Power of Culture Blog
Mass Cultural Council Adopts a New Strategic Plan
Charting our path forward for FY24-26
Creative Approaches for Health and Wellness in Springfield, MA
“How do we center the wisdom of people who are not typically understood as experts, but are very proximate to the issues that we care about? How can we bring those perspectives, that wisdom, those voices into conversations about policy, conversations about transformational practice?” – Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts
The Community Music School of Springfield (CMSS) has explored these questions through both their participation in Mass Cultural Council’s CultureRx: Social Prescription pilot program and the Trust Transfer Project (TTP), and have found some powerful answers in Springfield, MA. The Trust Transfer Project has enabled CMSS to deepen their mission towards the “whole health” of communities that began with their involvement with the CultureRx: Social Prescription pilot in 2020.
During the pandemic, the Trust Transfer Project launched as a partnership between CMSS and the Springfield Cultural Partnership with a quest to find “the people, the power and the purpose” for utilizing the arts to engage and network their community. Using the time and urgency of the pandemic, they gathered, listened to their community, and supported artists of color to artistically create messages to build trust, hope, and vaccine confidence in their community.
The Trust Transfer Project was one of 30 organizations across the nation chosen for the Communities for Immunity initiative from the Center for Disease Control Foundation, which in collaboration with multiple federal agencies*, supports organizations engaging the arts to build vaccine confidence.
Last month, the CDC Foundation chose the Trust Transfer Project as one of three organizations (of the 30 across the nation) to present in DC and discuss the successful outcomes and utilization of partnerships. In looking particularly at partnerships formed during the pandemic between healthcare providers, public health agencies, museums, and libraries, the Trust Transfer Project further emphasized how cultural organizations, based in communities, can be important partners in health. Sharing similar values and beliefs with Mass Cultural Council’s CultureRx Initiative, the CDC Foundation focuses on how museums, libraries, and cultural organizations may be appreciated not only for the resources they hold, but also for the “critical role they play in community health and resilience.”
Vanessa Ford, Care Coordinator for CultureRx: Social Prescription and Project Manager for the Trust Transfer Project at the Community Music School of Springfield, returned from the DC event feeling fulfilled.
“The efforts felt real and like we are part of a national movement. We know of our impact and know that it can shift the atmosphere. To see the ‘newness’ of partners, to see folks willing to reimagine change and attend to problem solving with community voice at the core has given me hope. People are recognizing that it takes leaders and influencers from the community to create change. Change is truly possible for people when funding is backed with deep listening and communities are given the tools and resources to be able to heal themselves. This change is deep, powerful, and replicable to every city,” she said.
How did the Trust Transfer Project mobilize Springfield’s cultural assets and respected community sources of influence to mobilize, create, and disseminate culturally relevant public health campaigns? Thirty-six community partners including bodegas, after-school programs, barbershops, and churches all received a stipend from TTP, which they then used to pay the artists for their work.**
With the goals of connecting in community, inspiring hope, reducing the spread of COVID, and improving public health outcomes, Ford and her team went to work to build trusting, lasting relationships, and cross-sector partnerships. By connecting working artists, young creatives, faith leaders, educators, health professionals, small businesses, and other trusted community leaders with one another, they were able to help knit together safe spaces to explore both the challenges and opportunities of these times. The project also necessitated deep conversations, including discussing historical reasons for mistrust and ingrained injustice. Acknowledging and working with feelings of fears, anger, and pain associated with past and present systemic abuses and unethical projects were important. Utilizing the skills of deep listening and the arts as a vehicle to not only express complex topics, TTP effectively created a community where art is opening doors to communication, creating the opportunity for artists and their communities to feel seen and heard as the active agents of change they are.
“What has been impactful with TTP and CultureRx, is that we are providing a mechanism that is designed for and by community,” said Karen Finn, Director of the Springfield Cultural Partnership in a conversation with Eileen McCaffery, Executive Director of CMSS. “It has required us to take a pause with other initiatives and use this lens to question how we are implementing things. Are the artists truly seeing themselves in these projects? How are we deciding where events are located? How are we listening to community better to truly find out what they need? How are we showing up with them and for the benefit of communities? Asking these questions will benefit all of our organizations.”
“Partnerships are the key to community healing but trusting honest relationships, not transactional ones, take time.” Ford said.
“While collaborations enable people to jump on board, we had to discover new ways to think about partnerships. We needed to give honor to the importance of partners like barbershops, understanding that in truly reaching community we need to go wide. Impactful influencers and holders of community values are found often in unexpected places. Those that have been seen as most vulnerable can be the most valuable. Those that are ready to serve often just need to have their power activated, respected, and supported. We found that these alternative influences, with support, can shift the whole health of their community.”
By pairing businesses and organizations with individual artists and working hard to support them in the making of their work, the project culminated in celebrations of their partnerships by sharing the work with the community once it was finished. In doing so, they have been able to provide greater access to evidence-based public health information and enabled the community to develop and communicate their concerns and strategies to improve the outcome of our public health crises (including mental health, food injustice, and COVID-related challenges).
CMSS and the Springfield Cultural Partnership have found that the keys to developing healthy communities and wider engagements with museums, libraries, or cultural organizations is in first listening to the “underutilized, under-engaged, and underappreciated,” in communities, really listening to how people answer the questions of “What do you value?” and “What do you need?”
One thing that became clear was the value of and need for mental health awareness and support. In FY23, as part of CultureRx: Social Prescription, Behavioral Health Network offices will be prescribing social and cultural groups facilitated by CMSS. These prescriptions will provide clients with music-related options to greater wellbeing and healing including fostering social connection, skill development, joy, and further connections to mental health resources.
Said Ford, “We believe our model is sustainable and replicable for so many other community challenges. Voting, census, climate justice, food justice, and health justice. When the focus on community is WITH community, we can all be on this train to go to better places. Each community knows best about their community, with multiple generations creating catalysts for action. When engaged, true equity can mean that when we get in, we can fit in because trust is established.”
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* Communities for Immunity is an initiative of the Association of Science and Technology Centers, Institute of Museum and Library Services, American Alliance of Museums, and the Network of the National Library of Medicine, with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and in collaboration with the American Library Association, the Association of African American Museums, the Association of Children’s Museums, the Association for Rural and Small Libraries, the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums, and the Urban Libraries Council.
** The initial $75,000 for the Trust Transfer Project (TTP) came from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development’s 2021 Urban Agenda Grant Program. TTP was an outgrowth of the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s CultureRx Initiative piloted in Springfield in 2020.