Center for Arts in Medicine

Creating Healthy Communities: Arts + Public Health in America

Strengthen health communication

Arts and Culture Strengthen Health Communication

Today in the U.S., the arts are being integrated more widely into health communication programs—a use long familiar to other nations. Within health communication programs, the arts can: 

  • attract and sustain interest and engagement;  
  • disseminate health information rapidly to large and diverse audiences; 
  • model and influence health behaviors; 
  • encourage civic engagement; and 
  • shift cultural narratives. 

For example, Kentucky’s Farm Dinner Theater program improved health and safety messaging to farmers in rural communities, and in Alaska, the 100 Stone Project stimulated collective dialogue regarding mental health and suicide (see Sonke et al., 2019). WISE Entertainment’s popular Hulu series, East Los High, utilized a multi-modal platform to engage Latino youth in communication related to sexual and reproductive health, immigration, voting, dating violence. and mental health. An evaluation study showed that, in addition to the millions who watched the show, hundreds of thousands of viewers also visited its website to access health and social services resources.  

Additionally, visual arts programs, including community- engaged public murals, convey health issues and concepts in ways that raise awareness and reduce stigma.  

Outcomes associated with enriching research methods and practices: 

Make information clearer & more memorable  

Sonke, J., Sams, K., Morgan-Daniel, J., Schaefer, N., Pesata, V., Golden, T., & Stuckey, H. (2020). Health communication and the arts in the United States: A scoping review. American Journal of Health Promotion

Camic, P. M. (2008). Playing in the mud: Health psychology, the arts and creative approaches to health care. Journal of Health Psychology, 13(2), 287-298.

Ike, J. D., Postlethwait, R., & Parker, R. (2019). Nurturing context: TRACE, the arts, medical practice, and health literacy. Information Services and Use, 39(1–2), 93-104.

Sonke, J., Pesata, V., Nakazibwe, V., Ssenyonjo, J., Lloyd, R., Espino, D., Nieves, M., Khandakji, S., Hahn, P., & Kerrigan, M. (2018). The Arts and health communication in Uganda: A light under the table. Health Communication, 33(4), 401-408.

 Increase personal and cultural relevance  

Kagawa Singer, M., Dressler, W., George, S., Baquet, C. R., Bell, R. A., Burhansstipanov, L., Burke, N., Dibble, S., Elwood, W., Garro, L., Gravlee, C. C., Guarnaccia, P., Hecht, M. L., Henderson, J., Hruschka, D., Lewis-Fernández, R., Like, R., Mouton, C., Myers, H. F., ... Williams, D. (2016). Culture: The missing link in health research. Social Science and Medicine, 170, 237-246.

Sonke, J., & Pesata, V. (2015). The arts and health messaging: exploring the evidence and lessons from the 2014 Ebola outbreak. BMJ Outcomes, 1, 36-41. 

Enhance self-efficacy & behavior change  

Varela, W., Abrami, P. C., & Upitis, R. (2014). Self-regulation and music learning: A systematic review. Psychology of Music, 44(1), 55-74.

Improve skills (rehearsal for life)  

Ahrens, C. E., Rich, M. D., & Ullman, J. B. (2011). Rehearsing for real life: the impact of the InterACT Sexual Assault Prevention Program on self-reported likelihood of engaging in bystander interventions. Violence against Women, 17(6), 760-776.

Quinlan, E., Robertson, S., Urban, A.-M., Findlay, I. M., & Bilson, B. (2020). Ameliorating workplace harassment among direct caregivers in Canada’s healthcare system: A theatre-based intervention. Work, Employment and Society, 34(4), 626-643.

Belknap, R. A., Haglund, K., Felzer, H., Pruszynski, J., & Schneider, J. (2013). A theater intervention to prevent teen dating violence for Mexican-American middle school students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53(1), 62-67.

Ross, P. R., & Wensveen, S. (2010). Designing behavior in interaction: Using aesthetic experience as a mechanism for design. International Journal of Design, 4(2), 3-13.

