Happy Hour on the Fringe: Global Pandemics and Art with Mütter Museum
During the global coronavirus pandemic, FringeArts is pivoting the focus of our podcast to checking in with our artists, our audiences, and our community partners during these unprecedented times. Since we can’t gather, we’ll chat remotely about how we respond to this crisis, and how the role of art during a pandemic shifts.
In this episode, FringeArts Community Engagement Manager Tenara Calem chats with Nancy Hill, museum manager at the Mütter Museum, and Beth Uzwiak, research director at Ethnologica about their collaboration with Blast Theory for the pandemic exhibit Spit Spreads Death last summer. In Spit Spreads Death, the team organized a processional to commemorate the victims of the 1918 Flu Pandemic in Philadelphia. Tune in to hear about the intersection of public health and art, and learn about what we have to be optimistic about during this dark time.
Tenara: Hello and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. My name is Tenara Calem and I’m the Community Engagement Manager here at FringeArts in the wake of the global Coronavirus pandemic. Many of us, particularly those of us in arts organizations, have had to reflect on ways to do our work despite dramatic external disruptions. I can’t speak for any of our listeners, but social distancing measures have made me personally think long and hard about how to engage communities when we can’t be in the same room together. One thing that FringeArts is excited to continue doing is connecting our audiences with our artists and community partners through this podcast. So during the global Coronavirus pandemic, you can expect more frequent episodes of Happy Hour on the Fringe. These episodes will range in topics from how artists are responding to the pandemic, the intersection between art and public health, and how community partners are working to meet the specific needs of their constituents. We hope that every one of our listeners and those they care about remains safe, healthy and positive during this time. We’re committed to continuing our work in whatever way we can while prioritizing the safety of our city. In the meantime, you can check out our website www.fringearts.com/covid-19 for updates to our public programing schedule. Be well, be safe. And as always, enjoy our fascinating conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence.
In this episode, you’ll hear a special bonus conversation with Nancy Hill of the Mütter Museum and Beth Uzwiak of the group Ethnologica, who round out our conversation in last week’s episode with Blast Theory about their performance/exhibition project, Spit Spreads Death. Nancy was the Project Manager on Spit Spreads Death from the Mütter side, while Beth is an experienced community organizer who developed a robust community engagement plan for this exhibit. If you haven’t already listened to the Blast Theory episode, I encourage you to do so before this one. But otherwise, listen to Nancy and Beth’s fascinating conversation about medical humanities and the intersection of arts, community and public health.
Nancy: My name is Nancy, I am the Museum Manager at the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians, Philadelphia. And I was the Project Manager on Spit Spreads Death.
Beth: My name is Beth Uzwiak and I am the Research Director at Ethnologica and I was brought in as the Community Liaison for the Spit Spreads Death Project.
Tenara: Amazing. So this is the title of our podcast, this Happy Hour on the Fringe. And I know that a lot of people are doing like virtual happy hours now in this time of social distancing. But it is like noon. So it’s OK if we’re not OK for not drinking alcohol. It’s also OK if we are. But the first question in the podcast is always, what are we drinking? And I can start off and say that I’m still working on my morning coffee.
Beth: So am I.
Nancy: Yeah, I’m still drinking my morning, my morning cold brew down to the last few sips.
Tenara: Cold brew! This feels like a nice time to be to be like doubling down on brewing things and brewing cold brew.
Nancy: Yeah, it’s nice to spend the time at night and make a little treat for the morning and stand in my twelve square feet of space on my patio and just–.
Tenara: Absolutely. Absolutely. So you guys both mentioned Spit Spreads Death for those listeners who aren’t aware of this exhibit. Do you guys want to explain what that is?
Nancy: Sure. So Spit Spreads Death is an exhibit and a larger project at the Mütter Museum. It opened on October 17th of 2019. It’s gonna be up until fall of 2024 in its exhibit form. But we’ve really been working on this project for a number of years before that. And again, we’re lucky enough to have a number of funding sources supporting our work, such as the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage and the Institute for Museum and Library Services, as well as other funders such Groff Memorial Trust and things like that. I won’t bore you guys with that part. But it’s really a kind of– it’s a museum exhibit. It’s also a performance art piece, a musical score, as well as a major community outreach kind of public health services component that come together in sort of a medical humanities focused museum exhibit.
Tenara: Beth, do you want to talk a little bit more about the community organizing aspect of the project?
