Who should lead the change, who should take responsibility of the implementation, which organizations is responsible for financing? And many times answer was for someone upper hierarchy, someone in political charge, someone owning the company or organization leader. It is accurate of course, but for my real life experience nothing happens if someone outside is coming to tell you that you should do this and that. By showing your own example of doing things you want to see to be done - it can have most powerful effect on everyone. Nobody believed in my hospital process (bringing participatory art in hospitals) ten years ago when I started dreaming, everyone said it is impossible. But I started doing, talking and gather evidence, visiting hospitals who already do it and bring examples. And now it all happens around me, slowly but with much enthusiasm. Same with artist in residency project in nursing homes. People told me it is not going to work they never have money for arts. But soon they did when we show example how it is done. And it is still going strong, after 8 years from delivering the first residency in long term care units.

By this slogan I mean that nobody understands your mindset completely. You won´t get (sorry) exactly what you are looking for, or in rare cases you do. So start slowly doing the work yourself so the world around will see how it is done and how it works. And soon you will have some evidence too! If nobody pays for your work, it is your responsibility to decide whether you continue or not. Or maybe find some angel behind you?

2. We cannot expect the change from the people who have built the system that is not working

This conclusion made me think much about our mental health issues in the world. And in working life. Who built this heavy stressful system for schools, daycares, hobbies and working life where there is zero time to just breathe and observe or do nothing for a while? Well, we did! Adolescent population is suffering from mental health issues, working force is having burn outs, our ageing population in Europe is having much loneliness and isolation and that will cause more problems for health. So how we did a society like this? And why?

This is an ego driven system. Not from heart and soul. We need clever mind and brain too. But we have conducted ourselves to think only with brain. We want more, quicker and faster. It is all about me, myself and I. We forget our children who are sensitive, we forget our parents and grandparents who have much wisdom. Working life is like hamburger steak stuffed between adolescent life and building up a family and taking care of older members of the family. It is like a hurricane never ending. And I know it from my own experience, just waiting for easier life, maybe tomorrow?

So if we have burnouts in staff, mental health problems with our kids and ageing relatives who are about to die in solitude, how can we change the system? By changing the system of course. How it is done? I don't know of course, but maybe changing the patterns in school, family life, working life, parenting, elderly care etc. Of course, cultural values are important here. How about hiring artists in organizations to bring different forms of working? How about art therapists in schools and kindergartens? Everyone should have possibility to do something creative at least every other day even if you have disabilities, lack of money or other restrictions.

In culture field and art these things are obvious. When I have worked with organizations I find out that actually nobody is against culture and art activity when you ask about it. But the problem is in money. We tend to say yes this is nice but we don´t have money. So where is the problem?

Is the money here? Our last day was at Banca Transilvania.

3. Valuating and recognizing the work and effects of culture

I don´t know why, where and how we decided that culture should have no price tag. I am sorry to be the annoying business woman here, but if you get always something for free, it has no value. This is basic human psychology. So as far as we bring and take our own work in culture and art field as something no need to pay or money comes from outer space, there is no value for it from anywhere. If someone comes and gives me something and tells me you can have it, it is for free I would most definitely ask what is wrong with it?

So learn to articulate your own value or the value of your project. It is ok to deliver projects with project money and subsidies, but after few years of time some other money should be invested. I recommend 50-50 model. Half money comes from foundations etc and half from that party who will benefit. It can be nursing home, hospital, city council, municipality etc. If the work you do is going directly for helping care or client work it should be reasonable to participate on that work at least financially.

I want to point out the problem that lies under this financial dilemma. If the work you do is always paid by outsider from the place where it actually happens (and where the results come) there might be a danger that when the work is over the results also disappear with the deliver/mediator/producer of the service. So be mindful about this issue if you want to continue the work in future. I could write a book about this issue because I have many examples about it too, but let keep it simple here. Just put a price tag - also for your own work.

You should value your own work and contribution too. Pic is not from Cluj - but from Bournemouth UK - where I worked as dance & well-being specialist at 2013. Performance Bodies in Urban Spaces by Willi Dorner and local artists.

