Over the past several decades, evidence has mounted to demonstrate that the arts have positive and measurable impacts on individual and community health. The field of arts in health has emerged from a rapidly growing number of arts programs in healthcare settings.

Concurrently, creative placemaking initiatives across the United States have demonstrated that the arts are a powerful means for strengthening the social and physical environments in communities. The arts are widely utilized as a means for health education and wellness promotion in communities, but their applications are inconsistently recognized in the public health sector. The theoretical and practical structures that informs the use of the arts in community health settings are not well defined, so the arts remain a readily available, yet highly underutilized resource in public health.

Recognizing that a tipping point was near, ArtPlace America partnered with the University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine in 2018 to lead a national research effort that deepened and formalized the intersection of the arts and public health. (View the original press release here.) “Creating Healthy Communities: Arts + Public Health in America” was a two-year national initiative designed to accelerate the collaboration of arts and public health practitioners seeking to build healthy communities in alignment with national public health goals.

Lead by a team of Center for Arts in Medicine research scholars, the project brought together an array of existing initiatives and thought leaders in order to establish clear theoretical constructs, standardized research protocols with the potential for meaningful statistical power, and a framework for evidence-based practices and programs that utilize a comprehensive interdisciplinary knowledge base. Visit the Creative Healthy Communities website to access the many resources generated as part of this initiative, including the Evidence-Based Framework for Arts and Culture in Public Health, Webinar Gallery, COVID-19 related resources, and more.

The momentum and knowledge base created by the Creating Healthy Communities partnership catalyzed a number of exciting initiatives in 2020 and beyond. Our colleagues at Forecast Public Art dedicated the first issue of their digital publication Forward to public health, using the Creating Healthy Communities research as a foundation for a beautifully illustrated series of case studies and a toolkit for collaboration across the arts and public health. The University of Florida team partnered with the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE) to publish a special issue of Health Promotion Practice (forthcoming in 2021), with University College London to lead a National Endowment for the Arts Research Lab to study the long term health benefits of engaging with the arts, and with several other organizations and networks to advance the conversation around core outcomes and pedagogy related to the arts in public health. A tipping point, indeed! 

Field Scan

The Creating Healthy Communities Through Cross-Sector Collaboration white paper presents the views of more than 250 thought leaders from the public health, arts and culture, and community development sectors who were convened in working groups in 2018 and 2019. Their voices are joined by over 500 participants in a national field survey and focus groups, and are supported by findings of a scoping review of arts + public health literature.

With the public health sector as a primary intended audience, the Creating Healthy Communities Through Cross-Sector Collaboration white paper frames the value of the arts and culture for advancing health and well-being in communities. It offers examples and recommendations for expanding cross-sector collaboration and innovation, with the following goals:

  • Advance collaboration among those working at the intersections of art and culture, public health, and community development
  • Stimulate upstream interventions—aimed at systems, cultures, and policies—that reduce barriers to health and well-being
  • Assert the value of arts and culture for increasing health, wellbeing, and equity in communities
  • Foster transformative social change that advances health and wellbeing

This paper is also intended to offer value and guidance to community development, arts and culture, and other allied health sectors by providing examples of impactful cross-sector collaborations that engage arts and culture to address five critical public health issues:

  • Collective trauma
  • Racism
  • Social isolation and exclusion
  • Mental health, and
  • Chronic disease 

These concrete examples inform the paper's recommendations and call to action, which assert the value of the arts and culture for community health transformation, and for advancing the culture of health being envisioned today.

Download Creating Healthy Communities Through Cross-Sector Collaboration here.

Working Group

The Creating Healthy Communities initiative engaged over 250 individuals and several institutional partners in a series of working groups and conferences. ArtPlace specifically supported convenings in Cincinnati, OH (June 2018), Austin, TX (October 2018), Athens, GA (November 2018), Washington, DC (January 2019), Lexington, KY (September 2019), and Orlando, FL (September 2019).  Agendas, participants, and proceedings for each of these meetings – and several more that University of Florida led – can be found in the Collaboration and Events section of the Creating Healthy Communities website.

