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In the Loop
General News : Apr 10, 2019

Play about healthcare system enriches class curriculum

By Alexa Lore (BSPR ‘19)

A new curriculum allows professors to show students the many different uses and meanings of art. The classes are known as (Un)common Arts courses.

The curriculum allows professors to open a dialogue about how arts can play a role in different aspects of society. In the case of Visiting Research Scholar Dr. Kelley Sams' spring class, the course focuses on the intersection of arts and health.

Sams’ curriculum is created around a play called Mercy Killers.

“All the (Un)common Arts classes focus on one piece of art,” Sams said. “I love teaching it. I was told to build a course that built up to Mercy Killers. I’ve tried to make it rigorous but also fun.”

The play follows an “average conservative man” and his battle against the American healthcare system while his wife is dying from cancer. The play was featured as part of the Staging Wellness Festival hosted by the UF Center for Arts in Medicine and Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts among others. 

“I want the students to open their eyes about the healthcare system in the U.S. and how difficult it is for people,” Sams said. “The healthcare system here can really ruin people’s lives, and I want this work to impassion people to make changes. The point of this class is that I want people to have an understanding of how arts can have such an impact in communicating the way that nothing else can. Reaching their hearts instead of just their brains.”

LiAna Patterson, a cognitive behavioral neuroscience and applied physiology and kinesiology major, said the play allowed her to see how hard the medical system has made it for the “common man” to take care of themselves and everyone they love.

The course is heavily discussion-based and focuses on finding answers to questions such as “how do we make sure we stay well?” These questions are an essential part of the human experience. By studying creative work that investigates questions related to illness and care, this course focuses on some of the broader issues surrounding healthcare and how these have been addressed through the arts.

Alejandra Nunez, a second year psychology major, thought Mercy Killers was important to view because it allows people to humanize a situation and puts it in a more personal setting.

The Staging Wellness Festival included two performances of Mercy Killers as well as performances by psychiatrist and pianist Richard Kogan and the play From Colored to Black which was written by UF alumna Brittney Caldwell (MFA Theatre ‘18) and produced by Center for Arts in Medicine Lecturer Jeffrey Pufahl.

The festival is part of a larger initiative with ArtPlace America called Creating Healthy Communities: Arts and Public Health in America, focused on building stronger and healthier communities at the intersections of arts and public health.

Learn more about Creating Health Communities here.