Chairman's Corner: October 29, 2020

Jo Reed:  I'm Josephine Reed from the National Endowment for the Arts with The Chairman's Corner, a weekly podcast with Mary Anne Carter, Chairman of the Arts Endowment. This is where we'll discuss issues of importance to the arts community and a whole lot more.  From October 20 through November 10, our director of the Office of Accessibility, Beth Bienvenu, is writing a series on our Art Works blog highlighting the role of the arts in improving mental and physical health, sometimes in nontraditional settings.  This work is important, and the field is growing, but it’s also not a new notion, is it, Mary Anne?

Mary Anne Carter:  No, Jo, it’s not.  That’s right.  The arts and health have been integrated in different ways for millennium, all the way back to antiquity.  But the field has grown and developed a great deal recently, and at the National Endowment for the Arts, we see this through our funding initiatives and especially through research.  And it is through the lens of research that I want to explore with you, Jo, and our listeners the topics that Beth covers in her series.  Those include the arts in healthcare, arts in aging adults, and art programs in correctional facilities, all made ever more complicated, of course, by the impact of COVID-19.

Jo Reed:  Well, why don’t we begin with Beth’s post from October 20?

Mary Anne Carter:  Sure.  In that past, Beth describes two examples of arts programs in hospitals:  The Center for Performing Arts Medicine at Houston Methodist and Snow City Arts in Chicago.  Both organizations use the arts to help patients, as well as staff, understand and manage or mitigate the intense stress and isolation they experience.  And her second blog will look at the arts and our seniors, specifically the harm exacted by loneliness, a significant danger, especially in these pandemic days.  And while there are many ways that older adults can stay engaged and connected during the pandemic, the arts are particularly well suited for this purpose with mental stimulation, physical activity, social engagement, and, of course, just the pure joy of artmaking with others.  And the last in this series, stories about the arts in correctional facilities.  Beth will be writing about the ways teaching artists are reaching people in correctional facilities who are on lockdown with no visitors or in-person programs allowed.  And, Jo, you know, I will add I believe I’m the first chairman to actually visit a prison.  Last November, I went to San Quentin, right outside San Francisco, and I was amazed at the arts programming that this facility has and amazed at the artists within the inmate population.

Jo Reed:  Now, Mary Anne, I know you wanted to focus on the research around these issues.

Mary Anne Carter:  Yes. Because arts practitioners and health researchers have a lot to learn from one another, the Office of Research and Analysis published a guide to help these two groups of professionals do just that.  The National Endowment for the Arts’ “Guide to Community-Engaged Research in the Arts and Health” is a blueprint for collaboration, helping professionals understand the different vocabularies used in the arts and in research.  And the guide outlines the benefits for each party in collaborating with the other, and that’s the point that I found so interesting.

Jo Reed:  Well, give us some examples of that.

Mary Anne Carter:  I have some great examples.  For instance, some of the ways that arts professionals help researchers is by identifying questions and issues of importance, assisting study participants to recognize how their own health is impacted by their social circumstances and their emotions, and ensuring good communication.  Researchers can help art professionals to replicate successful programs and attract support from funders and policymakers.

Jo Reed:  Now, I know the research team created a document called “Staying Engaged:  Health Patterns of Older Adults Who Participate in the Arts.”  Fill us in about that one.

Mary Anne Carter:  That is a valuable resource that looks at arts participation, habits, attitudes towards the arts, and health characteristics of adults age 55 and older.  And it finds that older adults who create art and attend arts events have better health outcomes than adults who do neither.  Specifically, two of the report’s findings are:  older adults who both created art and attended arts events reported higher cognitive functioning and lower rates of both hypertension and physical limitations than did adults who never created nor attended art. 

Jo Reed:  Wow.

Mary Anne Carter:  And, also, among those who both created and attended, cognitive functioning scores were seven times higher than for adults who did neither type of arts activity.

Jo Reed:  And, as you mentioned, the Arts Endowment has had a partnership for over 30 years with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to support arts programs.

Mary Anne Carter:  Yes.  And as part of that partnership, the Arts Endowment conducted a literature review called “The Prison Arts Resource Project” that includes studies that evaluate the impact of arts programs in U.S. correctional settings for both adults and juveniles.  And I should add that just last year, the Arts Endowment, partnering with Arts Midwest, one of our regionals, added a funding track in our Shakespeare in American Communities Initiative that supports theater education for young people within the juvenile justice system.  And there’s a great story in our magazine from last year called “What Light Through Yonder Correctional Facility Window Breaks,” and the article features two veteran prison arts educators who describe their strong belief in the power of theater and its value to rehabilitation because theater requires actors to understand the identity and the truth of the characters they portray.

Jo Reed:  Well, Mary Anne, that’s a good place to leave it.  Thank you.

Mary Anne Carter:  Thank you, Jo.

Jo Reed:  That was Mary Anne Carter Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.  You can find out more about The NEA Big Read at
Keep up with the arts endowment by going to or by following us on twitter @neaarts.

For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Stay safe and thanks for listening.

Music Credit: “Renewal” composed and performed by Doug Smith from the cd The Collection.

This week, the chairman looks at the role of the arts in improving mental, physical, and emotional health.