Global health and art intersect at Community Cafe


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Spoken word poet Jessie McCall Jr. performs a piece at Parnassus Cafe. 

Photo by Jessie Kim

In a dimly lit room down the hall from Parnassus Cafe, images of prosthetic limbs and hospital rooms flashed on a projector screen. Inside the cafe, a captive audience watched as actors portrayed one man’s struggle with depression and mental health.

The Community Cafe was a part of Global Health Week, with the event exploring the intersection of art and global health. The event is in anticipation of a Global Health and the Arts symposium this Saturday. 

Kevin Shaw, an undergraduate assistant at the Global Health Resource Center, organized the event. Shaw said the Community Cafe is a unique way to show the interdisciplinary nature of global health. 

“We really strongly feel that there should be more attention being paid toward the intersection of art and global health,” Shaw said. “They can work together to create a lot of good.” 

Many of the artists featured at the event will speak at the symposium this weekend, during which speakers from various fields will explore the possibilities of a collaboration between art and global health. Shaw said the Community Cafe and symposium will seek to answer how professionals from both fields can work together to make change in their field. 

“Our symposium is trying to move a little bit more away from the functional questions of how you design better global health, and more towards how can fine arts … play a role in global health,” Shaw said. “Ideally, every discipline can contribute to the field.” 

Shaw said art can contribute to therapy and create community but can also be a vehicle for education about health. 

Ellen Garvens, chair of the photomedia department at the UW, has explored how to educate through art with her photographs of people who make and wear prosthetics. Some of her work was shown at the event, and more will be shown at the symposium. 

“I began using the images to be a catalyst for conversation about what the images meant,” Garvens said. “Arts are really good at addressing emotional states, and art can be used for healing on an emotional level and a physical level.”

John Blalock, artist-in-residence at Seattle Children’s Hospital and student in the Master of Fine Arts program, was also featured at the event. Blalock uses the camera obscuras method to create his art. He makes the room as dark as possible and places a lens in the door or window. When light comes through the lens, an inverted image of the outside is reflected on the walls of the darkened room. He essentially turns the whole room into a camera. 

Of his work, Blalock wrote, “I want to disrupt this ugly space, transform it wholesale into something that is not a room. For a short period of time, one’s room is now a giant camera, gathering light and creating an image right before their eyes.” 

Alexandra Tavares and Eric Riedmann, performers from ACT Theatre, read a scene from “Middletown.” John Langs, associate artistic director of ACT Theatre, said he believes the arts can be a delivery system for messages about global health. 

“The arts are a remarkable way to communicate some of the issues of global health in a really meaningful and emotional way,” Langs said. 

The event also featured a spoken-word performance by Jesse McCall Jr., a graduate student in the school of social work. The performance explored human trafficking and illegal drug abuse. 

Shaw said work is already being done to combine arts and aspects of global health, but that he hopes this week will help deepen the connection. 

Daren Wade, director of the Global Health Resource Center, said the Community Cafe is the beginning of increased incorporation of art into the global health field. 

“This is where we begin, and hopefully more can come of it,” Wade said. 

Reach reporter Amy Busch at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @AmyBusch2

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