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Casper-Based Nonprofit Aims To Address Health Concerns With The Arts

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ART 321
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A Casper-based nonprofit, ART 321, is holding its first statewide conference aimed at addressing the health concerns of Wyoming residents through the arts. Wyoming has the highest youth incarceration rate and one of the highest suicide rates in the nation.

 

But ART 321 plans to fight against those things using the arts.

The conference is scheduled for May 20 to 22 in Casper. And Wyoming Public Radio's Naina Rao talked with the nonprofit's executive director, Tyler Cessor, about the need for a conference like this right now.

Tyler Cessor: Everything that was a concern before the pandemic is only exacerbated now, right? So this is the first statewide effort to bring together a coalition of artists, health care providers, community service providers, anyone that is interested in improving the health outcomes of Wyoming residents through the arts.

It came about, both Hilary Camino and I, who is a Board Certified music therapist out of Jackson, started this several years ago in a very grassroots level. And then, ART 321 had an established history of creating programs or creating guiding documents and resources for programs, like the healing through art toolkit, that they created a number of years ago, based on an increase in youth suicide rates in Casper. So building on that tradition, the work Hilary and I have done, that's what created this conference for us.

We thought about maybe postponing it to next year, just because, everything with COVID, planning was hard, logistics are hard. But we decided that it was too timely and critical for us to not do something. So this year, we decided to really prioritize just bringing together a coalition of leaders and artists in whatever ways that they could attend. So that's why you can attend either online or in person. It's fully hybrid so that people could attend in ways that are most comfortable to them.

Naina Rao: Yeah. Tell me a little bit more about - because you mentioned that now is the most 'timely time', if that's even a word, the most 'timely time' to hold this event. What inspired [you] to create or start this conference?

TC: Initially, Hilary and I had looked at the lack of direct support for clinical music therapy in the state. About 16 other states have music therapy covered in some way under their state Medicaid programs, either through waiver or through statute. That's what started this journey several years ago. But then as we invested more in this arts and health program, we saw this continuum of arts and health from communities that just have vibrant arts infused culturally relevant activities going on, they have a tendency to be healthier, there's greater social cohesion, interaction. And then we saw on the other side of that continuum, is the direct interventions like clinical music therapy.

I have been serving on the State Health Improvement Plans steering committee, for the Department of Health, and just sitting in that room hearing the assessment, the findings and the great needs of residents in Wyoming, I wanted to figure out how do we get the creative community involved in solving these health challenges. And just partnering with health care providers, partnering with these community service leaders, and also finding ways to just showcase the power of arts as an inherently healthy activity. And that's, I guess, the genesis of this, right? Just trying to bring people together to identify and resource arts and health programs.

NR: You know, while we're talking about health, we're still in the middle of a pandemic. And, why do you think it's especially important to hold this conference program right now, while COVID-19 is still going on? Because I know we mentioned that it's extremely important and very timely to have this conference right now. But why COVID-19 made it important to have it now?

TC: If you had feelings of isolation and lack of community cohesion, that's exactly what was made worse during COVID. And now is a time for us to say, 'Okay, what can we do today, tomorrow, next year?' And we didn't want to push that conversation off to next year.

For example, Lindsey Hughes, our keynote speaker from the Department of Health, she's very concerned as we are about what's the fallout going to be for healthcare providers or those that are, you know, boots on the ground, dealing with COVID every day, you know, just the full extent of their capacity? What is that going to look like when they finally get to rest and sit down and process their own grief and their own emotions? And how do we preventively support them through that experience, right? I don't want to see a rise in provider burnout or provider suicide, heaven forbid. We want to get ahead of that. And this conference was one small step for us to say like, 'Let's rally the troops, let's get people involved and figure out some action that we can take in our own communities.' Next year, we'll have the next conference and we'll dig a little deeper and move a little further forward. But this year, it's all about bringing the community coalition together.

NR: What do you hope the community and participants and attendees take away from this whole conference program?

TC: I hope they take away energy and excitement for what is possible through the arts. They also know that they, as an individual, can influence the health of anyone around them, either directly or even just passively through your art as a way to express complex narratives, and emotions that, well, might help someone else feel like they're not alone, or it might share an experience with somebody. And even just getting together with a couple friends to create together is also inherently healthy and can be part of that healing process for folks.

So, I guess the takeaway for me is, anyone at any time, anywhere, can create arts programs that improve health with the right resources and investment.

NR: Executive Director of ART 321, Tyler Cessor, thank you so much for your time.

TC: Thank you.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

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