Welcome to the third issue of the Nordic Journal of Arts, Culture and Health (NJACH). In the year since the first issue of the journal was published in November 2019, the world has changed dramatically. With the COVID-19 pandemic and a worsening economy, many arts organisations and applied arts and health practitioners across the world are struggling to survive. Revenues are being lost and many artists and arts facilitators face an uncertain future. At the same time, there seems to be a substantial and growing focus on the ways in which art (in all its forms) can be applied to address health and wellbeing issues in the Nordic countries. When reflecting on the current state of arts and health in the Nordic region there is therefore a lot to be optimistic about.

The Nordic Arts and Health Research Network arranged its third network conference on 22–23 September 2020. The topic of the online conference was arts and health education, and researchers from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, England and Canada delivered engaging and thought-provoking perspectives on the topic from a variety of different perspectives. The key aim of the network conferences and the network itself is to foster interdisciplinary discussions and provide a platform for collaboration in the Nordic context, and the beauty is that we already see results in the form of common projects and joint publications. The Nordic Network of Arts & Health has received funding from Nordic Culture Point for another three years. This means a lot for future collaboration in the region, and hopefully the network will be able to grow in strength and influence over the coming three years.

In terms of optimism, we are also encouraged by the fact that universities across the region are developing new arts and health modules and degree programmes at graduate and postgraduate levels. To mention some of the recent developments in arts and health education in Nordic contexts, courses have been developed by Lund University in Sweden, and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Nord University and Volda University College in Norway. Moreover, Turku University of Applied Sciences and Metropolia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki in Finland have both developed full MA programmes. We are very encouraged by these developments and perceive them not only as a way of advancing the field, but also as a way of securing a high standard of education for the arts and health professionals of the future.

Another positive sign is the growing number of books, articles and reports that are being published in the field. An important part of any journal’s work is to critically assess recent publications and reports within its remit, and we are pleased to announce that Stephen Clift, Professor Emeritus of health education at Canterbury Christ Church University, UK, has been appointed as the Reviews Editor for the journal. He will be reviewing a number of publications and reports over the coming issues of NJACH, so if you would like to contribute a review of a recent book or report to the journal, please contact him at stephen.clift@canterbury.ac.uk.

The interdisciplinary field of arts and health is heavily influenced by political, economic and policy developments, and it is important to be aware of the invisible structures of power that might be underpinning practice. In the first article in this issue, “Arts as treatment? Innovation and resistance within an emerging movement”, Heather Yoeli, Jane Macnaughton, Sarah McLusky and Mary Robson provide a critical perspective on the Arts and Health (AaH) movement in the UK, exploring how it, together with the artists operating as AaH practitioners, has responded to the economic, political and policy transitions of recent years. The article contends that whenever arts and health practice is governed by health services, it becomes reconceptualised as therapy or treatment. The authors caution against this, suggesting that arts and health practices risks losing their power and effectiveness if they relinquish their artistic and philosophical values.

The second article in this issue, “Shared Reading as mental health promotion among newly retired men: Design of a feasibility study”, reports on an increasingly popular arts and health initiative in the Nordic region. In this article, Mette Marie Kristensen and colleagues explore the feasibility and possible outcome measures of a randomised controlled trial (RCT) of a Shared Reading intervention for newly retired men. The article presents the evaluation design of the feasibility study, providing valuable insights into how the initiative has been designed, developed, and evaluated.

In the third article, “Kunsten å gå: Pilegrimsvandring og subjektiv livskvalitet” [The art of walking: Pilgrimage and subjective wellbeing], Helga Synnevåg Løvoll and Wenche Torrissen have examined how pilgrimage can affect change in a group of people that has experienced a variety of health-related issues and social challenges. The article investigates how long-distance walking might influence the group’s subjective wellbeing and explores which factors that might be identified as psychologically supportive of the participants’ wellbeing. The study provides support for the idea that long-distance walking, such as pilgrimage, has a health-promoting potential if the initiative is well organised and actualises factors that can strengthen participants’ subjective and Eudaimonic wellbeing.

In line with the journal’s aims and values, the voices of arts and health practitioners have a central place in this issue, and we are pleased to present three contributions describing different areas of practice as well as one review. In the first article, in the Notes from the field section, we learn about creative writing in a psychiatric hospital in Denmark. Birgit Bundesen and colleagues enlighten us about how a creative writing project supports people with mental health diagnoses, and how an interdisciplinary team of professional authors and mental health professionals worked together to develop creative participatory interventions and guidelines for these. In the second article, Nina Elisabeth Bøe writes about the developments, history and philosophy of NaCuHeal (Nature, Culture & Health), a Norwegian network of organisations and places offering a broad spectrum of health-promoting activities anchored in art and nature. In this personal account, Bøe reflects on the ways in which nature and culture can promote health, a better environment, and quality of life for all. In the third contribution, Anita Jensen describes the developments of a research-based Evaluation Guide for arts and health projects. From the article, we learn about evaluation challenges across the Nordic Region, how the data was gathered, and the content of the Evaluation Guide, which is currently available in Danish, Finnish and Swedish. Finally, Stephen Clift has reviewed François Matarasso’s report, A Restless Art: How participation won, and why it matters. Among other observations, Clift recommends the report as essential reading for anyone interested in the value of the arts for health and wellbeing. We hope that this report, and the other articles in this issue, will inspire and help us to understand how art and nature can support health and wellbeing across the world in the years to come.