Beth: Sure. Yeah. I was brought into the project at the very sort of foundational stages. Nancy’s predecessor, Emily Yates, brought me in and Laura Bardwell, who are the ones who were kind of working on the grant and conceiving it. And I think that they were trying to add in a different and new component for the Mütter, which was some community engagement around the project. And so they asked me to weigh in on one of the original grant proposals and to kind of think through what that kind of community engagement could be and how to how to go about starting a project that this would be new territory for them. And I think that they originally conceived that they were going to do outreach in the areas of the city that were hardest hit by the 1918 pandemic initially. So we started with that basis and kind of crafted some ideas that could be use once the project launched.
Tenara: That’s amazing. Yeah. I never heard the words medical humanities used together. Is that like a relatively, is that like a pretty common phrase within the public health and/or museum communities? Or is that something entirely new that people are pushing for?
Nancy: It’s certainly something that’s new for us at the Mütter. I think that a lot of people look at our museum in our collection as strictly historical and things that don’t happen in the first world. And we really wanted to create something and bring in some outside aspects and community aspects that really illustrate that there’s a lot to learn from medical history and that these stories are still relevant and not kind of a, you know, sad stories of yesteryear situation. So we’re really trying to set context, re-contextualize our museum and our collection towards the medical humanities relevant to the modern day visitors.
Beth: And I would add to that that I’m an medical anthropologist, so there is some interest, I think growing interest in sort of the more qualitative storytelling aspects of public health. And in this case, kind of connecting something that happened a hundred years ago to contemporary health concerns through narrative and story collection and community organizing, and that these stories are obviously still relevant to families who were impacted by the 1918 flu pandemic, but that the stories themselves can work to create discussions around contemporary health disparities and issues that remain important to communities that were originally impacted by the pandemic and our communities that weren’t even in the city at the time, who may be sharing some of the similar health conditions that that impacted people hundred years ago. So I think the idea of bringing in people’s stories and narratives around health can really point us to the fractures in health systems, for example, or health inequalities or health disparities or even ways that people survive pandemics and come together to bring a different story to what we may be hearing in the news media, for example.
Tenara: Nancy, you were saying a little bit before we started recording that the reason, one of the reasons why the curators of the Mütter Museum wanted to do an exhibit about this pandemic was because they were they were like anticipating another one. Is that correct?
Nancy: Yeah, sort of. So previously in the space that is currently housing Spit Spreads Death, there was a Civil War exhibit and a lot of people when it was coming time for that to come down were suggesting, OK, so do World War I next. And we didn’t want to have a space that was kind of the “War Gallery” that, you know, a lot of, there’s a lot of stories to tell about the medical forces during wartime time, but it’s also kind of can be a little bit redundant in terms of surgical intervention, infection, things like that, but something that’s kind of concurrent and very relevant to the story of World War I is this flu pandemic, especially in Philadelphia, and so the team working on the project with the. Again, Beth mentioned my predecessor, Emily Snedden Yates, as well as the curatorial team at the museum and some of our external external curators, they decided to talk about this Spanish flu pandemic because of its relevance, and, you know, it kind of fit in the timeline and also just the understanding that at any given point, people watching the news today will see something about public health, some kind of public health threat or concern. At the time, they were thinking that would be things like Ebola or perhaps antibiotic resistant syphilis in Philadelphia. Maybe the opioid epidemic. And then little, you know, kind of a big surprise for us. Little did we know at the time that there would be another major viral pandemic rolling around just a few months after we we opened this exhibit. So it’s it’s definitely been interesting times for us.
Tenara: Do you feel like, I mean, I guess how do you feel knowing that this the exhibit on viral– on a viral pandemic 100 years ago managed to be like incredibly prophetic to just a year from then?
Nancy: Well, I’m on the one hand, it feels kind of awkward and now curated you know, we tried to warn you the exhibit and we’re definitely getting a lot of contacts from the media and things like that, you know, kind of questioning along those lines. But on the other hand, it does feel really great because we have been collecting family stories. We’re going to continue to collect family stories from the time the flu pandemic, throughout the life of the exhibit. And more and more these last two weeks, I’ve been getting new ones and people are saying, you know, thinking about the 1918 pandemic made me take COVID-19 and social distancing seriously. I would have been in denial and not understood the threat had I not been just thinking about what happened in 1918. So if we had anything to do with kind of jog in people’s memories about the 1918 pandemic and how big of a problem it became, then I’m really glad that the timing worked out the way it did.
