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New Approaches to the Art of Well-Being

By Alyssa Stein

Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., recently began a very unique outreach strategy designed to combat the stigma surrounding mental health and psychiatric hospitals. Through its newest partnership with Dutch arts-residence program Beautiful Distress Foundation, and additional help from New York-based non-profit Residency Unlimited, Dutch artists have taken residency in the hospital’s Behavioral Health Center, where they serve as both mentors and participants in the hospital’s progressive art therapy programs. This program began last year and is currently hosting its second artist-in-residence, Aldo van den Broek, an Amsterdam-native and painter who has spent much of his career based in Berlin. 

Through their residencies, artists like van den Broek are not necessarily taking on the roles of art therapists, but are instead opening up doors to meet and collaborate with patients on their own terms. “The artists are here to be influenced in this environment,” explains Carlos Rodriguez Perez, Director of the Wellness and Recovery Division at Kings County. “The artists can have as much freedom in meeting and collaborating with the patients as they want.”

While some patients have been apprehensive about the arrival of the artists, they typically become more welcoming as time progresses. “The patients connect [with the artists] by trying to figure out ‘who are you and how am I relating to you,’ and in that it has been very, very positive,” he adds. 

Though the partnership may be only in its infancy, there are big plans for its future. Kings County has arranged for one more artist-in-residence and is hoping for a group exhibition featuring pieces from all three participating artists upon completion. “The main aim of the Beautiful Distress Foundation is to reduce the stigma of mental illness by creating this residency,” Rodriguez Perez states. “In that sense, having a group exhibition of the work of the three artists would help communicate that to the outside world and community. Psychiatric institutions tend to become very insular, which creates stigma. We want to open it up, and what better way than to use art to start bringing attention and connecting with the community in Brooklyn and beyond?”

The partnership between the Beautiful Distress Foundation and Kings County Hospital Center contributes to the larger discussion of how art can influence health and emotional–and physical–wellness. These topics and more will be discussed in more detail tomorrow at the Artist Roundtable (A.RT) hosted by the World Policy Institute’s Arts-Policy Nexus, and speaker honorariums provided by the Department of Art and Public Policy, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. This roundtable seeks to bring together a small, diverse group of internationally-minded artists whose work is either focused on the health issues of a particular community or demographic, or more broadly in the space of healthcare and general well-being.

Eight to 12 creative practitioners will participate in the discussion led by Nicolle Bennett, Program Director for Feel The Music!; Patrick (Pato) Hebert, Associate Arts Professor in the Department of Art and Public Policy at Tisch School of the Arts; and Todd Lester, Director of the Arts-Policy Nexus at World Policy Institute. They will reflect on the intersections between artists and non-artists in hopes of further engaging in a community-based process pertaining to health.

The Artist Roundtable approach is a flexible way for artists to share ideas and innovations that extend beyond the world of art, and allows them to partner with policymakers, politicians, community organizers, and social movement leaders. Local organizers determine the theme, context, and goals of each A.RT installation, which leaves the project at large unbound by limitations, and each roundtable quite different from the one before.

Since A.RT’s founding in 2014, there have been roundtables across vast locations and various topics, from climate change in Guelph, Canada, to water access in São Paulo, Brazil. Roundtables on New Economies in Vancouver and Tower Renewal in Toronto are also in the works. The upcoming A.RT on health and wellness aims to add to the overarching discourse of how artists and policymakers can come together to solve global issues in a local and manageable way.

In order to achieve this, the A.RT event will begin by focusing on each participant’s definition of power, policy, and perceived impacts−both in general as well as through the lens of public health. Their discussion will then transition into project-based initiatives and plans for the future. The event will run from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m, and a detailed agenda is provided below. To follow the open afternoon discussion, use the Twitter hashtag #arthealth.

________

10 a.m. – 12 p.m.: Wellsprings of Power:

  • Introductions and Icebreaker (describe a kind of medicine that might not readily be known as such.
  • Can you share a key transition that occurred in your understanding of health or wellness? What are some of the challenges you have faced in working with others to nourish health?
  • Can you describe an early experience, encounter or awakening that shaped your sense of politics?
  • How do you conceptualize and work with power in your practice?
  • How might we understand the relationships between activism, organizing, advocacy and policy? How do these relate to power?

12 – 1 p.m.:  Lunch

1 – 3 p.m.: Cultivating Synergies:

  • Can you describe something that has shifted your thinking or approach to your work in the last year?
  • Who else is doing this work?
  • Who else could or should be?
  • How do we identify the structural issues that impact our work?
  • How might we build scenarios of collaboration and change?
  • What are the ways that (health) policy needs to be reformed, created or completely reimagined?  
  • What are the organizing and communications strategies that you utilize in your practice?
  • What does this suggest for sharing approaches to visibility and effectiveness?  
  • Are there any practical next steps that you would like to see arise from this gathering (e.g., communication trees, site visits, subsequent meetings, media outputs, etc.)?

*****

*****

Alyssa Stein is a former editorial assistant at World Policy Journal.

[Photo courtesy of aldovdbroek and pavarinimcgovern]

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