There is growing international acceptance of the notion that participation in the creative arts can be beneficial for well-being and health. For over 30 years practical arts for health projects have been developed to support health care and promote health and well-being in communities. An increasing body of evaluation and research evidence lends weight to the value of such initiatives. However, the field of arts and health is complex and multi-faceted and there are challenges in moving beyond 'practice-based' research, towards building a progressive body of knowledge that can provide a basis for future 'evidence-based' practice in health care and public health. This paper reviews some of the population-level evidence from epidemiological studies on cultural participation and health, before considering research on active initiatives that draw on the creative arts in health care settings and communities to support health and well-being. The notion of a hierarchy of evidence is discussed in relation to arts for health initiatives and a plea is made for recognising the value of concrete case studies, qualitative research and the testimonies of participants and professionals alike in assessing both the value of creative arts activities and for understanding their impacts. Nevertheless, the need for robust controlled studies with precise measurable health outcomes is clear if we are to move towards the scaling up of arts interventions to achieve public health-level impacts from creative arts participation. A brief account of the current programme of research on singing and health that is underway at the Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health is presented as a possible model for future research on arts and health.