Beth: I keep thinking about the parade and during the parade I was walking alongside the installation and talking to folks who were like, ‘what is this parade about? What’s going on here?’ and handing out flyers. And, you know, a lot of people who were bystanders were like, what pandemic? What flu pandemic? And what are you talking about? And I keep thinking of those conversations. And in a way, people’s reactions were like, oh, that’s interesting, but perhaps irrelevant. And I think about that in terms of what’s happening now. And just like Nancy said, feel like, hey, if this started any kind of conversation or made people Google the 1918 flu pandemic or kind of get a little bit more scope of Philadelphia’s history in relation to it. I think that that is pretty remarkable.
Tenara: Yeah. And I will also say from my perspective, as somebody working in FringeArts, where we do a lot of like public arts experiences, you know, and that’s sort of the the lens through which I we like stumbled upon each other for this project between FringeArts and the Mütter and Ethnologica and Blast Theory. I– when I came to the parade, I was I was just incredibly blown away by the reasons why all these disparate communities of people like sought to participate in the parade and how many of them were public health people or doctors and nurses, just folks in the health care profession that understood the ramifications of a pandemic and and or communities that were immunocompromised. And so they were marching in this parade because they felt really strongly like we needed to learn from past mistakes so that we could protect like as many people as possible. And at the time, I was just like, wow, that’s like, you know, I work in the arts. I don’t have a background in medical anything. I’m a relatively healthy person. So it was harder for me to imagine a relevance other than like I think what you’re describing, Beth, of like, oh, that’s really interesting. I didn’t actually know that that happened. But then talking to all the people who ended up marching in the parade and seeing how much stake they had. And this question was just fascinating. Now, of course, we all have stake in this because we’re living through it right now. Yeah. I just it was a really fascinating experience to be walking as somebody who, like, represents a general public that has no context for situations like these.
Nancy: Well, that was a big goal of the community organizing and part of why we wanted to make sure we had somebody like Beth in on the project, because, you know, I think it’s easy for us and museums to think about all of the ways that we could make people interested in what we’re talking about. There are a lot of kind of social barriers between certain audiences and museums, especially ones like ours that are kind of this old stoic institution. Says the College of Physicians outside. it’s marble, there’s a pretty substantial admissions fee. So having someone like Beth in to kind of help, not only bridge those gaps and help get around those barriers, but also make sure we’re telling the story in a way that serves all of those different kind of intersectionality is of interest because it’s not just a story of doctors fighting the flu, it’s people having this community experience, people who are immigrants, people who have different social and financial barriers to accessing health care. And those are stories that are still unfolding today and most of the very neighborhood. So, Beth, again, we can’t thank you enough for helping us kind of speak to the public in a way that is so often difficult for institutions like ours especially. You know, we have a lot of– we have a lot of enthusiasm and excitement, but we don’t always know the best way to speak to people who maybe feel a little bit intimidated by the kind of grandeur and whatnot that our building can convey.
Beth: This is kind of a side note, but it made me think about how fun it was to try to have conversations with people who who have never heard of the Mütter Museum and explain what it is and then try to get them interested in finding some way of commonality where they would be interested in going to the museum.
Tenara: Well, so let’s talk a little bit about the process that like you were focusing on Beth and what you ended up doing as, yeah, as like in a new way, a new entrance point for people who had either never heard of the pandemic or the motor museum to get involved in this project. So you organized a health fair. Correct?
Beth: Yeah, we did. We organized a health fair.
Tenara: Yeah. You did. And I was there. It was beautiful. Tell more. Talk more about that.
Beth: I think that was an emergent idea, it wasn’t something that we originally conceived that we were gonna be doing. But as the outreach continued, I think it took form as a way to both kind of bring people together who are health care workers and community based organizations, local organizations, folks that don’t know each other, and to kind of build a constituency around community health, community based health. And so we concentrated I think I mentioned that originally we were going to do outreach in four neighborhoods. Then it became two neighborhoods and we ended up concentrating significantly in South Philadelphia because that’s where a lot of the data was pointing to and also because there’s a lot of community based organizations working on health issues in that area of South Philadelphia. We had the Health Fair in Mifflin Square Park, which is kind of a very interesting part of Philadelphia. There’s a lot of immigrant and refugee communities living there. There’s, you know, historically immigrant neighborhoods all mixed together and it’s a changing part of the city. So we decided that would be a great place to kind of do some outreach. We brought together, I think, Nancy, I don’t remember, it was like somewhere between 40 and 50 organizations from around the city with a concentration of organizations from that neighborhood and I think it was pretty successful.
