It was developed with film-maker Jack Arbuthnot and the creative agency Flying Object, whose agile imaginations concocted a range of ways to spend time on-line with young people in their homes in unusually taxing circumstances around the world. This collaborative exercise resulted in a form of ‘remote documentary’: a form of enquiry, mediated by social media and video conferencing, which might fruitfully sit alongside other more academic research.

“When I indulge in art… my mind doesn’t wander to different places. Specifically to the things that make me anxious.” (25 year-old female from India)

“Covid-19 itself was very helpful in getting my life in order… a great way to avoid being swamped with unnecessary events…” (22 year-old male from Tokyo)

“All I can do is try my best… God gives you lemons you just make lemonade.” (23 year-old male from Hong Kong)

These are some of the comments shared by young people working out new ways of being during lockdown. Along with many others in the survey, they are by turns touching, unexpected, funny, but often quite ordinary.

A striking aspect of these digital glimpses of individuals struggling, but also coping, with the mental strain of unsettled times, is just how significant engagement with arts can be. They report finding pleasure in it, as well as how it helps them relax or avoid unhelpful patterns of thought.

3. Imagining the future to prepare for it: Contagious Cities

Mindscapes and Covid-Living follow in the footsteps of Wellcome’s first experimental cultural initiative: Contagious Cities. The project supported local conversations around the global challenges of epidemic preparedness. It was staged across four global cities: Berlin, Geneva, Hong Kong and New York to mark the centenary of the 1918 flu pandemic, during which a third of the world’s population was infected and 50 million people died.

It explored the intersecting histories of how people have inhabited cities, and how microbes have simultaneously inhabited humans. A topic that has, of course, gained frightening relevance during 2020. It is not unusual, of course, for art and culture to offer a window onto the future and to offer the tools to make sense of it when it eventually plays out.

“Cities bring people – and germs – together. Through the stories it tells, Contagious Cities explores the outcomes of this cohabitation, and the relationship between microbes, migration and the metropolis.”

— Wellcome Trust

Public health and culture: a mutual enrichment

All three projects enable international cultural engagement through a curiosity-led commitment to juxtaposing perspectives and practices, and to developing deep, learning-based relationships along the way.

By supporting, and then linking, concrete local partnerships, these umbrella initiatives draw on the best of research organizations, giving us the chance to promote wellbeing and the global public good through the mutual enrichment of public health and culture.

This article was first published in World Economic Forum.