Ever since I posted an entry citing lessons from the Slow Food Movement for community engagement work–Slow Food, Engaged Arts (still my most widely-read post)–I’ve been bookmarking articles dealing with the arts and health. It’s a surprisingly long list. Coming on the heals of the Holidays, it seemed this might be an opportune time to be thinking healthy thoughts.
In a post last September (Museums Can Change the World: Improving the Nation’s Health), the Center for the Future of Museums highlighted a program at Mississippi’s B.B. King Museum (The Art of Living Smart). This seven-week summer day camp for children grows out of the Museum’s recognition of Mississippi’s high obesity rate. “[T]he kids engage in a variety of activities designed to teach them about healthy habits while also exposing them to the rich arts culture of the Mississippi Delta area. On any given day they might be playing traditional blues instruments, writing acrostic poems about music, practicing a new dance, making healthy smoothies, or exploring the history of their community through the museum’s exhibits.”
In another CFM post, SmartSteps at the Senator John Heinz History Center, a program at the Senator John Heinz History Center is featured. (Here’s a video describing it.) SmartSteps is a “take the stairs” initiative in which visitors are encouraged (in a scavenger-hunt-like fashion) to take the stairs rather than the elevators and “collect” information and experiences available only in the stairwell. The History Center has partnered with UPMC Health Plan, a major health insurance carrier in Western Pennsylvania, on this project.
And, while it may be more about the merits of food in attracting visitors than specifically healthy approaches to eating, guest blogger Susie Wilkening, senior consultant and curator of museum audiences, Reach Advisors, presented a case for connecting with people around the love of food (and, of course, the direct relationship between food and culture) in a post titled Do Museums Need to Care about Foodies? (Not surprisingly, her answer was “Yes.”)
The clever among you (that’s everyone, right?) have tumbled to the fact that these are all from CFM’s blog. Clearly this was not happenstance. Last October, the American Association of Museums and its Center for the Future of Museums hosted a conference called Feeding the Spirit to address the relationships among food, health, and museum work. (I just discovered via my friend Mr. Google that they are hosting a follow-up webcast in February.) In another CFM guest blog, David Curry reported on the October meeting, saying, “I did not anticipate that [it] would have the effect of changing my frame of reference about museums and the role that food—broadly speaking—could play to energize, refresh and align mission, programs and people.”
We talk about the arts being basic. But there is not much more basic than food and little more important to us as individuals and communities than health. For at least some of my readers, an underlying question at this point could be, “But what does this have to do with art?” The first, immediate answer may well be “Nothing.” However, neither does hiring administrative staff, paying payroll taxes, or (for 501c3’s) serving the public good (as a prime directive). Those are all either essential infrastructure or duties as community members. The examples cited here all grow out of understanding the institution as a community citizen, with interests and concerns that match its constituents’ interests and concerns. The issues addressed become points of commonality, points of entry into the full life of the community.
In one more CFM post, Diana Peacock, director of Community Wealth Ventures, a for-profit subsidiary of the nonprofit anti-hunger and anti-poverty organization Share Our Strength frames the thinking for me fairly nicely, in a way that is directly applicable to arts organizations engaging with their communities. She says,
“. . . we can . . . start by identifying the needs and opportunities in the community, and determine what role we can play in fulfilling them.
- What are the needs and opportunities in your community? By meeting real needs, you can build new audiences and attract new resources.
- What unique assets do you have that can help you meet those needs? Assets range from money, to facilities, to networks/relationships, to expertise, etc.
- What internal capacity is needed to deliver on this idea? Consider the strengths can you bring to the venture and those you can acquire through partnership or other means.”
That’s a great recipe (forgive me), if applied creatively and with care for the mission, for arts organizations to become and to be seen as vital, essential members of their communities. As I always say, that is the foundation for fundraising, marketing, and friendly public policy.
Welcome back from the Holidays. And don’t forget to