4. Articulate, speak out and use stories

As we experienced in Cluj, there is huge importance of how we talk, articulate and tell about our experiences and wisdom in this field of art, culture and wellbeing. This is not new thing or idea. We all know how impactful it is to see impressive movie, advertisement or a picture in magazine. So I think all of us who work in culture & health are much inspired and passionate about our own work, but how to bring this evidence and great work in the mindset of those who decide and make plans for future? We need scientific research -obviously- but besides that we need great stories, emotional influences, food for mind, heart & soul. Because we are ourselves so purpose driven we don´t necessarily see the world from different perspectives.

I have a good example. When I started as an arts development manager in Art Promotion Centre Finland about 7 years ago we were thinkin much about the evidence out there and the great projects delivered in Finland. But we were missing something bigger, something for use of marketing, communication and audience work. Then we got idea to make a film in YouTube for everyone to use about the use of art in well-being. The film came and so far it has been a great success. Anyone working in culture & health field can use it. There is no political agenda or any organizational marketing behind. Just scientific results articulated and animated as a story. Everyone can understand the language and story, not just culture field or researchers. And it is funny too! Ok here you are, here you can see it from Youtube (In Finnish, unfortunately)

Pictures and visual materials can show much emotions and stories. They can make us wonder what is going on here and get interested. This pic is from Bournemouth, UK, where I was working 2013 with Pavilion Dance South-West. Performance is called Bodies in Urban spaces (Willi Dorner). 

5. Work well-being of those who work in art & well-being

Last, but not least I would like to highlight a issue and topic that has been in my mind for the last 10 years at least but rarely discussed (until now). We are much passionate and highly involved field of professionals. And as I understood in a last session in Banca Transilvania, Cluj-Napoca, that most of us who sit in the session had experienced or experiencing severe burn out. Usually with much guilty and pressure from our colleagues, environment or self. So what is causing this serious problem in our working environment? Can we talk about well-being and healthy organizations if we are in distortion and seriously broken ourselves?

Answer is yes and no. Yes, we can speak and we should take care of people and organizations around us. If we open up about the issues of mental health in our working environment maybe some changes can come little by little. And if nothing changes then maybe it was not our place after all. Or do we give up so easily? These might be the feelings that person goes through when mental breakdown and burnout is there. Sometimes it can take years to recover and the amount of guilt, self-reflection, shame and feeling of lost is indescribable.

But I have to say no to that mentality what suggests that just get up and go. Just be happy. Just get yourself together and start working. We cannot help others if we are sick, we can in fact make things much worse. For others and for ourselves. We all know that poisonous person who is leaking nasty words, throwing poisonous arrows and doubtful comments everywhere, everyone and about everything. This sounds lame but even one drop of poison can make the whole water spoiled. Do you want to be that drop of poison? I don´t, but I have been. With my commenting, with my so-called wisdom and sarcasm. Behind that all there was much tired and bitter cultural worker doing nine to five work many years with poor salary, feeling no support, zero free time and no time to be sick or take it easier. Some kind of super human mentality is making us sick and we like to control others too in that same label. As I mentioned before, we are much EGO -driven societies and we should be more communities with social and cultural values what we support and value.

So cultural organizations should make self-check also for work well-being and reflect what needs to be changed in order to thrive and be more healthy for delivering much potential cultural services for well-being matters. Easy? No of course not But worth the work? Yes of course. Soon we are not leading the change if nothing changes.

Central Park of Cluj-Napoca. Every morning and evening walk routine through this beautiful landscape. That was well-being for me during much demanding and long but yet inspiring forum days.


There is still much work in this world of culture and health. Obviously Finland has been doing much pioneering work and has many sustainable and working systems in governmental level also. But still I keep coming back to the issue that nothing ever ready and nobody better than others. This is not competition of course. In 2013 they said in UK that results are here, go and do. Since that I have been doing mostly. Same discussions come around in most of the meetings and always after these inspiring days I keep wondering what should I do from my part?

I promised myself that I will distribute more audiomatrial in future. For art workshops, for production models, for supporting the work well-being. I don't know how and where and what, but stay tuned.. It will happen soon 💎💎💎