Seeing voices of health disparity: Evaluating arts projects as influence processes
Arts-informed approaches are increasingly popular as vehicles for research, knowledge translation and for engaging key stakeholders on topics of health and health care. This paper describes an evaluation of a multimedia art installation intended to promote awareness of health disparities as experienced by homeless persons living in Toronto (Canada). The objective of the evaluation was to determine whether the installation had an impact on audience members, and if so, to understand its influence on viewers’ perspectives on homelessness and the health concerns of homeless persons. Key themes were identified through the analysis of direct observational data of viewer interactions with the exhibit and qualitative interviews with different audience members after the exhibit. The four key themes were: (1) Promoting recognition of common humanity between viewers and viewed (challenging previously held assumptions and stereotypes, narrowing perceived social distance); (2) functions fulfilled (or potentially fulfilled) by the exhibit: raising awareness, educational applications, and potential pathways by which the exhibit could serve as a call to social action; (3) stories that prompt more stories: the stories within the exhibit (coupled with the interview questions) prompted further sharing of stories amongst the evaluation respondents, highlighting the iterative nature of such approaches. Respondents told of recognizing similarities in the experiences recounted in the exhibit with their own interactions with homeless persons; (4) strengths and weaknesses identified: including aesthetic features, issues of audience ‘reach’ and the importance of suitable venues for exhibition. Theoretically informed by narrative analysis and visual anthropology, this evaluation demonstrates that arts-informed ‘interventions’ are highly complex and work in subtle ways on viewers, allowing them to re-imagine the lives of others and identify points of common interest. It also problematizes our assumptions about which outcomes matter and why.
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