IMAGE: KATOOMBA STREET ART GALLERY, BLUE MOUNTAINS
The Street Art Walk is a dynamic, community-driven cultural treasure of the Blue Mountains, created by Street Art Murals Australia (SAMA) in partnership with the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, University of Western Sydney and relevant stakeholders in the Beverly Place precinct. This example of cross sector collaboration resulted when in 2013 local resident Dave Riley suggested painting murals in this laneway to SAMA’s founder Jarrod Wheatley. SAMA worked for 18 months meeting legal, heritage, planning and stakeholder requirements. The space was launched in June 2015 after being initially resourced through a highly successful crowd funding campaign, to which 135 individuals contributed.
While the following blog article is based on a US NOAH White Paper (2019), the role of arts and culture and cross sector collaboration is alive and well in Australia, as the above project demonstrates, working closely with the Mountains Youth Services team. However as research into health policy documents show, and despite the Australian Government’s 2013 National Arts and Health Framework, this area is still underdeveloped in the health sector.
White Paper 2019
Creating healthy communities through exploring the intersections of public health, arts and culture, and community development
NOAH (National Organisation for the Arts and Health)
CALL TO ACTION
- Recognize arts and culture as a valuable and available resource, and engage the sector as a critical partner in advancing health in the U.S. This call recognizes that while the public health sector values partnership, the arts and culture sector has not been formally identified as a target partner. As a result, its assets have not been fully utilized in public health practice.
- This call also recognizes that the public health, community development, and arts and culture sectors innately work to improve the human condition. This core shared mission, along with the unique expertise of each sector, stands ready to unite the sectors in strengthening and advancing their work.
- In addition to emergent efforts in public health, fields such as community development, education, urban planning, arts in health, anthropology, psychology, and social work have developed research practices and interventions that use arts and culture to elevate and alter structural and societal realities to advance well-being. These fields provide models, partnership opportunities, and pathways forward in what many are calling the “fifth wave of public health”
- Arts and culture can expose root issues, incorporate and amplify the voices and concerns of those who have been underrepresented, and change our very interpretation and configuration of a given health reality—bringing new and necessary dimensions into focus. As expressions of individual, community, and sociocultural experience, arts and culture represent fundamental practices of knowledge-generation, experience, and connection
WHITE PAPER RECOMMENDATIONS
- Get to know local arts and cultural assets. Initiate discovery meetings with local or regional arts councils, local arts organizations, artists, and community culture bearers. Plan to listen and learn, and discuss shared issues and goals.
- Co-locate health and social services with arts and cultural activity. As seen in the Village of Arts and Humanities in Philadelphia, PA, and the Jackson Medical Mall in Jackson, Mississippi, integrating arts programming into existing community centers or health clinics can increase access and engagement, and create immediate improvements in health outcomes.
- Look to local arts and cultural artifacts for answers. New research initiatives often fail to recognize that communities have already answered their questions through other means— such as through arts and cultural expression (Golden, 2019). This oversight results in distrust among residents, and perpetuates inequitable valuations of knowledge. Learn to identify and interpret existing art and cultural artifacts as sources of information for needs assessments and program planning, and partner with local artists for training in this approach.
- Support local grassroots efforts. Identify and elevate the work being undertaken by local artists and culture bearers. Establish equitable and reciprocal relationships, and consider how sponsorship, partnership, or other public health resources could support existing community-led initiatives and lead
- Partner with local artists and arts organizations on the design and implementation of interventions. Community-based arts organizations and artists can drive program innovation, access, and participation. They can also help you build community relationships and communicate in personally and culturally relevant ways in your programs. Artists and arts practices can also increase the inclusivity and cultural responsiveness of conventional approaches to health interventions and research.
- Advocate for inclusion of arts and culture in health policy frameworks. Community members, public health professionals, and artists can all participate in this advocacy.
- Employ local artists on research teams, from design to dissemination. Many artists have cultivated practices of deep and methodical inquiry. They are highly adept at managing complexity and ambiguity and can be helpful in formulating research questions. In keeping with equity advancement, be sure to acknowledge and compensate their expertise.
COMPARING USA AND AUSTRALIA
The USA is a vastly different country to Australia. Whereas Australia’s population is 25 million stretched across 7.7 km2, the USA ‘s population is over 330 million stretched across 700,000 km2. It is the third largest country in the world and the world’s largest economy worth $22.32 trillion compared to Australia’s $1.89 trillion. The USA is also marked by the greatest concentration of wealth, with the top 1% owning more wealth than the bottom 80%. The USA is arguably beset by more problems of racism, social violence and social inequality, including access to health services, than Australia.
