The Voice of Art in Community Health - Oklahoma Center for the Humanities
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The Voice of Art in Community Health

Carly Treece is a Native American artist, community builder, and advocate.  She is one of the 2022-23 public fellows exploring the theme of Freedom at the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities. In this essay, Treece explores the relationship between art, the community, and individual health. 

“Women’s Voices at Council” by Joan Hill, acrylic on canvas, Oklahoma State Art Collection, Oklahoma Arts Council,

When I look at the painting “Woman’s Voices at the Council” by Mvskoke/Cherokee artist Joan Hill, I think of freedom for women. I think of sovereignty over land and body as well as the power that speaks through the work of art. This painting is important to me because it shows the importance of Mvskoke women within their tribe. It shows that their voice matters on issues that not only affect themselves, but the entire community.

We all know the power that art holds. It is one of the universal languages of life, along with music and food. It not only speaks to us on personal levels, but also helps us engage others within our communities. Art brings us together from all walks of life: different cultures, races, socioeconomic backgrounds, ages, genders, and all sides of the railroad tracks. It gives a voice to the unheard, inspires our lives, and serves as a bridge to worlds that may differ from our own.

Art can be a tool for healing and help us understand our inner selves as well as our communities since creativity helps reduce the negative physiological and psychological impact of trauma. Engaging such activities can enhance your mood and emotions, and have a calming physiological effect as well. These same benefits are seen when people simply observe the arts.

Because access to art is beneficial for the health of the entire community, especially vulnerable communities, it can double as a public health initiative. According to a review published by the World Health Organization, the arts can impact the prevention, promotion, management, and treatment of both physical and mental illnesses. The American Journal of Public Health Access published a similar review that demonstrates the health benefits of art.

Creative expression in my own life has helped me overcome worry by allowing my brain to work through problems and untangle thoughts in a visual language. I can recall exactly what I was going through when I created much of my own work– and how it helped me work through a problem. Observing art in galleries and museums produces a calming effect both mentally and physically, helping me to relax and find a sense of calm. Taking a community art class is also one of my favorite ways to connect with people of all ages, cultures, and areas of town within our community.

I encourage you to break out and experience the sense of freedom that art gives you. First Friday in the Tulsa Arts District, The Tulsa Artist Fellowship, Living Arts, The Zarrow Center, and AHHA are all wonderful places to meet different artists to follow from various cultures, ages and parts of town. Donate to organizations in your town that provide access to art for all. Organize an art drive for a community center that provides classes to the community. And, of course, buy from and support your local artists!

When we do little things, we can make a significant impact on our own lives and the lives others.