Center for Arts in Medicine

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Performing Public Health: Remote Cultures

Hello! By way of brief introduction, we are young professionals collaborating across the country with the University of Florida’s Center for Arts in Medicine’s “COVID-19 Arts Response.” Our collaboration is entitled “Performing Public Health” (PPH) and includes three working groups: AdvisoryRemote Cultures, and Unique Precarities. PPH is contributing to the University of Florida’s Center for Arts in Medicine’s COVID-19 Arts Repository, to chronicle the performance of public health in response to this pandemic. This work highlights how arts-based projects encouraging handwashing, social distancing and wearing masks, as well as unique knowledges, are crucial to resilience and coping.

The Coronavirus pandemic has indeed revealed significant strengths and weaknesses of humanity. On one hand, our resilience is steadfast and enduring within the ever-present distress and uncertainty of this time. But on the other, our disparities are alarmingly punctuated by ongoing and deeply-rooted inequities. This dichotomy is disproportionately presenting itself through varied interpretations and practices of social distancing, a concept we have coined as “remote cultures.”

Remote cultures vary among different populations and communities. Certain remote cultures are practicing social distancing easily, but others are finding adaptations more challenging, and perhaps incompatible with their ways of knowing and being. How each of us faces the pandemic is indeed culturally mediated and for this reason, it is important to identify and present examples of remote cultures by engaging in dialogue for the purpose of education and awareness.

Our work intersects with the field of arts in health in the United States. Artists and arts communities serve vital roles in facilitating human connection, interaction, and communication surrounding the health of communities during this pandemic. Cross-sector collaboration between the public health, community development, and arts and culture sectors is providing evidence-based means to combat the complexity of health-related issues associated with COVID-19. This blog introduces the concept of remote cultures by way of the role of the arts and arts communities to facilitate human connection, towards improving public and community-wide health.

 “Remote Cultures” in the Context of Arts in Health

The individuals showcased in this New York Times article by journalist Gia Kourlas demonstrate how the arts facilitate connection between people despite social distancing. Ryan Heffington’s choreographed version of “Lay Your Head on Me,” was performed remotely by folks featured int the article.  

“I know how much dance has helped me in my life through dire situations and depression and this is the most accessible way . . . It doesn’t cost anything. It’s good for the mind, the body, the soul. If people danced, it would literally change the world and change people and change culture.” - R. Heffington

Heffington’s quote provides impetus to document and explore the ways in which remote cultures, the arts, and health are interacting in response to social distancing. Murals, posters, flyers, and social media content are arising on a global scale to encourage wearing masks, practicing safe distances, and staying home as much as possible; musical parodies about health precautions have taken over the internet!

People around the world are performing public health to expand awareness of COVID-19 issues. However, social distancing is fueling similarities and differences in how each of us experiences the stressors of social distancing. The arts indeed facilitate connection within and between our various remote-culturally mediated responses to the stressors of social distancing, as exemplified via the “Lay Your Head on Me” collaboration. But as we continue practicing remote culturally-mediated responses to this pandemic, how are we moving towards community-wide health? 

Moving Remote Cultures Forward

The intersections of the arts & culture, public health, and community development sectors are proving invaluable at this time, particularly in consideration of the disproportionate effects of the pandemic upon minority communities. The additional stressors of the pandemic have only compounded difficulties in overcoming racism, trauma, and mental health issues. However, awareness, prevention, and management of COVID-19 via this cross-sector collaboration is reimagining social and structural determinants of health through, for example, “creative placemaking.” This process contributes to reductions in distress on a community-wide level, improving health and well-being outcomes across a broad spectrum of populations.

Please consider the following links for details: 

What’s next?

Our team is preparing a conversation series. Our first is an introductory video-based conversation to present the process we’ve engaged thus far. Our second will begin a dialogue between professionals of the arts & culture, public health, and community development sectors using the arts for awareness, prevention, and management of COVID-19. This series is intended as a supplement to efforts of the Creating Healthy Communities network and the University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine.

Call to action

Please visit the links in this blog. Please especially visit our survey, gathering information to develop our conversation series. They are portals to understanding the value of the intersections of arts & culture, public health, and community development. We must continue supporting artists and arts organizations working with the public health and community development sectors. This support incentivizes future generations to see these intersections as fluidly reliant upon one another, preventing future pandemics from occurring and promoting health and well-being for all.


Team Member Bios

Aaron is a 2nd-year PhD student in the University of Florida’s musicology department. He is in the process of proposing his dissertation to study music’s effects upon empathy and social well-being in the healthy aging population. Here’s my personal website.

Katrina is the California representative for the Arts Health Early Career Research Network, an alumnus of the UF Center for Arts in Medicine Master’s program, and a senior designer for a young children’s educational app.

Srin is a rising high school senior at Lebanon Trail High School, an enthusiast of interdisciplinary projects, and an artist who has recognized that the fields of art, science, and health are not mutually exclusive, but instead can overlap in meaningful ways.

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