Saturday, May 21, 2011

#TheWalkingGallery: A New Kind of Art

On June 7, 2011, I will be participating in a unique event. Part art show, part advocacy, part storytelling show-- The Walking Gallery encompasses all of these things. It is the brainchild of Regina Holliday, a remarkable health care advocate whose experiences stemmed from the loss of her husband (my professor) to cancer nearly two years ago. I've written about them before in "Health and the Hollidays." Regina has continued to be a tremendous inspiration to me, as she speaks out with her voice, her story, and her art.

At The Walking Gallery, people from a variety of careers and backgrounds will converge on the Kaiser Permanente offices in downtown DC, all of us wearing jackets (business suit jackets or lab coats) with paintings on the back. Each painting tells a story relevant to the person wearing it, and each is related to health care advocacy. We will wear our jackets that night, and whenever we speak at or attend advocacy events.

Regina just finished painting my jacket-- you can see pictures and Regina's write-up on her blog. The concept is based around the lessons I learned in Prof. Holliday's class-- the power of the media in telling stories. The class I took, American Society on Stage and Screen, analyzed the way the society in which we live is portrayed by the art we produce. In the case of that class, we looked at the mediums of theater and cinema. Prof. Holliday taught the class well, leading us in discussions of how race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and more had been depicted on the big and small screen through the years.

We did not have the chance to discuss this in his class, but since Prof. Holliday's death I have been thinking about how media tells health stories. Sometimes they do it well, and deal honestly with tough issues-- Regina's painting on my jacket shows examples of this. Other times, the challenges faced by real people are, at one extreme, glossed over, and at the other, overdramatized. The story of health care reform has not been told well-- when we realize this, it is no great surprise that people don't think we need a more complete reform. That reform has to happen not only in the legislative process but in the way we look at our system, and changing that starts with the way we tell our stories. I will be proud to wear my jacket in The Walking Gallery and elsewhere, and to use it to talk about the need to tell our stories well.