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UC Merced Chancellor’s Task Force on Community Engaged Scholarship. Weaving Traditional Arts Into the Fabric of Community Health. Amy Kitchener Executive Director, ACTA Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, MD, PhD Professor of Clinical Internal Medicine Director, Center for Reducing Health Disparities

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UC Merced Chancellor’s Task Force on Community Engaged Scholarship

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UC Merced Chancellor’s Task Force on Community Engaged Scholarship

Weaving Traditional Arts Into the Fabric of Community Health

Amy Kitchener

Executive Director, ACTA

Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, MD, PhD

Professor of Clinical Internal Medicine

Director, Center for Reducing Health Disparities

UC Davis School of Medicine

Merced, CA

December 2, 2011

Alliance for California Traditional Arts

Alliance for California Traditional Arts

“to ensure California’s future holds California’s past”

ACTA promotes and supports ways for cultural traditions to thrive now and into the future by providing advocacy, resources, and connections for folk and traditional artists and their communities.

What are folk & traditional arts?

African American quilt making  Japanese bonsai  Western saddle making  Karuk dip net fishing  Chinese qin music  Kumeyaay sacred songs  Cowboy poetry  Laotian dance  Hmong wedding and funeral ritual singing  Indian carnatic music  Hungarian six-hole fipple flute  Mexican mariachi music  Mechoopda Maidu dance regalia  Hawaiian kahiko hula chant and dance  Mono basketry  Pilipino rondalla ensembles  Portuguese fado singing  South Indian bharata natyam dance  Mexican-American corridos  Vietnamese cai luong opera Chinese qin music  Persian tar music  Cuban Orisha-Lucumi music  North Indian kathak dance  Maguindanao kulintang music  Ohlone basketry  Mexican cartonería  Korean seal carving  Western boot making  Hmong qeej music  Okinawan dance  Cambodian pin peat music  Armenian marash embroidery  Mexican son huasteco music  Cahuilla bird singing  Persian santour music  Tibetan folk dance  Afro-Cuban bata drumming  Hmong reverse appliqué embroidery  Lao weaving  Mexican son jarocho music  Scottish Highland bagpipe music  Chinese dizi music  Filipino eskrima  Puerto Rican bomba music and dance  Judeo-Arabic music  Chinese Kunqu opera  Armenian oud music  Karuk basketry  Yurok hand-carved dugout redwood canoes  Brazilian capoeira  Pomo baby cradle making  Arab derbakeh music  Mexican Día de los Muertos altars  Hungarian folk dance  Senegalese music and dance  Japanese shamisen music  Danza Azteca regalia  Romani music and dance  Ghanaian drumming  Mexican ballet folklorico  African American gospel choirs  Trinidadian Carnival costumes, music and dance  Somali women’s oral poetry

ACTA-UC Davis Health Systems Collaboration

  • Why would an arts organization want to commission health research?

  • UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities and Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola

  • 1998 Archives of General Psychiatry

    William Vega, et al -- Ethel Alderette, Ralph Catalano, Bohdan Kolody, Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, Jorge Caraveo-Anduaga

    • Assimilation causes the rate of mental illness to double among the children of Mexican Immigrants

Living Cultures Grants Program

Living Cultures Grants Program

  • Grants up to $7,500 to support exemplary projects in the folk and traditional arts

  • Annual cycle makes 45-60 grants statewide (2011 pool of $400,000)

  • Large portion of grants are made to support arts learning of traditional arts (intergenerational)

  • Sub-cohort of teen-focused artistic advancement

Apprenticeship Program

Apprenticeship Program

  • $3,000 contracts to Master traditional artists to support intensive one-on-one learning to qualified apprentices

  • 17-24 contracts annually statewide

  • Intergenerational relationships between masters and apprentices

  • Public sharing component of each apprenticeship



La Cultura Cura


























Vega, Kolody, Aguilar-Gaxiola et al., Archives of General Psychiatry, 1998


Vega, Kolody, Aguilar-Gaxiola et al., Archives of General Psychiatry, 1998























Vega, Kolody, Aguilar-Gaxiola et al., Archives of General Psychiatry, 1998

“We have known for a long time that community engagement in traditional arts has many types of positive effects that relate to individual and community health…we wanted to find a way to move beyond a series of individual anecdotes shared with the ACTA staff to a more formal evaluation process that could begin to quantify some of the important effects, particularly the connection between community-based traditional arts and health.”

Amy Kitchener, 2011

ACTA, by engaging people in the traditional art forms of their cultures, fosters in them a sense of community, cultural pride, and personal achievement that improves their sense of well-being and may ultimately benefit their health, as individuals and as members of a community.

A Bold Premise

“The very practice of an art form, with its focus on concentration and self-improvement, may provide a welcome distraction from illness and a satisfying sense of accomplishment.”