Additionally, the white paper was drafted by a group of twelve individuals brought together in Gainesville, FL (March 2019) with support from ArtPlace America and the Pabst Steinmetz Foundation. Those authors are:

Jill Sonke, University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine
Tasha Golden, University of Louisville
Samantha Francois, Tulane University School of Social Work
Jamie Hand, ArtPlace America
Anita Chandra, RAND Corporation
Lydia Clemmons, Clemmons Family Farm
David Fakunle, DiscoverME/RecoverME, Morgan State University
Maria Rosario Jackson, Arizona State University
Susan Magsamen, Johns Hopkins University International Arts + Mind Lab
Victor Rubin, PolicyLink
Kelley Sams, University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine
Stacey Springs, Harvard University
With: Margery Pabst Steinmetz, Pabst Steinmetz Foundation


Insights and feedback from group of external reviewers were also critical to the development of the white paper:

Elaine Auld, Society of Public Health Education
Jay Baruch, MD, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University
Jennifer Beard, Boston University School of Public Health
Tom Borrup, Creative Community Builders, University of Minnesota
Nupur Chaudhury, New York State Health Foundation
Deborah Cullinan, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Sandro Galea, Boston University School of Public Health
Ping Ho, UCLArts and Healing
Kendra Jones, Richmond Memorial Health Foundation
Liz Lerman, Arizona State University Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts
Javier Nieto, MD, Oregon State University
Paul Pietsch, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies
Lourdes J. Rodriguez, University of Texas at Austin Department of Population Health
Julia Ryan, Local Initiatives Support Corporation
Dawood H. Sultan, Mercer University Center for Urban Research, Development, Sustainability, and Evaluation
Eddie Torres, Grantmakers in the Arts
Katie Wehr, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Elizabeth Weist, Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health
Frank Woodruff, National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations
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COVID-19 Arts Response

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in March 2020, the Center for Arts in Medicine’s Director Jill Sonke recognized that the Creating Healthy Communities network was uniquely positioned to lead an important conversation around the role that the arts sector was playing in the COVID-19 response.

Artists and arts organizations were stepping up to lead individual and community care work all across the country, and would undoubtedly be on the front lines of reimagining new, equitable structures and systems so desperately needed as communities moved from relief to recovery. What better moment to consolidate the examples and combine them with the evidence-based research that CAM already had underway?

CAM had built an incredibly broad and diverse coalition of individuals and organizations at the intersection of arts, community development, and public health over the two prior years. So Jill mobilized that network throughout the Spring and Summer of 2020, working with dozens of collaborators and partners to develop a suite of resources for incorporating the arts into COVID-19 response and recovery efforts:

Advisory Briefs

Starting with a Call for Collaboration, several authors and external reviewers worked to create advisory briefs geared to public health and government agencies at both the local and state level.  These documents are two-page primers that – at a glance – bring together key concepts, messaging, real-time examples, and peer reviewed evidence for ways that the arts could help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Local Governmental Advisory Brief was released in collaboration with the National Network of Public Health Institutes (NNPHI), and the COVID-19 Arts Response State Governmental Advisory Brief, intended for governor’s offices and state agencies including public health, education, mental health, community and economic development, aging, human, social and family services, and disability services, was released in partnership with the National Association of States Arts Agencies (NASAA) and the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations (NACEDA). 

Resource Repository

As a means to capture the growing number of project examples, media coverage, and organizations leading arts-based COVID-19 response work, CAM quickly adapted a research database originally built for the Creating Healthy Communities effort to accommodate new, open-sourced entries. The COVID-19 Resource Repository was modeled off of one that Jill and her team created when they researched the role of arts in health communication around the Ebola crisis in 2014-2015, and the site allows anyone to submit their own work and search for inspiration, ideas, partners, and more.  

Evidence Based Framework for Arts in Public Health

At the core of all the materials is the Evidence Based Framework for Arts in Public Health. Developed after two years of scoping and systematic reviews, this framework consolidated the available data around how the arts impact public health outcomes and provided key citations for the advisory briefs and more.

Visit the COVID19 Arts Response website to access these resources and learn more.

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