On Thursday, August 12, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published two field guides aimed at helping public health professionals partner with artists and arts and cultural organizations to increase COVID-19 vaccine confidence.
University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine Director Dr. Jill Sonke served as subject matter expert to the CDC Vaccine Confidence and Demand Team on the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force and as the lead author of the guides. The publications provide guidance and resources on how to engage cross-sector collaborations with arts and culture as a valuable partner in promoting COVID-19 vaccine confidence and uptake.
“Communities across America are rich with arts and cultural assets that people turn to in both good and challenging times,” Sonke writes. “Partnerships that utilize the knowledge and strengths of both the public health and arts and culture sectors can empower and accelerate vaccine confidence and uptake.”
The evidence-based publications emphasize that artists and culture-bearers are trusted communicators who can connect with people in ways that resonate more deeply than traditional public health communication. Sonke explains that because the arts are rooted in culture and place, they can tailor vaccine information to specific populations and make it more personally and culturally relevant.
We see this happening on the national stage as celebrities endorse vaccinations, like 18-year-old pop star Olivia Rodrigo visiting the White House in July to encourage young people to get the shot.
Partnering with local artists, community influencers, and cultural organizations is an important response to the current state of the pandemic as the highly contagious delta variant poses serious threats to the unvaccinated and the White House calls for a localized approach to increasing vaccinations.
“Public health has a strong, successful relationship with the arts to promote health education in the U.S.,” said Louise E. Shaw, curator with the David J. Sencer CDC Museum. “Based on these precedents, we know that artists can play an important role in sharing fact-based information about preventing the spread of COVID-19 and helping build public confidence to get vaccinated.”
Sonke’s work with the CDC began in June of this year and is part of a larger CDC collaboration between arts and public health entities, including the National Endowment for the Arts and Say "YES" Summer Series in Georgia.
This ongoing series of pop-up vaccination events across the state is meant to rally communities to get vaccinated and stop the rising case count of COVID-19 through a national-to-local collaboration between local artists and performers, the CDC, Georgia Department of Public Health, and others.
Award-winning experimental art company DASH, known for redefining space with non-traditional exhibitions, is among the organizations involved.
DASH will present a large-scale public artwork called “Back to NOW” on August 18 that overlooks Centennial Yard, Castleberry Hill and Downtown Atlanta. “Back to NOW” features a 50-foot text-based projection by Nikita Gale, a conceptual artist of global success who was raised in Atlanta.
“This project is important to me because it literally hits close to home,” Gale said. “I have many family members and friends living in Atlanta, and we know what the facts are: nearly 100% of COVID-related deaths occurring today are in unvaccinated populations.”
While cross-sector collaboration between public health and arts and culture is standard practice in many parts of the world, it is not yet in the United States. However, Sonke explains these types of partnerships are not entirely new.
To showcase successful examples of partnerships and connect organizations and professionals, the UF Center for Arts in Medicine launched the Vaccine Confidence Arts Response Repository in partnership with the CDC.
This open-access resource documents recent projects, organizations and professionals using arts and culture-based approaches to promote COVID-19 vaccine confidence and demand.
The Center for Arts in Medicine’s communications coordinator Natalie Rella led the development of the repository. She said its goal is to foster cross-sector collaboration and offer an online platform for public health professionals to find promising practice examples and professional contacts for engaging arts and culture in public health vaccination efforts.
To help people put the guides and repository to practice in their communities, the Center for Arts in Medicine is also hosting a webinar with the CDC and the National Endowment for the Arts on August 24 at 2 p.m.
The Trusted Messengers Trusted Spaces webinar, which is being produced by the UF Digital Worlds Institute, will feature speakers from the CDC, the National Endowment for the Arts and several arts-based organizations involved in COVID-19 vaccine confidence.
Interested participants can register for the free webinar to learn more and be part of the conversation.
"In communities and across cultures, the arts are central to how people communicate, make meaning, and drive collective action and social change,” Sonke said. “Like public health professionals, artists and culture-bearers work to create healthier and more equitable communities. To get us to the other side of this pandemic sooner than later, the power of their combined strengths is needed more than ever."