Public Health and Art

The Rutgers School of Public Health and the Mason Gross School of the Arts have launched a collaboration to support community-engagedarts-integrated research projects that will result in performances or productions of art.

The projects, led by teams made up of faculty from both schools, include Pilates workshops, photo series, and oral history performances.

Devin English, assistant professor in the Department of Urban-Global Public Health, and Frederick Curry, associate professor and interim chair in the Department of Dance, will examine the psychosocial impact of Polestar Pilates classes in three socioeconomically diverse public high schools in New Jersey. English and Curry hope that their intervention will help address anxiety and depression, which is experienced by nearly 70 percent of U.S. teens.

To address HIV-related stigma, Ashley Grosso, assistant professor in the Department of Urban-Global Public Health, and Jacqueline Thaw, associate professor and director of the Master of Fine Arts program in design in the Department of Art & Design, will use Photovoice, a research method that engages people to create, discuss, and share photographs of their own lived experience. This approach is meant to raise awareness about the complex realities that marginalized populations confront. The team will focus on gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, who bear a disproportionate burden of HIV, and who HIV-related stigma often hinders from seeking, or from receiving, treatment and preventative care.

Resilience and HIV/AIDS researchers Kristen Krause, instructor in the Department of Urban-Global Public Health, and Stephanie Shiau, assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, will work with Jeff Friedman, associate professor in the Department of Dance, to develop an oral history workshop and performance by people living with HIV/AIDS. Their project aims to explore biopsychosocial health outcomes and resilience in both oral history documentary interviews and via a performance of dance or movement.

“These collaborative projects exemplify how the arts and humanities can work effectively with public health to advance the work in each of these disciplines,” says Perry N. Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health. “The work that Rutgers School of Public Health faculty are enacting with Mason Gross School of Arts faculty are indicative of the inter-and multidisciplinary efforts that must define all of our work if we are to have maximum effectiveness in our endeavors to advance health equity and the well-being of all people and populations.”

The projects will aim to address some of the five urgent public health issues, which include social exclusion and isolation, chronic disease, racism, mental health, and collective trauma, identified as priorities for cross-sector work in ae report issued by the Creating Healthy Communities: Arts + Public Health in America Initiative.

“These projects illustrate the power of collaboration and highlight the role that the arts can play in helping shape public health outcomes,” says Jason Geary, dean of the Mason Gross School of the Arts. “The challenges that we face as a global society are so profound and interconnected that they demand insights from every perspective, and that’s where the arts can be transformative in so many ways.”

“The Rutgers School of Public Health is excited to provide seed funding in support of interdisciplinary cross-university collaboration to promote public health through artistic mediums,” says Katie Zapert, director of research at the Rutgers School of Public Health, who developed the call for project proposals.

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