Nancy: Yeah, I mean, this idea kind of came to be because we realized, you know, we have all of these really great community partners that we want to– something that the museum can offer them as a platform. Right. And we wanted to make sure we were bringing them together, connecting the community to these resources that they may or may not know exist. And again, advocating for the work that is being done by these organizations that we don’t have the capacity to do ourselves. And so when we were talking about kind of the historical narrative of this exhibit, we’re ultimately talking about what is arguably the biggest failure of public health in the city of Philadelphia. And it seems a little bit of a disservice to talk about public health and the flu when there’s all these other kind of more modern, more for many people, more urgent public health issues that are a bigger threat to their day to day life. So we didn’t want to just go into communities to be like, here’s a free flu shot and have them be like, OK. But, you know, I’m addicted to opioids and I don’t know what you’re about that, I don’t have access to health care for my children. Things like that. And so Beth really helps guide us through a conversation of kind of like, OK, it’s all well and good that we want to do these things and we care about these things. But what are the resources that we have to offer? What are the resources that are most valuable to these communities? And how can we connect to. And I think the health fair was a really good manifestation of that because, you know, obviously we have a vast network of both fellowship through the College of Physicians as well as, you know, communication with these public health organizations that are doing such great work. And again, having a story to tell this community of, hey, you know, this neighborhood in 1918 was overwhelmingly Italian and Eastern European immigrants. And you are not Italian or Eastern European, but you’re still an immigrant community that’s facing a lot of the same adversities as your 1918 counterparts. So let’s work on that together.
Tenara: Yeah, I have I I have so many questions that had just arisen from what you’ve just said. But before we talk about what public health looks like, like outside of the Coronavirus pandemic in Philadelphia but then also within the Coronavirus pandemic, I’m curious, Nancy, if– how do I put this? So the like, really exciting, robust community engagement that happened for Spit Spreads Death is I think like I’m hearing that it’s emblematic of the desire to on a more institutional level, to push a little bit more towards medical humanities, but also that it was responsive to the actual like partnership end and project. Is this, like, mode of engagement for a museum, is it something that Mütter is seeking to do more and more of? Or is it mostly like or is it like really, the exhibit is going to tell us exactly how we’re going to be engaging with both the public.
Nancy: It’s something that I think we want to do more of moving forward. Again, there’s a lot of limitations for us as a small museum and based on funding, which is kind of a especially pressing issue right now with a lot of museum folks being out of work and to the museums being closed. But it’s especially after Spit Spreads Death and the impact that that had and kind of the– the experience of working with the community, it’s definitely something that we’re hoping to incorporate into exhibits in the future basically as much as possible. From now on, it is something that we want to keep working on too as the exhibits open and we’re gonna be open until 2024 but we’re planning on making flu vaccines available for free every fall throughout the life of the exhibit. And that’s something that we did kind of opening season. We offered free flu vaccines, not just at the health fair, but at the conclusion of the parade, as well as that the first kind of opening Saturday of the exhibit and we managed to vaccinate 151 people completely for free. Kind of the College fronting the money and making it really, really easy for people.
Tenara: That’s great. So shifting our conversation a little bit to what public health is, what it means, I think that and Beth, as a medical anthropologist, I’d love to hear you respond to this, but like, you know, I’ve been doing obviously a lot of reading in the last two weeks about epidemiology, public health, pandemics in general. You know, something that I find so funny is that like in a global pandemic, all the sudden, everybody’s an epidemiologist. And it’s like I didn’t know what flatten the curve was three weeks ago, but now it’s like the only thing that I’m hearing about. So, you know, there is this sort of there’s– there’s a funny situation that I’m reading about where like if these social distancing measures really succeed, then it’s going to feel like it was all for nothing, because we didn’t we don’t know anybody who got sick and we don’t know anybody who died. And of course, if they don’t succeed or if people don’t take them seriously, then a lot of people are going to die. And a lot of the health system is going to be an under immense strain. And so public health officials end up being in this like really damned if you do, damned if you don’t space because a lot of their work is is much harder to see or like you can see a failure of that work. So I don’t know if you have anything to respond to about like the sort of the space that public health lives in as opposed to other medical professionals that are much more about intervention of specific individual ailments.
