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It’s like another world: the perceived beneficial effects of an artistically designed multisensory environment
  1. Bliss Cavanagh,
  2. Kirsti Haracz,
  3. Miranda Lawry,
  4. Carole James
  1. School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Health and Medicine, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Bliss Cavanagh, School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Health and Medicine, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW 2308, Australia; Bliss.Cavanagh{at}


Self-management strategies have been identified as having a key role in supporting mental health and preventing mental illness. Evidence suggests that spending time in nature, experiencing or viewing artwork and accessing sensory rooms all support self-management and positive mental health among varied clinical populations. This evidence informed the design of the sensory–art space (SAS), an artistically designed multisensory environment, which drew on themes and images of nature.

The aim of this study was to explore the experiences and perceived benefits of the SAS among members of a university community.

A maximum variation approach to sampling was used, and 18 participants were included in this qualitative study. Data were gathered via semi-structured interviews, which were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim for thematic analysis.

The findings presented six themes. The two core themes were: it’s like another world, and easy to focus and describe how the SAS produced the beneficial effects described in the four remaining themes of: emotionally nutritious, meditative effects, relaxation and therapeutic.

Participants identified beneficial effects of the SAS that were consistent with the evidence for other self-management strategies. The identified benefits also aligned with existing theories suggesting that the SAS functioned as a restorative environment. This study is the first to explore the experience of art in a multisensory and multidimensional capacity, which further contributes to the growing field of receptive engagement with the arts for health outcomes.

  • arts In health/arts and health
  • design
  • mental health care
  • public health
  • medical humanities

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  • Contributors This is an outline of who contributed what to the planning, conduct and reporting of the work. (1) The planning, study design and ethics application for this study was directed by the entire research team (all authors). (2) The intervention (sensory-art space) was designed and created by BC. (3) Data gathering was carried out by (BC). (4) Analysis was carried out by BC and supported with regular peer review by the other authors (CJ, KH and ML). (5) Preparation of the manuscript was directed by BC and supported with regular peer review by the other authors (CJ, KH and ML).

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval Ethical approval was granted by the Human Research Ethics Committee at the university (Approval Number H-2016–0214).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.