A Re-imagination of Policy and Health

Nicolle Bennett
December 15, 2016

View or download the full report as a PDF: A Re-imagination of Policy and Health


The active citizen voice is increasingly recognized as essential to holistic policy formation and health creation, as health policies begin to incorporate a broader set of health determinants and providers embrace more engaged, co-creative approaches to health/care. As definitions of policy and health expand, artistic practice and thought are ideally situated to become the tools that can help to re-integrate what have become disparate elements in our ideas of individual and community health and agency, allowing us to re-imagine conceptualizations of, and approaches to, health and policy.

On Friday, May 1, 2015, an Artist Roundtable (A.RT) hosted by 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 power, policy, and perceived impacts—both in general as well as through the lens of public health—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, 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 manifest into 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—and that the convergence of these connections is a place from which more collaborative and creative approaches to policy and health formation can continue to take place. 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, policy makers, 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 regardless of the presence of artists working with or in institutions to make or illuminate these connections. Such creative methods used by multiple actors allow for increased engagement with health and policy processes and makers, various levels of personal and group agency using artistic process, and multi-sector collaborations with creative process at the core. The connecting thread within this vast (and ever-evolving) range of examples is an engagement across all three areas of arts, health, and policy, and a call to expand our understanding of what these concepts can mean and who can participate. Through highlighting these connections, we hope to inspire additional thought, research, and engagement in active process by and among individuals and institutions. 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, considerate of the role that individuals and communities play in managing and maintaining their own health, and that 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 occurring. Notions of what constitutes qualitative and quantitative evidence are also expanding in this area.
  • The degree to which individuals and communities have a sense of agency in decisions impacting their lives directly relates to their capacity to thrive. A recognition of 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.
  • 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 for realizing possibility.

View or download the full report as a PDF: A Re-imagination of Policy and Health

Nicolle Bennett

Nicolle Bennett

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 [email protected]

One thought on “A Re-imagination of Policy and Health

  1. I am really pleased to see that you are exploring arts and health from a broad policy perspective. Too often, arts and health is only conceived of from a curative perspective. It is time we also begin to consider the value of the arts in the public health domain.

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