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Contra Costa Health Services

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Formerly "The Quilt of Many Colors"

An Art and History Project to Promote Diversity

This exhibit is a reflection of the diverse and creative spirit of the residents and workers of Richmond. Thank you for sharing your lives.

  -- from the public comment book

"One of the major challenges in a county health facility is the struggle to appropriately serve the diversity of patients, to be able to see their stories and their lives. This project turns on the color so we see each other and our patients in the fullness and beauty of our cultures and lives. Art has a way of reaching people on a subliminal, feeling level. I thought it would be a way to create thought and dialogue, for staff and community to change how they thought of themselves and others. I believed it would have impact on how we serve the patient. This is a new genre, using the arts for social change, using the arts to help us see how we can work more effectively to deliver health care to diverse communities", Ann Schnake, ArtsChange project coordinator.

ArtsChange was launched in 1996 by staff at the Richmond Health Center, an outpatient clinic of Contra Costa Health Services that serves the most vulnerable members of the Richmond community. The clinic is located in downtown Richmond in a building adjacent to the Richmond Municipal courthouse and not far from city hall.

Thousands of years ago, Ohlone Indians lived in the area that is now Richmond. Later, Mexican Don Francisco Castro was given a land grant for the area. The city was incorporated in 1905 with a population of 2,150. Before World War I, the African American population of Richmond was only 4,000. As African Americans migrated from the South to work in the shipyards, the African American population expanded to 40,000. When the war ended and the jobs disappeared, many newcomers stayed on but their economic status suffered.

Diversity in Richmond

The City of Richmond has always had a diverse population. The 2000 Census reported the population at 101,700: 31.4% White, 36.1% African American, 12.3 % Asian/Pacific Islander. Latinos are 26.5% of the population, a dramatic increase.

At the Richmond Health Center, the diversity is especially apparent. Patients are 43.6% African American, 24% Latino, 15.9% Asian and 12.6% White. The nurses, clerks and other support staff at the Health Center are equally diverse, although the physicians and nurse practitioners are mostly white.

The city has a nationally recognized community art program and is one of the few cities to be given funding as a millennium city. The City established an Arts and Culture Commission in 1988.

Mission of the Project

ArtsChange is rooted in the beliefs that;
  • communities and individuals are empowered by art that authentically reflects their lives and struggles
  • the transformative powers of the arts promotes cross cultural interactions
  • the arts are an essential component of a healthy community.

ArtsChange Project creates and installs exhibitions in the waiting areas of County Health Centers and Social Service Centers, providing educational, arts and cultural programming to these sites, and touring these exhibitions to other community settings.

Objectives include:

  • Promote the working relationships among multi-cultural staff
  • Celebrate the rich diversity of Richmond, patients and staff
  • Build tolerance and healthy communities
  • Extend the benefits of the arts to underserved communities.

The exhibits utilize the rich artistic resources of the community, including photos and oral histories of clinic patients and community members. They focus on the common ground in each group's experience; the hunger for vision of self and expression of identify; and the need to archive invaluable community history. The exhibits address tensions in the community around migration and stimulate dialogue within the clinic, the community and the larger health system.

The project began as a joint endeavor of the RHC's Community Arts and Diversity Committee, composed of Center staff, and Community Works, a nonprofit community arts program. RHC collaborates with the Richmond Art Center, the Museum of History, the National Institute of Art and Disabilities and East Bay Center for the Performing Arts to produce the exhibits. Clinic staff are involved in planning the exhibits, local artists have created the artwork, residents and patients have shared their stores and family memorabilia and local founders have provided financial support.

How the Project Operates

I learned a lot about the traditions and culture of different communities. In order to treat people from different cultures, you need to know their cultures and then you can help them deal with their health problems. This project allows me, when I'm dealing with patients, to understand their culture, how things work differently in their country and maybe give them a little more time.

   -- Health Center staff member

The project has a number of components:

  • Art and history exhibits created with local artists and a staff planning committee
  • Events to introduce the exhibits
  • Internal diversity efforts to promote dialogue and understanding
  • Reinstallations of exhibitions in other community settings

The project uses the waiting area of the Health Center as a venue for art exhibits. The Project's coordinator and a committee made up of Health Center staff develop the exhibits and the programs that launch each exhibit. They also develop and participate in the internal diversity efforts that are part of the project. As the Committee conceives, plans and builds each exhibit, they create a forum to focus on diversity issues within the clinic and to learn more about their patients and co-workers.

Since 1996, more than 5 exhibits have been produced each year, attracting 10,000 patients, residents and others annually. ArtsChange shows have been presented including family photos, artwork, memorabilia and common objects from Richmond's Native American, African American, Latino, Vietnamese, Laotian, Filipino, and Gay and Lesbian communities. Exhibits on the Jewish, European American, Middle Eastern and Chinese American communities are planned or have been scheduled.

The content of the exhibitions at the Health Center is planned by focus groups of artists, staff, patients and community members. Some exhibitions have taken more than a year of planning and community building, while others exhibitions are created in a few workshops. A larger staff committee of 20-30 members arrange for events to open exhibits. The events include oral history, music, food and appearances by local artists. The planning committee have even cooked ethnic food for the celebration.

Committee members also participated in a number of workshops addressing tolerance and diversity, lead by an outside consultant. To help staff learn about different cultures on an ongoing basis, a library of resource materials has been established. In-service training on specific health and cultural topics has also been given.

What People Think About the Project

In an evaluation performed several years ago, staff reported high levels of support, positive feelings about the cultural learning that occurred and a belief that greater understanding was helping them better serve patients. Visitors indicated a higher level of awareness about other cultures, a feeling of pride for their own culture and for the diversity of the community, and a sense of connectedness with other cultures. People agreed the art made the clinic more attractive and made patients feel welcome and affirmed.

"A health center may seem like a unusual place for art exhibitions, but the exhibitions help us to do our healing work. We present the shows to celebrate the rich diversity of Richmond, our patients and our staff, and to bring art to where it can enlighten and create change."

  -- Ann Schnake, Project Coordinator

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