Center for Arts in Medicine

Creating Healthy Communities: Arts + Public Health in America

Performing Public Health: Unique Precarities

The following resource was created by an interdisciplinary team of artists and researchers to support artists and creative communities, ask important cultural questions, and center artists’ knowledges during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-21. Check back in the future for reflections and updates from the working groups. In the meantime, we encourage the use of these resources as a means of bringing lessons from the pandemic into a new reality.


WE ARE PRECARIOUS. 

If you’re afraid, that’s ok, so are we sometimes. Of the virus, of the economic cost, of being alone, of not being able to protect our loved ones. No matter where or how you live, whether you are afraid for your life, the life of someone you love, your economic position, or you just have the seed of doubt which says something might be wrong in the world. Things aren’t the way you thought. The way things have been going is not sustainable. In order for you to survive, for communities and ecologies to thrive, we need each other. We need the land, access, imagination, communication, listening and Love. We’re here too, and we’ve been here all along, surviving in the liminal spaces, letting that seed of doubt grow into something nourishing- sometimes learning something new. Other times, simply enduring. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and laid bare the deep inequity of American society. Precarity and vulnerability to the virus are distributed unequally, shaped by long-seeded historic and structural inequities. Precarity “describes the way that the precariousness of life is exploited.”

WHAT ARE UNIQUE PRECARITIES? 

Artists and communities who hold intersecting marginalized positions have a different baseline for surviving and safety during such a crisis. Yet these intersecting margins, or what we’re calling Unique Precarities, can also create knowledge, strength and wisdom born from the necessity that compassionate survival demands. When an artist is uniquely precarious, they may be navigating multiple threats to their health, wellbeing, creative practice and survival. We know from the work of Kimberlee Crenshaw and other Women of Color that marginalizations intersect: people cannot be reduced to a single vulnerability, a single aspect of their own identity. Further, these precarities differ between individuals and groups, so we speak of marginalized communities in the plural.

WHAT KNOWLEDGES STEM FROM PRECARITY? 

Artists with unique precarities hold multiple layers of vulnerability and strength. We occupy an important space at any time, but particularly during a pandemic. Using our connections and skills to articulate our experiences, we provide means of processing, a way for workers, healthcare providers, policymakers, and the general population to feel the urgent moral cry of this moment in history. Artists are experts at remaking the world.  

In addition to voicing the challenges posed by a pandemic, artists with unique precarities sometimes possess expertise that is uniquely suited to Remote Cultures. In the extreme context of a pandemic, how might we support artists and communities with Unique Precarities while respecting and learning from their specialized expertise? How can we recognize these hard-earned knowledges?

By inviting you in, we expose not only ourselves but also, as James Baldwin said in 1963, “the society that produced us.”. That’s the task of all artists across time. So now that you know, it’s in your hands, too.  

--- Charlee Huffman, Marina Tsaplina, Meghan Moe Beitiks


RESOURCES

We’ve compiled these resources created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic by artists and activists from uniquely precarious communities, and paired them with research and guidelines from the medical, bioethics, and legal fields. We are centering artist/activist/community response in the dialogue between public health policies and the research being published by clinicians, bioethicists, lawyers, and scholars. In this way, we hope to honor the experiential knowledges arising from the communities most heavily impacted by policies that often were created without their representation. If we are to be inclusive, all domains of knowledge — personal, communal and academic — must be acknowledged as holding value.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. Rather, we offer this as a prompt for further thinking about the creative work coming from these communities and cultures during COVID-19. 

--- Charlee Huffman, Marina Tsaplina, Meghan Moe Beitiks

The full listing of Unique Precarities Resources which have been curated using the following questions:

What are Unique Precarities made of?

Who is Uniquely Precarious?

*We talked a lot about what this means. Black, Communities of Color and LGBTQ+ Communities have been particularly impacted by the pandemic, due to systemic inequity and institutionalized racism, and these oppressions are experienced intersectionally. We hesitated to follow the CDC’s labeling of “Racial and Ethnic Minorities” because it implies intrinsic biological fallibility when the parameters that make these communities more vulnerable have more to do with shared housing, geographic location, economic precarity, etc, all of which are symptoms of inequity. See “COVID-19 and The Naturalization of Vulnerability” for a discussion of these issues, as well as the Creating Healthy Communities White Paper for a discussion of racism as a Public Health Crisis.

Unique Precarities project citations can be found on the PPH Advisory page.

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