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The Intersection of Art, Culture & Public Health



2020 taught us to find creative solutions to emerging problems. 2020 taught us to take calculated risks and activate agility. 2020 taught us that art heals. We used the arts to amplify public health guidance, spread useful information, and provide socially distanced engagement that kept the public going when all hope was lost. This year the creatives aided in dissemination of public health guidance while reducing the harm of the environmental traumas we are living through. This year art served as a voice on the streets. This year ended an era and started a new age. It served as reminders amidst an uprising across this nation. It called to humanity in the face of extreme hate. But we made it to the end of this year. And we can go boldly into our next endeavors and continue to create. Being able to still serve as the Executive Director of Artist Working in Education, Inc. sharpened my focus on advancing healing art spaces.


This means creating a pipeline to the creative economy for all our artists while cultivating community. This is our call to action in 2021.

How do we build trust while establishing streams of revenue for creatives to work and thrive?


Relationships move at the speed of trust. In our work, we’ve seen far too many working relationships stand still because there is no trust in the environment. There are times when things get hard. In these times people entrenched in a dispute become paralyzed by the impasse. Eventually people stop performing effectively. How do we move past the impasse?

The smartest way to move towards solutions is through conflict transformation to reestablish trust.


The measurable impact of creativity.

  • A student involved in the arts is four times more likely to be successful in academic achievement.

  • Students who take four years of arts and music classes average almost 100 points higher on their SAT scores than students who take only one-half year or less.

  • 72% of business leaders say that creativity is the number one skill they are seeking when hiring.

Our work is focused on access. We believe everyone deserves access to the creative economy pipeline. Community members have the right to practice self determination while honing the necessary skills to become a creative professional. We don’t see these as soft skills, we value creativity as a core skill. Application of innovation is a key component of success.


No matter the sector, we need to remove barriers.

  • Inequities: ⅓ of K-12 students in WI have inequitable access to virtual learning.

  • Seeking Safety: Community violence builds barriers to cultivating community.

By providing access, engaging in skill building we equip ourselves to be earners. Creativity boosts job success and performance. Preparing a creative workforce will improve the creative economy. Businesses should be creating sustainable jobs in creative industries to maintain their agility.


Elevating the culture is necessary to move the needle. What does culture mean to you? What does community mean? I believe there is an othering vs. belonging behavior that shows up uniquely in the arts. It resides in the fine art vs. folk art valuation. Culture is not a monolith. Culture in the arts is a spectrum. The inequity that lies within the interpretation of culture is a source of latent conflict. The experience of the creatives in the face of COVID has been excruciating. We declared racism a public health crisis, but it co-occurred with a pandemic. We pushed through the most toxic political environment I’ve witnessed in my life. Amidst this storm we somehow manifested joy from within. Decisions are still being made in silos. But some of us have intentionally leaned in and committed to collaborate. More of us need to do the same. The creative community is equipped to move us beyond tolerance. We must desegregate our arts engagement.


What if we imagined a world where everyone was inherently creative? How would our economy change if we saw the strength in people that innovate for longer than short term contracts to solve short term problems? When are we going to establish the arts sector and abolish the starving artist narrative?


Art is getting us through a public health crisis. The world turned to the arts this year. It’s all people had to hold on to. We were isolated in our own homes, and not all our homes were safe places. How ironic that something we’ve been trying to prevent in public health became the solution in a pandemic. Social isolation significantly contributes to depression. But we were charged to stay inside for our health. This unintended outcome impacts us all. Noone is excluded from the effects of these environmental conditions. Our children aren’t developing the necessary skills to function in social networks. Without in person engagement we are not increasing the emotional intelligence of our youth.


You can’t stop art. Creatives got creative. We found ways to connect and maintain social connectivity through these tough times. Businesses had to channel their creativity to remain relevant. Schools struggled to meet access needs, but creativity in philanthropy and service organizations filled as many gaps as possible on short notice. The work isn’t over. But we stand ready in the creative community to reduce harm and contribute to the joy families deserve to have. We will need a ready customer base and philanthropic community.


So where should we go from here? These are some simple preliminary recommendations for cities to examine to ensure creative economy is funded and opportunities can be amplified:

  • We must infuse the arts & culture sector into our public health practices to reach the public and incentivize staying at home.

  • We must honor the parts of our cultures that dominant culture continues to oppress.

  • The art & culture sector needs to be equally funded in the workforce.

  • The funding community should continue to contribute to the intersection of art and health and support creative community development that amplifies dignity in neighborhoods.

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