Reduce stigma  

Lightfoot, A. F., Taboada, A., Taggart, T., Tran, T., & Burtaine, A. (2015). ‘I learned to be okay with talking about sex and safety’: assessing the efficacy of a theatre-based HIV prevention approach for adolescents in North Carolina. Sex education, 15(4), 348-363.

Atanasova, D., Koteyko, N., Brown, B., & Crawford, P. (2019). Representations of mental health and arts participation in the national and local British press, 2007-2015. Health23(1), 3-20. 

Sukhanova, E. (2019). Semiotic functions of outsider art in counteracting stigma. Advances in Psychiatry, 59-65.  

Enable dialogue within and across groups  

Roberts, M., Lobo, R., & Sorenson, A. (2017). Evaluating the sharing stories youth theatre program: an interactive theatre and drama‐based strategy for sexual health promotion among multicultural youth. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 28(1), 30-36.

Bruneau, E. G., & Saxe, R. (2012). The power of being heard: The benefits of “perspective-giving” in the context of intergroup conflict. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(4), 855-866.

Cores-Bilbao, E., Fernandez-Corbacho, A., Machancoses, F. H., & Fonseca-Mora, M. C. (2019). A music-mediated language learning experience: Students' awareness of their socio-emotional skills. Frontiers in Psychology, 10.

Manzi, J., Casapulla, S., Kropf, K., Baker, B., Biechler, M., Finch, T., Gerth, A., & Randolph, C. (2020). Responding to racism in the clinical setting: A novel use of forum theatre in social medicine education. Journal of Medical Humanities.

Improve prevention efforts  

Ike, J. D., Postlethwait, R., & Parker, R. (2019). Nurturing context: TRACE, the arts, medical practice, and health literacy. Information Services and Use, 39(1–2), 93-104.

Sonke, J., & Pesata, V. (2015). The arts and health messaging: exploring the evidence and lessons from the 2014 Ebola outbreak. BMJ Outcomes, 1, 36-41. 

Goldbard, A. (2018). Art & Wellbeing: Toward a Culture of Health. U.S. Department of Arts & Culture.

Make ordinary concepts extraordinary and memorable  

Perez, K. A., & Lench, H. C. (2018). Benefits of awe in the workplace. In D. Lindebaum, D. Geddes,  & P. J. Jordan (Eds.), Social Functions of Emotion and Talking About Emotion at Work (pp. 46-67). Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.

Bennett, J., Froggett, L., & Muller, L. (2019). Psychosocial aesthetics and the art of lived experience. Journal of Psychosocial Studies, 12(1), 185-201.

Chirico, A., & Gaggioli, A. (2018). Awe: “More than a feeling.” The Humanistic Psychologist, 46(3), 274-280.

Generate and enhance effectiveness of mass media partnerships  

Wang, H., & Singhal, A. (2016). East Los High: Transmedia edutainment to promote the sexual and reproductive health of young Latina/o Americans. American Journal of Public Health.

Gronholm, P. C., Henderson, C., Deb, T., & Thornicroft, G. (2017). Interventions to reduce discrimination and stigma: the state of the art. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 52(3), 249-258.

Hansson, L., Stjernswärd, S., & Svensson, B. (2016). Changes in attitudes, intended behaviour, and mental health literacy in the Swedish population 2009–2014: an evaluation of a national antistigma programme. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 134, 71-79.

Improve needs assessments  

Papoulias, C. (2017). Showing the unsayable: Participatory visual approaches and the constitution of ‘patient experience’ in healthcare quality improvement. Health Care Analysis, 26(2), 1-18.

Gabriella Hernandez, S., Genkova, A., Castañeda, Y., Alexander, S., & Hebert-Beirne, J. (2017). Oral histories as critical qualitative inquiry in community health assessment. Health Education & Behavior, 44(5), 705-715.

Golden, T. (2020). Reframing photovoice: Building on the method to develop more equitable and responsive research practices. Qualitative Health Research.

Wang, C., & Burris, M. A. (1997). Photovoice: Concept, methodology, and use for participatory needs assessment. Health Education & Behavior, 24(3), 369-387.

Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Cris Sanhueza and the UF Center for Arts in Medicine Interdisciplinary Research Lab for their support in curating the articles within this online tool.

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