Beth: Well, I think that public health and taking a public health lens requires us to look at community and to look at trends and to look at, sort of how the sociality of diseases and health and wellness and stuff are played out in larger groups. And that can be really challenging, especially for a culture or society that really thinks about individual health and individual health care. Access to health care is very individualized and through a market capitalist kind of lens. And so it is really hard for people, I think, to imagine or to visualize that some decision that they make, you know, has it, it may have an impact on something that they can’t see. And I think that it’s very easy for people to kind of be like, well, if I’m OK, then everybody’s OK or if I do this thing, I’m you know, and it’s the same with, you know, any kind of larger– like trying to imagine your wellness, your health or your lack thereof as being connected to other people. And it’s not something we’re encouraged to think about in the biomedical model, which is really based on like I’m going to fix whatever is wrong with me or whatever I’m symptomatic. Symptoms I might be feeling I’m going to seek out a doctor. It’s not really about, you know, even really understanding that some of the things that we’re experiencing are symptomatic of larger social trends or, you know, things like that. I think it’s really hard for us to think that way.
Nancy: Something that we discussed a lot during this exhibit, you know, work on this exhibit prior to the COVID-19 pandemic is that public health, a lot of people only think about public health and public health workers when it’s failing. And so it’s sort of a thankless job in that if public health fails, there’s a huge amount of blame that’s put on the people making decisions about public health. When it succeeds, either you say, what are these crazy people talking about or you don’t think about them at all. And so that very much contributes to what Beth was saying, A) about trying to suddenly get people to care about something that they otherwise don’t think about and is kind of always happening, but very much not on the radar. And again, your our collective role in community health is not something that really enters a lot of day to day consciousness. Your responsibility to the people around you in these events is something that we wanted to breach in the in the exhibit. And hopefully, hopefully more people are kind of taking that thought seriously.
Beth: Yeah, I think it was always a goal of the project to kind of honor frontline and frontline health workers, researchers, epidemiologists, community nurse aides, people who work with kids, kids and youth and, you know, all kinds of different structurally marginalized communities. And what it was one of the feedback that we got a lot from the health fairs, just that oftentimes people aren’t given a chance to pause and to think about their work and to connect with other folks. And it’s something that the College of Physicians does. And it kind of made a lot of sense for us to create some space for for the frontline health workers to have something similar. And people made a lot of connections, I think, through the outreach process and hopefully had a chance to talk about their work and make connections across the type of invisible labor that a lot of people do in caring for our public health.
Tenara: Yeah, I mean, I’m hearing– I’m hearing that like one of the best ways to be a be like an active and responsible participant in the process that keeps our communities healthy and safe, as is exactly to see yourself as somebody who’s larger than the whole or larger than themselves. You know, a greater part of the whole. And I, you know, partially based on just like straight up analysis from different cultures that I’m reading in this in this time, but also just my my gut sense of saying that part of what’s so hard about that specifically in our American culture is because there’s such a dissolution of community recently and that there’s a much stronger emphasis on the self as opposed to the whole. And so that just makes it you know, in these times it’s so much harder to, like shift that quick enough to do the best amount of prevention.
Beth: Yeah, I think that there’s kind of a a anxiety around that, too in that it’s really easy to kind of comfort yourself and say, well, I can control what happens to me. But when you start to think about your your role within the context of the whole kind of your– your responsibility to the community that you’re a part of, it becomes much harder to control and much harder to contend with. I do think that sometimes people choose not to think about that because it is very anxiety inducing when you think you know. And so I can kind of see it both ways. I do think a lot of people. Hopefully this will be a wakeup call for them to consider their role in their community health, but also, you know, giving them a little bit of a break in that it can be extremely anxiety inducing to think about kind of trying to take care of not only yourself but the people around you. So it’s a big responsibility.
Tenara: Yeah, and it reminds me so much of like that though this is something that I’ve just been thinking a lot about in my conversation with the two of you and also the conversation that we had earlier today with Blast Theory that public health and people who are are looking for community wellness there, they’re doing a lot of the same thinking that artists are because artists are asking a group of people to come together and experience something as a whole community and while you may have individual responses to what you’re seeing, you’re participating actively in a process that that requires and relies on other people to be a part of it. And so it’s like we don’t often think about the health care system or medicine or medical professionals as being extreme intrinsically linked to artists and art consumers. But it’s so evident to me right now that a lot of what public health does or is trying to get people to do on a more like individual basis is pretty similar to what artists and arts organizations are trying to get people to do.
