Dr. David Fakunle is the Co-Founder & CEO, DiscoverME/RecoverME: Enrichment Through the African Oral Tradition. He is also a Kaiser Research Fellow, Morgan State University School of Community Health & Policy. Dr. Fakunle spoke with UF Center for Arts in Medicine’s Operations Manager Kimberlee Campbell-Smith after the Creating Healthy Communities: Arts + Public Health in America convening in Washington DC. This event is presented by the University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine, in partnership with ArtPlace America, the Georgetown Lombardi Arts & Humanities Program, and the Johns Hopkins University International Arts + Mind Lab.
Q. What was the issue at the heart of your provocation?
A. One of my life’s purposes is to “disrupt and destroy the system.” In the space of Creating Healthy Communities I spoke my truth as someone fortunate to actively occupy the spaces of public health, arts and culture, and someone who is intentional about exhibiting a model of health – as a practitioner, researcher and advocate – in which arts and culture is inherent and elemental to the healing of communities.
Arts and culture is public health and the sooner we elevate the process of reconnecting what should have never been separated, the better our collective efforts of healing society will be.
Q. What question or challenge did you pose to the group?
A. Any questions asked hopefully encouraged the group to be critical of this notion that the validity of art and culture’s application to health must be tested through some rigorous, yet ultimately arbitrary, empirical process. Not every phenomenon can be explained by this approach because it is a constrained perspective. We must admit that the primary reason this method is considered the gold standard is because it was proliferated right along with institutional racism and all its manifestations.
I think about the elders with Parkinson’s disease who graced us with their presence on the first day. When I saw their movements and the freedom with which they danced, I could not care less about how it worked. I cared only that those who were previously convinced that their disease would confine them to a life of restriction could be the best versions of themselves. No peer-reviewed article or randomized controlled trial could convince me more than what I saw with my own eyes and what I heard with my own ears: their stories.
Q. Why is it important at this time?
A. We are experiencing a generational shift that is causing serious reconsiderations about how the world works. Politics is one of the immediate spaces we notice, but we are also seeing it in other spaces including health. There is a rejection to how things have been because it is not working for us. With each new generation that becomes the majority, there comes with them the chance for a different ideology. It is no surprise that you see more people finding solace in “non-medicalized” health approaches such as yoga and meditation. Health is experiential and as unique to each person as the person themself. Therefore, unique non-restrictive methods that address people’s needs beyond the physical are needed, and welcome.
Q. If you were to offer a call to action, what would it be? To whom?
A. My call of action would be to any local, state or federal agency, any philanthropic organization or any health company that is interested and/or committed to the utilization of arts and culture in health: DO IT! In many cases, the only accountability for these entities is to themselves, and I see that as an opportunity to truly break out of the status quo and be progressive change agents about how we as a society perceive and address health. However, it takes courage and it takes a willingness to be uncomfortable and relinquish some of your power. That leads me to my second call: DO NOT RECREATE THE WHEEL! There are plenty of arts organizations and artists for which healing is an inherent part of their mission and work. The decision to be a willing partner that genuinely and equitably elevates the impact of an artist or arts organization is beneficial for everyone involved, especially those that can be most helped by the arts. That means don’t just throw a few dollars their way, it means help with the infrastructure if necessary, promote sustainability, be an active and unapologetic ally.