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A Re-imagining of Policy and Health

Read Nicolle Bennett's policy paper, "A Re-imagination of Policy and Health: Toward the Creation of an Arts/Health/Policy Nexus."

By Nicolle Bennett

Citizen voices are increasingly recognized as essential to forming policies and promoting health in inclusive, holistic ways. Health policies are beginning to incorporate a broader set of factors that contribute to an individual’s health, while health-care providers are embracing active participation on the part of their clients. As the scope of policy and health expand, artistic practice and thought are ideally situated to become the tools that can help us to embrace broader notions of individual and community health, along with our (perceived and actual) ability to take action on behalf of ourselves and our communities—allowing us to re-imagine approaches to health and policymaking in the process.

On May 1, 2015, an Artist Roundtable (A.RT) hosted by World Policy Institute’s Arts-Policy Nexus brought together 11 like-minded artists for a conversation focused on the relationship between health, wellness, and agency. Focusing on each participant’s definition of personal and community power, policy (who makes it, and how), and perceived impacts of their own work as artists in the community, the discussion sought to explore the ways in which communities, artists, and policymakers engage in processes pertaining to health and its varied determinants.

Seeking to answer the question,“What would a policy that incorporates our ideas of medicine look like?” this group began to explore an expanded view of wellness along with a wider definition of policy and those ultimately responsible for its creation, identifying a need to further explore the intersections between policy, health, and artistic thought and practice. In response to this need, Canadian-based organization Musagetes commissioned A Re-imagination of Policy and Health: Toward the Creation of an Arts/Health/Policy Nexus, as part of the ArtsEverywhere.ca online platform and its related projects, hoping to demonstrate that shifts in thinking about our approaches to health and health policy can lead to concrete possibilities and guidelines for re-imagining the world.

In describing the formation of an arts/health/policy nexus, we seek not to create arbitrary connections, but to exemplify the ways in which the arts are already connecting to and allowing connection among people, communities, and sectors. We seek to demonstrate that where these connections converge, more collaborative and creative approaches to policy and health formation can develop. This nexus embraces a range of practice (artistic methods or interventions) and thought (creativity, improvisation, and imagination), whether carried out by artists, health practitioners, institutions, community organizations, policymakers, and/or individuals—any range of players interested in improving, expanding upon, and engaging with issues of health and policy in new ways.

The projects highlighted as part of the arts/health/policy nexus reveal a range of collaborations, openings, and methods of engagement. These creative methods allow for increased engagement with health and policy processes and makers, increased ability to take action as individuals and groups using artistic process, and multi-sector collaborations. The connecting thread within this vast (and ever-evolving) range of examples is an engagement across all three areas of arts, health, and policy, as well as a call to expand our understanding of what these concepts can mean and who can participate. By highlighting these connections, we hope to inspire additional thought, research, and engagement in active process. Despite the method or practice employed, art can contribute to the formation of spaces that lead to our desired outcomes in policy and health—by creating language anew, shedding light on experience, and prompting possibility.

Key Insights:

  • Research shows increased recognition of the need for more integrated and engaged approaches to care that are patient-centered, are considerate of the role that individuals and communities play in managing and maintaining their own health, and recognize the importance of exchange between communities, providers, and institutions. Trends also show that studying biomedical approaches to health care alongside social determinants can increase the likelihood of creating more collaborative and participatory structures to facilitate better care and outcomes.
  • While traditional research efforts like studies, trials, and questionnaires are expanding, a noticeable shift toward human engagement processes and multi-disciplinary collaboration is also occurring. Notions of what constitutes evidence are also expanding in this area, demonstrating a shift toward embracing both qualitative and quantitative approaches in understanding health.
  • The degree to which individuals and communities have a sense of agency in decisions impacting their lives directly relates to their capacity to thrive. Recognizing those voices, along with consideration of “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches to power execution and distribution, is crucial for anyone looking to understand and create system change. The arts can help to bridge these approaches, which can often occur in silos.
  • Artistic practices can and do play a role in facilitating the participatory involvement, communication, and collaboration that is required in these broadening approaches to health and policy creation. Including aesthetic practices expands and/or changes narratives, integrates institutional and community exchange, connects thought to action, and creates spaces where new ideas and possibility can emerge.

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Nicolle Bennett is an administrator, educator, and artist with over 10 years of experience building capacity with arts, health, and educational organizations and those they serve. She currently lives and works in New York, serving as program director for Feel the Music!, a New York City-based organization that connects teaching artists with hospitals, non-profits, and other community-based partners, and consulting with a variety of organizations to build technical and communicative capacity. Contact her at nicolle@feelthemusic.org.

[Photo courtesy of International Coalition of Sites of Conscience]

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