However we share some characteristics. We are both immigrant nations built on the dispossession of the original indigenous people with their own unique cultures and artistic heritages and a continuing legacy of racism and inequity affecting those peoples. We are both multicultural societies, grappling with how to both acknowledge and respect cultural and ethnic difference, and yet build socially coherent and inclusive communities. We both share a legacy of British cultural institutions, including the legacy of silo-based professions and institutional policy and governmental frameworks, which have inhibited a holistic response to the lived actual experience of communities. Both the USA and Australia place a high value on innovation, with arguably the USA leading the world in many aspects of technological innovation and its social and economic impacts, which are focusing more and more attention on the connections and intersections between old policy and professional silos, and the need for more cross-sector collaboration.
If you research Health NSW, you will find that there is no policy articulation of any link with the arts and culture sector as a way of thinking about improving health outcomes. So this area is rich for advocacy.
QUESTIONS FOR THE GREATER BLUE MOUNTAINS
What do the recommendations of the US NOAH (National Organisation for Arts and Health) look like in the context of the Greater Blue Mountains as a field of cultural practice and the creative arts?
What sort of connections exist between our creative arts sector and the NSW Nepean Blue Mountains Health District which is responsible for providing community health and hospital care for people living in the Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury, Lithgow and Penrith Local Government Areas (LGAs) and tertiary care to residents of the Greater Western Region.
The District consists of both urban and semi-rural areas, covering almost 9,179 square kilometres and an estimated resident population of almost 350,000 people. The Darug, Gundungurra and Wiradjuri people are acknowledged as the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land in the District (health.nsw.gov.au).
The following extracts have been taken from the 2019 NOAH White Paper
ARTS AND CULTURE
The term “arts and culture” involves a range of creative aesthetic expressions and identities, including those that may not always fit within dominant interpretations of “art” (i.e., situated within museums, theaters, concert halls).
Arts and cultural expressions and practices are a vehicle through which individuals and communities form culture in the anthropological sense—beliefs, identities, worldviews, and values.
Meaningful artistic and cultural activity can occur in community centers, places of worship, parks, public streets, and other spaces. Arts and culture extend beyond attendance or consumption of arts performances, exhibits or classes. They include making, learning, playing, and engaging in various creative, aesthetic, or cultural activities. These activities may center around formal and informal art forms (i.e. the visual, narrative and performing arts), culinary and spiritual practices, various forms of craftsmanship, and celebrations of local places, histories and holidays.
Arts and cultural traditions and practices provide critical opportunities for meaning-making, emotional connection, and expressions of creativity and imagination. Cultural practices help build the social connections that make communities vibrant and resilient, and can help with catharsis and healing.
Arts and culture reflect and reinforce social norms, but they can also shine a light on problems and unsettle the status quo, providing new ways of seeing or being in the world and stimulating or sustaining the process of change.
The concept of aesthetic experience helps frame what it is about the arts that is both fundamental and instrumental to well-being and health communication. 18th century German philosopher Alexander Baumgarten coined the term “aesthetics,” emphasizing the experience of art as a form of knowing and a means of conveying truth. This idea reflects the long-apparent human behavior of using artistic and aesthetic mechanisms (formalization, repetition, exaggeration, elaboration, etc.) to make ordinary moments notable and extraordinary.
Aesthetic experiences thus feel distinctly different from mundane experiences. They often involve highly focused awareness on the present moment; a sense of beauty, awe, strong emotion, or identification; and opportunities to see oneself or the world differently in meaningful and lasting ways. These experiences shape development, including one’s identity and responses to the world. In addition, the neuropathways created through aesthetic conditioning can have significant implications— predicting behavior, health, and wellbeing across the lifespan and subsequent generations.
Finally, aesthetic experiences—including those rooted in the arts—have the ability to shift perspectives and to generate shared symbolic systems that motivate and transform individual and collective behaviors
The elicitation of emotion, empathy, and understanding through narrative is a key element in the expression of culture and health. Stories illuminate individual and community experiences and values in a holistic manner, making complex realities more understandable. In addition, the sharing of narrative provides both entre and a high level of insight into varied realities, and into the experiences of those living within them.
The arts provide forms and frames through which narrative is shared, including poetry, storytelling, music, theater, drawing, or dance. The sharing of narrative in turn generates increased community capacity for healing, resilience, and social cohesion. In addition, since they create access to narratives, the arts contribute to more equitable research and evaluation methodologies. By integrating arts- and culture-based practices into research, public health professionals can better identify, develop, and sustain solutions that are relevant and effective for the populations they serve.
THE ARTS AND INTERGENERATIONAL TRAUMA
The concepts of intergenerational and collective trauma (for example characteristic of Australia’s Indigenous peoples and many refugee communities) refer to traumatic experiences that permeate communities that share history, identity, or a sense of place.
Three symptoms of collective trauma are tied to place:
- erosion of social networks, trust, and the ability to take action for change;
- destruction, dilapidation, and disinvestment in the built environment, as well as displacement due to forced relocation and gentrification
- inadequate or unequal access to economic and educational opportunities.
