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Addressing Social Determinants of Health Through Community-Based Health Promotion and Community-Engaged Art Collaboration

Mural located in South Philadelphia

July 20, 2021

In a recent Health Promotion Practice (HPP) publication (May 4, 2021), Rabbi Nancy Epstein, MPH, MAHL, professor in the department of Community Health and Prevention at the Dornsife School of Public Health (DSPH); community partners Anne Bluethenthal, MFA, and Deirdre Visser, MFA; Clara Pinsky, MPH student at DSPH; and Meredith Minkler, DrPH, professor emerita of Health and Social Behavior at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health and renowned Community-Based Participatory Research Program (CBPR) researcher, authored an article that discusses how art can be leveraged for justice, equity, and public health.

The article features the Skywatchers Program, a collaborative community arts ensemble of artists and residents of the culturally rich but economically poor Tenderloin neighborhood in the San Francisco area. Now just over a decade old, the program’s original values-based methodology to be “relational, durational, conversational, and structural” focuses on process over product and leverages arts for justice and equity.

The work of Epstein and her partners shines a light on collaboration between community-based health promotion practice and community-engaged arts to address the social determinants of health and build vitality and neighborhood assets at multiple levels of the social-ecological model. Their article about the Skywatchers Program also outlines implications and offers recommendations for community-based health promotion practice and research.

“While there has long been a strong field of creative arts therapy primarily focused in clinical settings and serving patients, their families and caregivers, the newly emerging field of Arts in Public Health focuses on primary prevention, social justice, inequities and disparities — all of which are necessary to respond to the overlapping public health crises of COVID-19, racism and injustice,” said Epstein. “Our school’s formative and longstanding commitment to human rights and community engagement are pivotal to this new field of Arts in Public Health.”

This program’s model can be used by public health practitioners, community organizers and leaders to build mutually beneficial relationships, co-create artworks, and promote arts-based advocacy to improve the conditions that foster poor health in neighborhoods.



In addition to this work, Epstein launched the new Arts in Public Health graduate minor at DSPH that mirrors the fast-exploding global arts in health field.

Recent World Health Organization and USA-focused research confirms that arts capture the power of creativity to address our human complexities and effectively respond to neighborhood conditions that limit health and wellbeing. And the September 2021 issue of APHA's magazine reports on how the role of arts in public health is capturing interest.

This minor is open to all graduate students at Drexel.