Beth: I think there’s a beautiful affinity between community organizing, public health and socially engaged art. And I’ve been working in that kind of intersection for a few years now and I think that, you know, I had conversations with Matt and the other folks from Blast Theory about this and just that sometimes unexpected or nontraditional engagement tactics through community organizing, like using art as part of a community organizing effort over a long period of time can really get people to talk about these things that are really hard to talk about and to talk about like, you know, cross cultural differences around health care or social inequalities or finding commonalities to, you know, communities, especially in Philadelphia and even in the areas of South Philly where we were working on this project can be pretty fractured, you know, across lots of different landscapes, you know, whether that’s language or culture or whatever it might be, socio economic status. And so that community organizing and art can be a really beautiful way to get people to come together around these issues.
Tenara: Can you talk more about about specific things or specific conversations that you found that like came out of this work for this project in South Philly?
Beth: Well, I think that there’s a lot of organizations that are working on, it could be, you know, if you’re working for a community based health care organization or a youth organization, you know, it can be pretty mission oriented. Right. And sometimes you don’t have as much opportunity to work across organizations. And there’s a lot of that happening. But, you know, there’s a lot of affinities between the work of, say, SEAMAAC, which is a, you know, organization that does health care for different communities in South Philadelphia and like an organization in North Philly doing work with youth. Like they can find some commonalities, like kids came to certain programs and they they could find that there’s some sort something that they can relate to. I did it for this particular project. I did a mapping exercise with youth where we brought them together and talked about, you know, where we did, you know, they mapped on actual maps like where are the places in the city where you feel safe? Where are the places in the city where you don’t feel safe? And these are kids from all across the city and they’re able to talk about, you know, what they experience in their day to day lives, getting to and from school. And then we talked about, you know, where do they access health care and why do they access health care in these kind of conversations really reveal this, you know, in this particular instance, really revealed the students lived realities of sometimes not having access to health care or using traditional medicine in lieu of health care or, you know, knowing which which parts of the city to avoid and which parts of the city and how they conceptualize health in the city like health isn’t necessarily around what, you know, I might imagine it to be. It could be more about like I, health to me as being safe at my grandma’s house, you know, something like that. I think I went off on a tangent. I don’t know if I answered your question.
Tenara: I feel satisfied. Yeah. I mean, can you also talk a little bit about I guess this is this is in some way separate from Coronavirus. But obviously, Coronavirus will impact this in very specific ways but the kind of public health, I don’t want to use the word crises, but maybe that’s appropriate. The kind of public health issues that are specific to Philadelphia and things that people are doing to mitigate those in particular as coronavirus is going to be putting pressure on them that we’re already had pressure on them.
Nancy: I mean, I think the biggest thing for me and for those of us working at the college was really thinking at the time. Our biggest concern was with doing outreach to Kensington. Again, they were in a lot of flu deaths in that community in 1918. But looking at that community today, obviously we’re concerned about the opioid epidemic and how that’s affecting local residents of that community and also what that community represents to people who don’t live in the neighborhood. You know, in terms of the drug trade and open-air drug markets in the badlands and, you know, the kind of public health threats that we were concerned about at the time very much had to do with the opioid epidemic, tainted drugs and general addiction concerns. I do think that that’s still something that’s relevant in Philadelphia, even through the COVID-19 pandemic. If those communities are going to be hesitant to seek out traditional health care in the in the way that we see most people kind of addressing concerns about COVID-19, because if you have a chemical imbalance and addiction in your brain, being in a hospital for an extended period of time without access to the drugs that are going to alleviate those issues is a factor. And so potentially you’re going out to seek out narcotics because you have a chemical dependance, but you’re also now spreading this virus or making yourself vulnerable to this virus. On top of this other public health issue that you’re also having to navigate with very little resources at your disposal.
Beth: If you’re asking like what are the primary health concerns that people talked about with us and spoke about, I think there’s a lot of concern from health care providers around, you know, diabetes, infant mortality, mother, you know, stuff like that, I think are. And access to resources always comes up as a big one. You know, having where people access their health care, whether health care is accessible, insurance, health insurance. We have a lot of folks trying to get people to sign up for health insurance and benefits. I mean, I think some of the fractures of our health care system, which find their way to the most vulnerable populations. That’s what, in Philadelphia, we’re oftentimes just trying to meet the bottom line of those needs.
