Creating Healthy Communities: Arts + Public Health in America

Creating Health Communities Working Group

Jill Sonke stood before a captivated audience of researchers, healthcare officials, museum directors and artists convening for a discussion of Arts in Medicine at Johns Hopkins University.  Sonke, Director of the University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine, presented an impressive body of work—over two decades of painstaking development of academic and clinical departments dedicated to infusing the arts into healthcare.  She was ready to take her insights and experience to the next level and make an impact nationally. “We want to make arts in public health a ‘thing’,” she explained. The result was the launch of a two-year national initiative called Creating Healthy Communities:  Arts + Public Health in America.

Making Arts in Public Health a Priority

Led by Sonke at the UF Center for Arts in Medicine and Jamie Bennett and Jamie Hand of ArtPlace America, Creating Healthy Communities launched in May 2018.  The initiative is a massive cross-sector collaboration between arts, public health and community development leaders to accelerate innovation to build healthy communities in alignment with national public health goals.  Sonke shared the roadmap of how the group intends to push the field forward through four phases:  1. collaboration and knowledge building, 2. discovery and mapping of the evidence, 3. a translation project to propel evidence into practice and policy and 4. robust dissemination of project findings and resources.

“Over the past several decades, evidence has mounted to demonstrate that the arts have positive and measurable impacts on individual and community health, yet their applications are under-investigated and inconsistently recognized in the public health sector. As a result, the arts remain a readily available, yet highly underutilized resource in public health.”

~Creating Healthy Communities: Arts + Public Health in America

Forging Cross-Sector Partnerships

Collaboration is well underway, with eight working sessions scheduled between the summer of 2018 and early 2019.  This past October, as a pre-meeting to the 2018 NOAH Conference, an international roster of participants gathered in Austin, TX to share best practice models of arts in public health and discuss the successes and challenges of past and future initiatives.

Among the participants was Susan Magsamen, Executive Director of the International Arts + Mind Lab (IAM Lab) at Johns Hopkins University. For Magsamen, who also serves on the advisory board of Creating Healthy Communities, this working group underscored the importance of the arts, particularly in communities of need.  “One of the patterns we saw is that the arts are the thing that’s missing in delivering high-quality services in communities of need. The ability for the arts to transcend everyday experiences to create passion, empathy, self-confidence, agency, a sense of purpose and meaning is unparalleled.” The IAM Lab, in partnership with the UF Center for Arts in Medicine, ArtPlace America, the Georgetown Lombardi Arts and Humanities Program, will present the fourth working group scheduled to take place in Washington, DC on January 17-18, 2019.

“The ability for the arts to transcend everyday experiences to create passion, empathy, self-confidence, agency, a sense of purpose and meaning is unparalleled.”

~Susan Magsamen, International Arts + Mind Lab

Putting Research into Practice and Policy

Sonke emphasized that beyond the collaboration and networking opportunities, the real promise of the initiative lies with its translational work.  “The focus here is translation and putting the research into practice and policy.” To deliver on this, the UF Center for Arts in Medicine has committed to do the heavy lifting on consolidating and reviewing the literature in two areas:  arts and health communication and arts and wellbeing. The ultimate goal of this exercise is to produce a framework that synthesizes theory, evidence and best practice models, giving arts and public health practitioners research protocols to effectively implement evidence-based practices.  “We want to try to create a core set of outcomes and instruments for the field to use to really drive the quality in arts in public health programming,” explained Sonke.

As a stepping stone to the final product, the initiative plans to launch an open-access research repository in Spring 2019 and publish a white paper in Summer 2019 on Arts in Public Health.

Written and reported by IAM Lab Contributors Megan Howard and Sam Garrett.

Image: Creating Healthy Communities
Art Public Health Wellbeing