Artistic and cultural expressions—from performances or exhibits to murals in public spaces—can reflect, magnify, clarify, or reimagine a community’s history and collective experience, including the traumas that have led to systemic inequities and health disparities. Similarly, community-engaged design projects used in community development, such as changes to landscapes, parks, streetscapes, or buildings, can promote community wellness in response to collective trauma.
Community-based strategies like trauma-informed community building, story circles, or arts-based organizing can rebuild networks and change the narrative about a community.
EXAMPLE OF ZUNI YOUTH ENRICHMENT PROJECT (ZYEP)
ZUNI PUEBLO, NEW MEXICO | 2015-2018 The recently completed three-acre Ho’n A:wan Park and community center is located in the heart of Zuni’s main village. It was designed to cultivate a sense of belonging among youth that is rooted in awareness of and pride in Zuni traditional culture. The resulting positive youth development in turn counters the effects of intergenerational trauma, including poverty, obesity, diabetes, substance abuse and youth suicide. Created through a partnership between the ZYEP, local artists, and community members, this culture-based community development initiative receives sponsorship from the New Mexico Department of Health and The American Academy of Pediatrics, among other funders. It models the value of addressing trauma through and with community-centered arts and culture.
Wellbeing is a complex and subjective construct, often framed in relation to satisfaction with life, sense of purpose and fulfilment, control, competence, mastery and autonomy, self- realization, connectedness, and affect. Arts and cultural activities offer many of the ingredients of wellbeing as they provide opportunities for social engagement and connection, enjoyment, learning, mastery, meaning-making, and self-actualization. Similarly, social cohesion, agency, stewardship, and change in narrative—all supported by arts and culture—are recognized as important qualities of community as well as pre-conditions for community development and longer-term change.
More specifically, participation in arts and cultural activities is increasingly being associated with improved health and wellbeing, healthier aging, and the strengthening of communities.
The central mission of the community development sector is to make places more liveable, healthy, supportive, and equitable. The sector works to strengthen communities and contribute to health equity through investments, planning and development activities, and programs that enhance the built environment and infrastructure (both urban and rural).
Given that its work involves helping communities preserve and build upon their cultural traditions, it has also long partnered with the arts and culture sector. This sector’s history provides significant, timely examples of successful multisector collaboration—including the use and integration of arts and culture to advance equity and population health.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PLACE
The term “creative placemaking” provides a link between arts and culture and the urban planning concept of “placemaking.” This concept, which centers on the formation and impacts of place, has long been used to discourage large-scale, top-down planning. It instead urges the design and promotion of locally informed, human- centric approaches.
Launched in 2017, Creating Healthy Communities: Arts + Placemaking in America has built a comprehensive agenda to translate knowledge and evidence into practice and policy. Epidemiological studies demonstrate that engagement in arts and cultural activities enhances immune response, longevity, and well-being, among other outcomes
ArtPlace America is a ten-year collaboration of foundations, federal agencies, and financial institutions working to position arts and culture as a core sector of community planning and development in order to achieve equitable, healthy, and sustainable communities in which all residents have a voice and agency.
Issues at the core of our collective health and wellbeing, such as trauma, racism, and mental health tie directly to social and structural determinants of health, indicating that collective action is required to address them.
- Throughout human history, the arts have been used to accomplish the very things public health is currently challenged to do: support well-being, create social connection, spark and sustain movements, communicate across difference, and transform systems and cultures.
Health must be woven throughout the fabric of social life, including policy, education, and sociocultural norms. Arts and culture are critical to this integrating process. They are critical because they have the power to connect people, expose root issues, center underrepresented voices and concerns, and shift sociocultural norms and collective behaviors.
Aesthetic experiences are fundamental to human meaning-making and identity formation. They can shift perspectives and generate shared meanings that motivate and transform individual and collective behaviors.
As arts and culture blends into new media, and as technology increases the reach and diversity of ideas, arts and culture help people connect, mobilize, and organize for change in new ways and at unprecedented speeds.
- Place and environment have long been prominent in arts and cultural production. Neighborhoods, cities, small towns, villages, and ancestral homelands are consistent subjects of (or inspirations for) creative expression. The works of artists, designers, and tradition-bearers have for centuries been brought to bear to shape and reshape localities, settings, gathering places, and whole communities
STEPS FOR CROSS SECTOR COLLABORATION
- Co-locate health and social services with arts and cultural activity.
- Partner with arts organizations and artists on design and implementation of interventions.
- Hire local artists to work on research teams, from design to dissemination.
- Look to existing local art and cultural artifacts for answers to research questions.
- Co-develop priority and core outcomes for cross-sector work.
- Coordinate joint convenings at the local, state, and national levels.
- Advocate for inclusion of arts and culture in health policies.