Social Cohesion & Well-Being

The arts are indispensable for their power to build community with unique depth and meaning, and the diverse cases found throughout this website and beyond are testimony to that power.  But how does that creative process of bringing people closer together or bridging across divides actually happen? Where has it been found to advance health equity and community well-being?  Are there lessons in the research and in the experience of the people who do this work that can be turned into tools for positive social change?
At a time when “social cohesion” is challenged in new ways by “social distancing,” and when “place-based” art has come to mean arts participation with neighbors whom we only see at a distance or virtually, one well might ask whether resources of this nature are hopelessly obsolete. Far from it. The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic fall-out and the protests related to racially motivated violence and discrimination have brought into national focus the persistent long-term threats to health equity. These crises have laid bare the ill effects of social isolation, social scarring, and social divides. These tools — and the lessons learned in their development — remain broadly applicable to those seeking to advances social cohesion, health equity, and community well-being.
A project on Social Cohesion, Arts, and Health Equity has explored these questions in-depth with artists, leaders in public health and community development, and researchers. The most ambitious product of this exploration is the new multi-faceted report authored by Metris Arts Consulting: WE-Making: How Arts & Culture Unite People to Work Toward Community Well-Being. A 2019 convening of artists, researchers, public health leaders, and community developers yielded many insights and stories which are reproduced in the Proceedings and Thematic Analysis created by the Center for Arts in Medicine of the University of Florida. The Proceedings can be found here. Also available are two memoranda from PolicyLink completed in 2021 recommending future action to advance social cohesion in community development, public health, and the arts. The first memorandum was completed in April and is about new types of social and civic practice while the second one, in December for completion of the memo, provides guidance and resources for future research.

The Center for Arts in Medicine at the University of Florida is continuing the proliferation of the framework on social cohesion and health equity through the collection of stories from the grass-roots for their Art and Creative Placemaking (WE-Making) Repository. The Center’s WE-Making resources also include two webinars held in 2021 illustrating the themes of the framework in practice.
We look forward to these materials becoming valuable to the artists, culture bearers, and leaders from whom the partners have learned so much about building power and sustaining community.