Throughout human history, artists and culture bearers have often been viewed as trusted voices, translating vital information to make it more relevant. This remains true today. From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, local artists and cultural organizations have communicated essential public health information within their communities.
As COVID-19 cases surged across the United States, public, private and community-based organizations alike sought to find new ways to cut through COVID-19 vaccine skepticism and communicate accurate vaccine and public health information. In response, the CDC Foundation collaborated with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to support organizations across the country using the arts to build vaccine confidence.
With $2.5 million in funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the CDC Foundation provided grants to 30 arts and cultural organizations to use their chosen art forms to educate their communities and encourage vaccination for COVID-19 and the seasonal flu. These organizations included arts centers, public health advocates, universities, youth groups, dance companies and more, using media as diverse as film, live theater, podcasts, dance performances, street art, poetry and quilting to engage communities across 18 states in seven different languages.
In the Cuyama Valley of California, Blue Sky Sustainable Living Center created a community theater production, providing community members with diverse backgrounds an opportunity to engage in meaningful and honest conversations, renewing connections disrupted by COVID-19 despite differences.
In Denver, Colorado, the Museo de las Americas—a nonprofit Latin American art museum—created a film of local Latino/a/x artists who shared their experiences with the COVID-19 vaccine. The film—“My Community/Mi Comunidad”—was shown at the museum as volunteers distributed flyers and surveys to visitors. After the event, 81 percent of respondents answered they were likely to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or booster.
“Something that we believe had a great impact was the focus on ‘community’ and getting vaccinated not only for yourself, but for others,” said Claudia Moran, director of operations for Museo de las Americas, one of the organizations that received a grant. “The Latino community is characterized by strong cultural ties that center around families and neighborhoods.”
The many partners have had success in harnessing the arts to communicate essential, lifesaving information. Using these grants, the organizations reached their communities through 28 podcasts, 49 films, 29 murals and 13 music videos. Communities were inspired to get vaccinated at more than 120 events and performances and 143 community art workshops, helping to deliver accurate, science-based information when and where it was needed most.
Through their ability to connect at an individual, community and societal level, the arts will continue to allow us to tell the story of resilience and prepare for public health crises yet to come.
Funding for portions of this effort is made possible through a subaward from the CDC Foundation and is part of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) financial assistance award totaling $2,500,000.00 with 100 percent funding from CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, CDC/HHS or the U.S. Government.