I’m crazy about art. I am particularly fond of street art. That may come as a great surprise for people who know me – especially given the fact that I have no formal training in art appreciation, nor possess an artistic bone in my body. Nevertheless, I am a huge fan of art. I also believe that art is one of the most underutilized tools in the world of international development and global health.
The thing about art is this – in many ways the concept of art is open to a broad range of interpretations. For some, what is described as art may be unappealing or off-putting; and, conversely, for many the subjective interpretations of art are what make it so powerful. However, whether viewed as divisive or unitifying – art has the ability to spark conversation and bring people together. Few practices in society have similar power. For me, this is especially evident in street art.
As a medium, street art is a means of expression without equal. Rarely do street artists attain fame – and even rarer do they attain fortune - but in many ways they better the lives of everyone. For through their work, they transform landscapes and provide portals for people to interpret their surroundings. Take the work of the street artist know as Banksy. The artist, or artists – because the true identity of the artist is unknown – uses their art to provide political satire and social commentary. The work of Banksy has been seen in cities around the world – and, much of their work has drawn people into a conversation of contrasts.
This morning on a run through neighborhoods outside of the tourist areas of Rome, I came upon some street art that I found particularly poignant. The images were featured on a side street framed by the dimensions of a metal door. True to the work of street art, the images existed in a sort of anonymous way. There was no fanfare, no signage indicating the artist or paying homage to the benefactors. Rather, there were simple images that invited interpretation.
What if art were used to invite interpretations and conversations about the plight of people living in the shadows, the margins of society? What if art were a medium for inviting people into conversations about change? Change that brings greater equity. Change that encourages more equality. And change that offers clearer pathways to futures that all people deserve.
I have a good friend. He is a brilliant academic. An internationally acclaimed public health expert – and one of the smartest people I know. And, he is first and foremost an artist. He merges his art with his public health and social justice work. He uses the power of art to move people into conversations about critically important subjects like gender equality and HIV/AIDS. Over the years he has taught me that integrating art into the work of health equity has the power to transform. He has taught me that art can be a powerful tool for change.
I am very interested in how art can better inform the work of HBI. I am extremely interested in finding ways to blend artful expressions into the projects and programs of our work. I know this is a process. I also know the doorways of opportunity will open where and when they are needed to create such integration. For now, I will enjoy the art I find in the simple places of my life and invite the inspiration that surely comes.
The HBI Blog is a rotating journal from our staff. Our Blog is a series of messages from the field, insights from our work, and lessons in service.