Culture by Prescription: A Danish Project

Jan Holmquist reports on a Danish project where four municipalities offered stressed-out, anxious, or depressed people the opportunity to participate in cultural activities to increase their feelings of well being.

Culture by Prescription (Kultur på Recept) is a Danish project where four municipalities offered citizens who had easy to moderate stress, anxiety or depression participation in a 10-week group course with cultural activities two to three times a week. The projects ran from 2016 to 2019, and the evaluation was published recently.

What was prescribed?

The participants tried different cultural events. Several times a week, for example, they painted, sang and read in a specially designed course. Participants have been to libraries, museums, cultural centres and many other municipal institutions. During the project period, the participating cultural institutions developed and tested cultural activities aimed at promoting the mental health and well-being of the participants. The cultural events took place in groups where the participants met with the same group of people in a defined course.

Learnings from the project

The project was nationally funded and had more than 800 participants, of whom 75% were women. 97% of the participants are satisfied with the project. Eight out of ten report having better well-being, based on the WHO-5 Well Being Index, when the course was completed.

Along with the increased well-being, the course has, in various ways, helped to promote participants' rehabilitation and coping skills. For some participants, this also means that the process has brought them closer to the labour market. A little under half of the people consider that participation in Culture on Prescription has, to some extent, made them better able to do a job.

Participation in the cultural activities has further significance for the participants in that it often gives new perspectives on the local community and new social networks, opening the eyes of the participants to the cultural opportunities in the local area, particularly libraries and museums.

A Break from illness

Several participants viewed Culture by Prescription as a welcome break from illness, challenges and concerns because no performance requirements are being set. The participants explain in various ways how their participation in the course provides new opportunities for action and offers an escape from limiting thoughts and patterns. Participation in the cultural activities causes them to explore new aspects of life and their community. Through participation in the course, participants receive training in social interactions. For many, the cultural activities serve as a useful framework for training skills like meeting duty, social interactions, everyday life etc. It is a training and mastery that is characterized by being in a space away from the health care treatments. Also, it is seen as a refuge from what is experienced as control from representatives and inspectors from the municipality and employment services. Participants are given outward respite and a community that is about something other than their suffering and challenges. In this light, it is a new way of entering society and culture that promotes the well-being and empowerment of the participants.

Focus is on culture and community, not diagnoses

Although participants have in common diagnoses of easy to moderate stress, depression or anxiety, this is not the focus and well-being is promoted through working with the culture rather than the diagnosis. However, in many ways, it is vital that this work takes place in a group process with citizens in a similar situation. Culture by Prescription has an essentially social dimension through the meeting with the same group of like-minded people for an extended time. It gives participants confidence in knowing the common challenges, and it also means that they can support each other in the steps that can be taken towards rehabilitation in relation to civil society and the job market.

Skilled staff is essential

The staff engaged in this project work for several different cultural institutions and have diverse professional backgrounds. For example, music teachers, artists, librarians and museum guides have volunteered to conduct cultural activities. The cultural guides have an essential role for Culture by Prescription because they, as teachers and guides in the world of culture, are important for the professional development of the course.

From a cultural perspective, but not being part of the official evaluation, it is yet another strength in the project that libraries, museums and other cultural institutions are working together on a project like this. The biggest participating municipality (Aalborg) are continuing their part of the project even though the project funding is no longer there.


Jan Holmquist is a Global Librarian and one of the co-chairs of Internet Librarian International. He is the owner of Holmquist Consult and is working on projects about digital learning for librarians, international collaboration and developing strategies for cultural institutions. Jan blogs at