4 projects that use art for social good

The value of art is hard to convey. But once it is turned into a tool for social change, it can transform communities.

by Portia Ladrido

The creative capacity of human beings is an endless well. It has resulted in the clothes we wear, the books we read, the films we watch, and even the cities we build. But this creativity — especially in the realm of the arts — can transform lives when used for social good. While art can sometimes look like a vain pursuit of beauty, it can also be used as a tool for transformational change — not just an individual’s life but an entire community.

Here are four interesting initiatives from around the world that use art and creativity for social good:

Art therapy for hospital patients in Lagos, Nigeria

Tender Arts Nigeria organized an “Arts in the Medicine” fellowship to transform the healthcare delivery space using creativity. The group felt a lack of empathy in the relationship between caregivers and patients, and that creative exercise tends to help a patient’s recovery. Through this project, Tender Arts can get patients — even caregivers, and family members — to draw, paint, write, or make music.

“When you hear the word, “hospital’, what usually comes to mind is pain and this sometimes increases your stress level. Making hospitals more colourful and calming, and encouraging patients to express themselves using various forms of creative arts helps divert their attention from their pain and to tolerate their treatments better. This eventually reduces the duration of their stay in the hospital,” says Kunle Adewale, Founder of Tender Arts Nigeria and Project Coordinator of Arts in Medicine Project.

A public library and art gallery for the homeless in North Carolina, United States

The Forsyth County Public Library is open to a diverse population, but one initiative of the library and art gallery stands out: helping the homeless. While this might not be new for public libraries, in this particular project, a $150,000-award given to help the homeless with skills training and job-readiness workshops.

Through the award, the library was able to hire a peer-support specialist to support homeless individuals, however possible — from housing assistance to mental health counselling.

Cinema for old people battling HIV in London, England

In 2017, a film club started by the Health, Wealth and Happiness project of the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) aimed to provide support to older people — ages 50 to 80 — living with HIV. According to the charity, at least one in three people aged 50 and over experience extreme loneliness after their diagnosis. The film club was formed to alleviate some of this loneliness.

“It can be a lonely future if you’re getting older, you’ve lost your partner and you’re living with the stigma of HIV. The magic of cinema is you go in as a stranger and come out as friends. It brings you together with others, it gets you talking about and sharing your own experiences,” says David Munns, a clinical nurse specialist for mental health and HIV.

Cartoon therapists in Mexico City, Mexico

In Mexico, a child psychologist named Julia Borbolla would encourage children who were victims of emotional or physical abuse to talk to a “cartoon alien” on a video screen. The children would have conversations with this cartoon but without realising that Julia hears their answers as she is controlling the cartoon from the room next door. This is done because children tend to open up more to a cartoon alien than a real person. The project now implemented in hospitals, women’s shelters, and even within Mexico’s judicial system.

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