Tenara: Well, coming, coming sort of out of that. I’m yeah, I remain– something that’s scary about this time, but also like potentially really exciting and has got me really curious, is we are seeing in really stark relief what is totally dysfunctional about the society that we live in because with something like an external disruption of this size, so much is just falling apart. And so hopefully that means that we get to have a really exciting and restorative conversation about how we either repair the system or how we like create a new one that just works better, simply like fundamentally better. And I’m curious if either of the two of you have like, are excited or optimistic about how we rebuild out of this crisis and in what direction we might move into that will not only like we’ll be better prepared for the next pandemic, but just that in general we will be a healthier, more connected community.
Nancy: Yeah, I mean, I think my biggest hope is that people will learn from, you know, we’re seeing a lot of people whose access to health care very much depends on their employment. A lot of people who have health insurance through their employer who are now unemployed due to closures due to COVID-19. It’s difficult to to feel optimistic, at least for me, because I know that so many people are going to dig their heels in because we live in very much a capitalist economy and this is the only way of life so many people know. But hopefully this experience will reveal that having your access to health care tied to your employment is a problem because in times like this, employment can be very limiting and employment means different things to different people. No. Some people don’t have access to health care through their employment at all. Some of some people’s employment is completely off the books because it’s technically illegal. So hopefully this kind of widens the perspective for those of us who are lucky enough to have insurance through work and maybe have seen some of our some people that we more easily consider our peers be compromised by that loss to kind of see that every worker deserves access to health care no matter what, and when that person doesn’t have access to health care, it’s not just their problem. I think today we say, ‘oh, well, they should work harder. They should do this. They should do that.’ Irrelevant. They need access to health care because not only is it their problem, it’s everyone’s problem in times like this. So I’m hoping that that that conversation kicks up a little bit more. And we think about ways to make health care accessible to people regardless of their employment status and regardless of their type of employment.
Beth: Hear ye. Hear ye. Yeah. Hey, agree with that completely. I think, you know, focusing on health as a human right is a really fundamental thing and not just healthcare access, through your employment size whether or not you’re employed. Anybody and everybody should have access to health care. I think it would be wonderful if this could lead to other conversations about how, you know, there’s a domino effect that social vulnerabilities are often linked. Right. So when one thing goes wrong, a million other things go wrong and that people who are most vulnerable due to all kinds of structural things. You know, I keep thinking about how policies can be changed. The world that we have constructed, we constructed it. And yes, it’s through a capitalist model. But as soon as there’s a crisis, you can see that some of these things that we take as givens can be changed like a, well, automatically. Suddenly we can have free access to the Internet or suddenly we can have student loan debt rescinded or suddenly that there’s possibilities around policy changes that could have a dramatic impact on people, you know, and improve people’s quality of life. So if we stopped imagining that corporate profit is the only reason for living.
Nancy: That’s what I was saying was kind of thinking about the worthiness of an investment. I think a lot of the people who are involved in our government and a lot of us today, you know, are guilty of this as well. But thinking about financial investment is strictly financial and the return on that needing to be financial as well when we invest in a lot of things with our tax dollars that don’t really make sense. But, you know, there is a monetary return that looks really great on paper. I think we need today with COVID hopefully there will be some monetary numbers to put on paper to show that investing in public health is is a worthy investment of whatever trillion dollars we’re gonna have to inject into this. I know a lot of the conversations with these things prior to COVID-19. The issue is where was the money going to come from? And it’s kind of, you know, that suddenly, very suddenly it is becoming less and less questionnaire and. Right. So hopefully after we see, hey, if we spend this money on public health, we’re actually saving, you know, looking at the British NHS model, which has its own problems right now, and I don’t even have the time to get into that. But, you know, if you’re if you’re making preventative care available easily, well, how does that mitigate costs down the road? You know, solving a problem before it starts versus solving a problem after it’s already a thousand percent up in flames. So it’ll be interesting to see what the response is after this. I’m not holding my breath because I am too jaded, but I do– I do hope that there are some serious conversations with the general public. Really spend some time thinking about, you know, your neighbor who can’t go to the hospital now is a hundred percent your problem in a way that they weren’t three weeks ago.
