Follow me on a one year journey through my home state of Pennsylvania as I explore how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) will be implemented and impact individuals, groups and institutions in the state. You don't need to be from Pennsylvania to relate to these stories. They could be your friends, family, neighbors or yourself. My journey begins in the summer of 2011.
In the tradition of The Hopi people, oral storytelling from generation to generation is used to educate about their history, traditions and morals. A tradition that has withstood the test of time. When I began the "Summer at the County Fair" series, my mission was similar, to educate about the bigger social issue of the uninsured through the use of storytelling. See their faces, hear their stories and link them to the public health research. In my journeys around the state of Pennsylvania, I met Theresa BrownGold from Bucks county. Theresa tells the story of the uninsured through portrait art in herArt As Social Inquiryproject. Like The Hopi, Theresa inspired me to pursue the art of storytelling. Whether it be the stroke of the paintbrush or the keyboard, our hope is that these stories too will impact future generations to make change. Theresa is this week's guest blogger.
An Artist’s Call to Action: ART AS SOCIALINQUIRY By Theresa BrownGold (guest blogger)
Anyone who is indifferent to the well-beingof other people and the causes of their future happiness, can only be layingthe ground for their own misfortune.Dalai Lama
In 2008 I started an art project I call Art As SocialInquiry.The idea for this project surfacedafter decades of observing the hundreds of thousands of people (and I mean thatliterally) I encountered in 30 years of working in the restaurantbusiness.You can imagine that, after somany conversations, I had heard many thousands of stories of people helpingpeople.One day it struck me, “Why do somany people who support so many charitable causes with their time and money getabsolutely livid and resolute in opposing real reform for creating a system inwhich all people can access healthcare in the United States?”
Surely, if these good people really knew what washappening to the “others,” the ones who had no or not enough health insurance,the ones not like them, they might feel differently.I wanted to create an honest dialog byconnecting the issue of access to healthcare to real lives affected by ouropinions.
Also at this time I was phasing myself out of the restaurantbusiness and returning to art-making, something I had studied for a brief timein my twenties.I had the idea that I couldpaint portraits and tell every kind of healthcare story I could find.If I created an overview by lining up theseportrait-stories side-by-side, and then invited people to look at was happeningin real lives across the spectrum of healthcare access, would our opinions abouthow we get healthcare change?
Any doubts I might have had about this new venture werequickly scuttled when I felt a bit of a spiritual push.I recognized that I, in my small way, wasresponsible for creating this class of “others” who could not get healthinsurance.As a small business, our healthinsurance group was comprised of my husband, me and one other full timeemployee. When our one full time employee decided to leave after 3 years, Isaid to my co-owner/husband, “If we hire only part time employees, we won’thave to provide health benefits.”I feltnauseous.I had to either lie to myselfabout how I was planning to control costs in our system of employer-basedcoverage.Or, I had to admit that Iwould be contributing to this national epidemic of the uninsured like thehundreds of thousands of other small businesses looking to hire only part-timeworkers.I thought, “Is this any way torun a country?”
Fast forward to the present.I am 45 portraits into my social inquiry of how we access healthcare inthe US. My goal is to paint at least 100 portraits and have an art show travelthe country for many people to see the portraits and hear the stories.
The portraits I paint are large, expressionistic canvases,40 x 30 inches.I have no interest inpainting literal images of my subjects. First I listen listen listen thenintuitively express in the painted faces what I’ve heard.The subjects of my paintings retell what isoften the most harrowing emotional, financial and health nightmares of theirlives.To paint their faces, I must feelas they do in the recounting of their stories.When the image I paint on the canvas stares back at me as the real liveperson did from across the table during the interview, I know I have succeeded.
These portraits stories and the people behind them havetaught me a few things.For 2 ½ years Ihave listened to real people tell me how they accessed or tried to accesshealthcare. My conclusions reflect the lessons I have taken away from listeningto the stories of my subjects, and so many others I have not painted.I encourage you to read the stories online(ArtAsSocialInquiry.org) and draw your own conclusions.
But the one glaring finding from all my interviews: It isin all our best interests for all to access healthcare in the US.
For more detailed insights into what Theresa has learned from her work documenting the portraits of the uninsured, visit the extended version of this blog at theArt As Social Inquiry website.