Natalia Macker, Vice-Chair of the Teton County Board of County Commissioners, spoke to the University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine about her provocation at the Creating Healthy Communities: Arts + Public health in America convening in Austin, Texas. The assembly was in partnership with ArtPlace America and the National Organization for Arts in Health. Macker’s provocation addressed three major questions:
"Do we have a responsibility to consider the health needs of the artists as a population who we are inviting to participate?"
"How can the intersection of arts and public health help keep the focus on the population and desired outcomes and transcend the morality debate of the day?"
"What if people working at the intersection of arts and public health were the policymakers and what if we ran for office?"
Q. When you were thinking about these topics, what was the underpinning question?
A. I think the underbelly of it for me was because of my personal background, which is as a theatre artist, and now I am a local elected official. As an artist you might be, "Oh, I'm an artist, I don’t know anything about government," or "I don’t know what art has to do with my professional life.”
I have transitioned into the role of being a policymaker and making some of these decisions. Before I was in this role, it was easier to sit in my office or sit in my theatre and just say, "Wow, this should really be like this, or wouldn’t it be cool if they over there were doing this?", I think we have to particularly—I would say from the art side—recognize that we are the ones that need to do it. I think it was a challenge to maybe not always try to make and justify our work in a sphere that is often very much based on data.
Q. Why do think this is important at this time?
A. I think it has to do with the second part of my provocation, which is how the arts might allow us to take public health issues that can be very divisive in different ways. I would take some of that personally because some of those public health issues are more impactful for women, more morality is laid on some of the issues that impact women, particularly around reproductive health and access to reproductive health. Having an opportunity to use the arts to build empathy and to transcend some of those overly politicized pieces of health or healthcare or access to healthcare.
I think this is a great tool for us to start because the arts are very much about seeing things from someone else's perspective. So if we can do that we could try to shift some of those conversations that have become very based in morality into a new plane, and it gives policymakers, healthcare professionals, and everyday citizens a new toolbox with which to communicate about these issues.
Q. If you were to offer a call to action, what would it be and to whom?
A. Today my broader call to action would be for policymakers, not necessarily the people in public health, but for policymakers to recognize that the tools we have been using have not produced the results we want, and to open the door to inviting new people to the table.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
A. Until we can make further progress on expanding access to healthcare for individuals in our country, asking people to work in a health or public health sphere, who may not have adequate healthcare themselves, is deeply troublesome for me. I think that as someone who is married to an artist and has friends who are artists that have difficulty accessing health insurance and subsequently healthcare because of cost or other reasons, that fundamental challenge makes it hard for me to want as an elected official to invite a group of artist to participate in a public process, if I know that their needs are not being met for the issue that I am hoping to use them to do something.
My perception would be that through this work we are inviting the results, the people, the involvement into the public square and the public sphere with this type of work, which is going to elevate or focus on results and outcomes and outputs and effectiveness.
I'm hopeful that it is one of the ways in which we could start to turn a page that maybe a hundred or a hundred and fifty years from now when we look at the landscape of our democracy it looks different because we did work like this, at this point in time. The way the people are able to participate and the way that we don’t just try to put government programs or agencies or art agencies into little boxes and tell everyone to stay in their corner. That is instead, we embrace the wonderful diversity of human beings.