Monday, March 17, 2008
Creativity as a Healing Force
In 1989 I was invited to be on the Community Advisory Board of an upstart non-profit called Health Through Art: Signs of Recovery. I thought I’d volunteer for a couple of years, just to get the project started. Instead, since then I have become increasingly involved, and am now the only original Board member still on the Community Advisory Board.
The Project has evolved by conducting focus groups every two years, asking people in Alameda County about the burning health issues in their communities and neighborhoods. Then the Project distributes a brochure with the results of those focus groups and a call for art submissions meeting the themes named by the public. Winners receive $500 and their work displayed on billboards, buses, benches, BART stations. Consequently what began as a billboard campaign to combat addiction and racism, has become a multi-media force supporting healthy choices, non-violence, an end to racism, sexism, and all physical and social disorders contributing to unhealthy lives and environments. This is a unique and challenging task.
The Health Through Art Project takes on the challenge of transforming billboards from inner city blight to inspirational messengers of wellbeing. Beyond ad campaigns, billboards are powerful tools of manipulation in the formation of public attitudes. Sexism, racism, addiction, and consumerism are the stock and trade of billboard campaigns. Subtle messages, images, and situations sell unhealthy products and attitudes, for the sake of a profitable return. All that, and the professional skills of the advertising industry make the HTA vision an ambitious crusade.
Over the years the Project has provided such uplifting slogans as: “The best thing about a person you can’t see from the outside”, and “Stay sober, you’re life is riding on it.” One five year old gave us the benefit of his wisdom with a happy face surrounded by a circle of peas and carrots; “Surround yourself with good stuff”, was his simple, Zen-like slogan. I never saw a single person look at that poster without smiling (and now neuroscience is beginning to recognize that a smile has the power to heal the mind). Ever since the discovery of endorphins, even scientists have started to realize the healing power of images, prayers, and intentions.
The Health Through Art Project is always in need of financial and volunteer support. I can tell you that you will always meet good people at events, board meetings, and office visits. You can see the history of winning designs (which you’ve probably seen on an AC Transit bus or in a BART train, if you live in the Bay Area), and learn about our distinguished awards by visiting the Project website: www.healththroughart.org. Perhaps you know of a venue for the HTA Roving Art Show, or maybe you’re looking for a worthy volunteer project. Call 510 549-5990. Donations are tax deductible.
I believe in this project so whole-heartedly that I invite all my friends to our events, I hope to meet you there, too sometime.