The arts span every facet of life – the White House just hosted a summit about it

“Music,” said U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, “can, in a matter of seconds, make me feel better.” He spoke from the Constitution Center in Washington, D.C., continuing, “I’ve prescribed a lot of medicines as a doctor over the years. There are few I’ve seen that have that kind of extraordinary, instantaneous effect.”

It was exactly the kind of message organizers of “Healing, Bridging, Thriving,” wanted to convey.

The summit was organized by the White House Domestic Policy Council and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Policy makers, arts and community leaders, funders and artists attended.

Organizers believe this was a “first-of-its-kind convening” that explored how the arts can make people healthier, “invigorate physical spaces, fuel democracy, and foster equitable outcomes.”

Breaking down silos

In 2022, President Joe Biden signed an Executive Order saying the arts are “essential to the well-being, health, vitality, and democracy of our Nation.” His administration called it a “whole-of-government approach” that this gathering was meant to amplify.

Wondering how exactly government departments might be able to collaborate with artists? Here were some unlikely examples shared today, in hopes of encouraging more partnerships in the future:

A collaboration in New Orleans between Ashé Cultural Arts Center and local health organizations resulted in, among other things, the hiring and training of 15 working artists as community health workers.
When med students study the fine aspects of paintings, said Murthy, “it actually helped them interpret X-rays and other radiographic imaging better.”
Through the U.S. Water Alliance, artists have helped “raise awareness of the challenges facing our water systems and spark investment in our nation’s water future.”

New initiatives announced

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) used the summit to announce its first ever, artist-in-residence program, in partnership with the NEA.

Radhika Fox of the Office of Water at the EPA said the agency will invest $200,000 in six different watersheds including the Rio Grande River in New Mexico, the San Juan Estuary in Puerto Rico and the Passaic, Bronx, and Harlem Watershed.

“All of those resources will go to support the artist and to support the work that that artist is doing in that watershed,” said Fox. “I cannot wait to see what creativity, what new solutions, what new ways of thinking and being together will develop through these partnerships.”

Just about all of the speakers and panelists at today’s summit were convinced that arts and culture should be integrated into all kinds of policy decisions, not just those that affect artists.

To that end, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the NEA are launching the “Interagency Working Group on Arts, Health, and Civic Infrastructure.” The NEA describes civic infrastructure as the “mechanisms, institutions, and relationships we rely on to care for each other.” The group will be chaired by NEA Chair Maria Rosario Jackson and HHS Secretary Becerra.

Barriers persist

Even with these new initiatives, funding for the arts remains tiny. In FY22, the NEA was .0029% of the federal budget. According to the NEA, that’s an annual cost of about $0.54 to each American.

“Pay us fairly and help us sustain our practices,” replied artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya when asked what would help her. “Invest in our humanity and our lives and our artistry, not just in our outputs.”

Phingbodhipakkiya will no doubt repeat that message in the future. Along with Lady Gaga, she’s a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

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  • January 31, 2024
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