Researchers, staff, and students from the UF Center for Arts in Medicine launched an online repository to elevate arts-based responses to racism.
The searchable, open-access database allows anyone to explore or submit artwork, articles, projects, organizations, and individuals who are using arts practices to raise awareness, amplify marginalized voices, facilitate dialogue, or promote action and change related to anti-racism.
Natalie Rella, communications coordinator, said the idea stemmed from the center’s existing COVID-19 repository, which similarly captured how artists were responding worldwide to a public health crisis.
Through the Center for Arts in Medicine’s Creating Healthy Communities: Arts + Public Health in America initiative with ArtPlace America, scholars and artists recognized racism as a public health crisis in a white paper published in 2019.
“As we know, artists are influencers. And, the arts are essential to our individual and collective wellbeing,” says Jill Sonke, the director of the Center for Arts in Medicine. “The arts connect us. They uncover and illuminate issues. They challenge assumptions and call out injustice. And they influence collective action. The kind of collective action we need to address both COVID-19 and racism today.”
With more recent protests, police brutality resulting in murders, and a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, creating a repository focused on anti-racism was an easy next step to amplify important voices, Rella said.
“Racism as a public health issue has been a crisis for 400 years,” Rella said. “But with the murder of George Floyd, there was new momentum. As we saw with COVID-19, artists responding to the crisis organically bubbled up, calling for change. It’s another example of how the arts can respond to public health crises.”
With some funding earmarked for anti-racism initiatives by the College of the Arts dean’s office and the center’s existing partnership with the web designers at Olive Street Design, Rella and her team quickly adapted the COVID-19 repository to activate a new space.
It was crucial to the team that the site served a specific and real mission: foster cross-sector collaboration and uplift the arts as a tool for pushing forward the efforts of public health around racism.
To do so, the team had to be intentional about the curation process. The Center for Arts in Medicine’s interdisciplinary research lab, led by research coordinator and graduate assistant Nicole Morgan, developed criteria and tags for the content in the repository. Students are currently helping to add and tag existing content as well as review submissions that can be made on the site.
“The lab was really instrumental in crafting the criteria for the examples that are going to go live on the site and in curating content to make sure that it is within the shared vision that we have,” Morgan said.
Part of the challenge was defining the time span of work to be included, given that addressing racism through art isn’t new. But Morgan and Rella wanted the space to be an active resource that speaks to our current moment.
“We are seeing a new galvanized perspective,” Morgan said, “and we’re trying to identify the most recent work that helps move this perspective forward, as opposed to maybe more conventional means of addressing diversity or multiculturalism that existed before but weren’t really substantial enough.”
Some of the repository's entries include an article on how Arab women use slam poetry to fight racism and patriarchy and a connection to the design lab Amplifier that builds art to amplify the voices of grassroots movements.
The projects demonstrate how the arts and culture play a role in the “fifth wave” of public health, a new paradigm in the health sector emphasizing the need for cultural change. The Creating Healthy Communities through Cross-Sector Collaboration white paper states, “health must be woven throughout the fabric of social life, including policy, education, and sociocultural norms.”
“The arts have always been kind of a conduit for the culture to speak or a conduit to reflect upon the culture in a way that allows for critique,” Morgan said.
For the marginalized communities that the repository aims to uplift, Morgan said there’s an added element of catharsis.
“Racism as a public health issue is embedded in an experience of trauma,” she said. “And art is a powerful tool for grounding people in their experience so that they can evaluate and discuss very tough issues, tenuous issues, in a meaningful way.”
Souza, a third-year health-science major and arts in medicine certificate student, said that artwork and design have become increasingly important as advocates continue to utilize social media to grab attention and call people to action.
“Sometimes people express themselves better through photos or through paintings or even poems,” she said. “Being able to tell those stories in a way that can evoke emotion can spread information about what’s happening in the world in a much quicker way.”
Lores, a fourth-year visual art studies major in the School of Art and Art History, said the repository focuses on uplifting grassroots efforts, whose leaders are critical to making change.
“A lot of grassroots representatives were recently elected to Congress,” Lores said. “I think it speaks to the time that we’re in now. These are people who really understand the problems of society and the problems that minorities especially are facing. It’s an important parallel to the work represented in the repository.”
As an artist, Lores said the repository is also a space for research and inspiration.
“It’s also a way to showcase your stand on the movement and what you think about racism and the state of our country,” she said.
The repository is currently live, and the team is welcoming new submissions.
“This is an opportunity, a place that people whose voices are historically marginalized, can put their work,” Rella said. “And that work can be lifted up, shared, and hopefully amplified. And maybe even collaborations can come of it.”
Explore the Anti-Racism Repository.
Learn more about the Center for Arts in Medicine’s Creating Healthy Communities initiative.
Read the Creating Healthy Communities Through Cross-Sector Collaboration White Paper.