  • Self-actualization, health literacy, and communication

  • Community engagement outside of traditional health care settings

  • Intergenerational learning promoting health and wellness; engaging elders

  • Resilience, self-efficacy and empowerment of the younger generation

Arts-to-Health: La Cultura Cura

  • Evaluation of arts-for-health interventions is a source of controversy.

  • There is conflict between two perspectives:

    • A health care perspective that demands rigorous evidence to prove art’s link with health

    • An art perspective that emphasizes intrinsic benefits of art and resists art’s subjugation to narrowly defined health goals

The Research Challenge

  • The Living Cultures Grants Program and the Apprenticeship Program were conducted in two phases: Initial and Culminating.

  • Main methodology: Narrative interviews and focus groups.

  • Main goal: to identify key positive health-related outcomes.

  • Identify common themes.

Qualitative Evaluations of Two ACTA Programs

UC Davis researchers conducted interviews of 23 participants from 6 Living Cultures Programs:

  • Included semi-structured individual interviews with the purpose of documenting participants’ perceptions of how ACTA programs had been implemented and its outcomes.

  • The questions concerned the effects of the traditional arts program on the individual participant and how the program affected participants’ relationship with their communities.

The Living Cultures Program

  • Au Co Vietnamese Cultural Center

  • Coyote’s Paw

  • Filipino American Development Foundation

  • Haitian Dance Drum Retreat

  • Garifuna American Heritage Foundation United

  • Mariachi Master-Apprentice Program of the City of San Fernando

Living Cultures Grants Program

  • Knowledge and preservation of culture and history

  • Cultural pride

  • Artistic development

  • Impact on personal well-being

  • Community involvement

  • Teamwork/Collaboration (collective energy)

Recurring Themes (LCP)

  • Clarification of future goals

  • Enhancement of physical and/or mental health

  • Perception of positive social characteristics/self-esteem

  • Desire to grow and continue learning

  • Spiritual and emotional connection to art and culture

  • Self-actualization

  • Enhanced identity

  • Community involvement

Health and Well-Being (LCP)

“Afro-Haitian dance feeds my spirit and continues to make my warrior spirit shine and whatever I can do to prolong that, which is studying directly with Haitian masters, I’m there and I am so grateful for this dance form…I can’t explain like how blessed I feel…”

  • --Haitian Dance and Drum Retreat Participant

  • The UC Davis researchers’ interviews consisted of:

    • 10 Masters (45.5%)

    • 12 Apprentices (54.5%)

  • Semi-Structured interviews were completed for each master and apprentice

  • The purpose was to document participants’ perceptions and look at:

    • Skill development

    • Critical life experiences

    • Enhancement of community relations

    • Increase community belonging

    • Cultural pride

The Apprenticeship Program

  • Master D: A 59-year-old Laotian master weaver

  • Apprentice D: A 29-year-old Laotian

  • Master F: A 69-year-old Armenian musician

  • Apprentice F: A 10-year-old Armenian

  • Master H: A 63-year-old Pomo Native basket weaver

  • Apprentice H: A 35-year-old Pomo Native

  • Master J: A 68-year old Chinese Kunqu dancer

  • Apprentice J: A 19-year-old Chinese

  • Master K: A 74-year-old Mexican traditional dancer

  • Apprentice K: A 26 year old Mexican

Apprenticeship Program Participants

  • Enhancement of community resources

  • Increasing community awareness

  • Strengthening community relations

  • Increasing community belonging

  • Cultural pride

  • Personal health and well-being

Recurring Themes (AP)

  • Self-improvement

  • Spiritual and moral growth

  • Skill-Learning

  • Feeling “whole”

  • Physical health

    • Growing physically stronger

    • Healing effect

    • Cleansing effect

Effects on Well-Being (AP)

  • Physical Health

    • Healing effect

      “I will be teaching 15 Native Americans [basket making] … and it is paid through the Indian health clinics. They see art as healing. This last class I just did…was specifically geared for diabetics, for people who were bad diabetics.”

      --Master H Pomo Native American Basket Maker

Health and Well-Being (AP)

  • Embracing the Traditional Arts to promote well-being and health:

    • Traditional arts prize and capitalize on intergenerational learning and connection.

    • Each generation adds to a tradition.

    • The community’s shared sense of beauty and craftsmanship become a source of identity and pride.

  • All of these are the very building blocks of well-being.


“…For the health of the children, good health, mental, physical, , health of the children. To bring spirituality, to bring structure, to bring discipline…to feel good about the ethnicity…to be proud of who they are. To have a cultural identity, to feel this is me. I am happy to be who I am”

  • --Female Indian BharataNatyam Dancer

Mainstreaming Arts-to-Health

Hugo Morales, JD

Nolan Zane, PhD.

Linda Zieganh, PhD

Marbella Sala

Leticia Carrillo, PhD

Elizabeth Miller, MD, PhD

Sherwood Chen

A special thanks to The California Endowment for their generous support of this study.


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