When the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings showed the poor health indicators of their citizens, the people of Sullivan County, New York joined together to try to improve the health of their community. In October of last year, local officials and population health experts gathered at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the site of the historic Woodstock festival, to discuss promising cross-sector collaborations that are improving the health of their population.
While several cross sector initiatives were discussed at the meeting, of significance at this historic site in particular was the connection between the health and the arts. As efforts to improve population health proliferate, communities such as Sullivan County are increasingly turning to innovative, collaborative strategies to promote health and well-being through the arts.
On the surface, these collaborations, such as Bethel’s “Project: Identity,” merely provide arts education to youths—a worthy aim, but not one that would seem to affect the health of the individuals or communities involved. But research indicates that arts education programs and opportunities for artistic expression play a key role in social and emotional development and can be used as a tool for communities and individuals to navigate stress in a healthy, positive way; the arts can act as a vehicle for individuals to express themselves and be empowered to share their voice and experience.
In his keynote address at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Dr. Steven Woolf spoke about the importance of “connecting-the-dots” and working across sectors to achieve population health. Collaborations across sectors, such as those between the health and the arts, may be the key to achieving health in places like Sullivan County.