Tenara: Oh, yeah. I’m personally very excited about the shifting relationship that individuals are going to have to art in this time and and hopefully that we can shift art as like a status experience, like people’s access to and patronage of the arts is like, like the idea that we have so much leisure time that we can actually spend money on on live performance or on collecting art, etc. and and move out of that space into like when we are stuck in can’t leave our homes and or are forced to stop working that the time that we have we have a different relationship then to things like music and creation that we get to have more agency over that process and that it becomes less of like ‘this is what I’m going to do to show how cultured I am’ and more of like ‘this is what I’m going to do because I’m a human and I have time now to be to fully express my humanity.’ Whereas before I was, I was a consumer or I was a worker.
Nancy: Yeah, I think something that’s been interesting with this project is we brought in Blast Theory and kind of the creative interpretive element just because, again, the art museum at its conception had a very different audience than it does now. At the time that our museum was put together was for medical students and medical professionals and today is for the general public. So the general public needs an additional element of interpretation that the medical public didn’t need and having a kind of creative process and a creative pathway for people to follow, to process this information, I think is really valuable and in times like this, again, when we started this project, we were asking people to process this historical event that they knew nothing about that was unbelievably tragic. Today, a lot of those same tools hopefully can be used for people to process what’s happening around them on a kind of more emotional level. It’s been interesting. Again, we have this email address: influenza1918@CollegeofPhysicians.org That people are emailing their family stories, too. But I’ve also been getting e-mails these last few weeks from people who went online to our digital interactive’s and saw that people died on their block. And wanted of the names that the people who died on their block because they want to– they want to kind of invest in brain space in their experience during a pandemic. And, you know, this one individual, she said she wanted she wanted to make something for them and she wanted to know who they were because she’s in her house hiding from a pandemic, going through what they went through and she feels like she has something to offer them. And so I’m hoping that people are taking this time that they potentially have at home to, you know, not only consumer, but maybe make art in an effort to help themselves process what’s going on around them, because there’s a lot to process. It’s overwhelming and it’s stressful. And I think that a creative outlet is a really great way to kind of go through that.
Beth: I love that. I love it having some kind of positive outlet and saying what what can happen when we disrupt our routines, when we disrupt what we imagine we should be investing in and imagine some other way, something else.
Nancy: And, you know, even if it’s as simple as making your grandma a postcard that you mail to her cause it’ll be funny, you’re doing that for a friend. You know, that’s still using a creative outlet to process what’s going on. So I hope that people who have seen the exhibit or came to the parade or came to the health fair, you know, we worked with Spiral Q to do basically an exercise of processing contemporary health care experiences and health care barriers through the lens of 1918 and asking people to make a lantern out of recycled materials based on that, and I hope that people who’ve kind of been in here with any part of our project are using those tools to kind of execute some some of their own thoughts out into the world right now.
Tenara: Yeah. And I hope it makes. Like, you know, looking to the future where we are able to publicly gather again, like I hope that the experience of our relationship to the art being much more of the creation part of it, where we get to actually we get to create our own artistic practice in this time when we have time. I hope that that also changes the way that we interact as, for lack of a better word, as consumers of art. Right? Because our our autonomy over the creative practice, I hope just like shifts and so that we– we feel less like there are artists and then there are not artists. Right? Like you don’t have to be an artist in order to sing a song. You don’t have to be an artist in order to doodle something and put it on a postcard and send it to your grandmother, because, you know, it’ll make her laugh because we all have like a right to artistic expression, even if it’s not a mode of being that we want to make money off of or that we want to identify ourselves with, that this is just like part of being a person.
Beth: Creativity is the purview of a song.
Tenara: Yes. Yes, it is. I want to thank both of you for joining me on the podcast today. This is like, you know, a bittersweet treat. I wish we were talking about maybe something else, but I’m really happy that I got to check in with the two of you because I don’t think we’ve seen each other since last year after this project finished.
Nancy: Thank you for having us again. It’s good, too. It’s good to hear your voices.
Beth: No, I agree. Yeah. Thank you Tenara.
Nancy: We’ve got to meet up in Mifflin Square Park and kind of reminisce sometime.
Tenara: I would love that. Well, be safe. Both of you. And be healthy. Yeah. We’l,l we’ll see each other on the other side, I assume.
Beth: Yes, we will. Thank you Tenara.
Nancy: Thank you, guys. Bye.
Tenara: Thank you for listening to Happy Hour on the Fringe. We hope everyone remains safe, healthy and optimistic during these troubling times. For updates to our programing schedule, visit our website at www.fringearts.com/covid-19 or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat or download the FringeArts app to receive up to date information. Stay safe, stay well and don’t forget to sign “Jolene” when you wash your hands.