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Health Disparities in Our Community: Reflections In Art and Performance

Feb. 1, 2008
Arizona State University
411 N. Central Avenue
Phoenix, Arizona

Review by judy butzine, Cultural Arts Coalition

The issues of urban life are being discussed and communicated through the arts in downtown Phoenix.

Dr. Olga Davis, Associate Professor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University and co-Principle Investigator of the Community Engagement/Community Outreach Core of the SIRC NIH-P20 Center of Excellence grant for the Study of Health Disparities in the Southwest, introduced the evening program at this ASU downtown facility.

Collaborations with multiple community players was one of the prime focuses of this night of honoring the arts and artists as a mean of communication to deal with issues of Health Disparity in our local and state communities.

I was introduced to Dr. Davis by Gail Petersen MS, RN, Assistant Director for Clinical Practice, ASU College of Nursing & Healthcare Innovation.

As a former health care worker of 20 years, social worker and co-founder/co-director of the Cultural Arts Coalition http://www.ArtsCARE.org/cac.intro.shtml, I understand it is essential to support and document this significant community event.

The Mission of the Cultural Arts Coalition, Arizona: 501 (c) 3
Identifying, supporting, promoting, celebrating, and documenting those community arts practices that stimulate social awareness and honor diverse cultural values, and develop the critical thinking skills necessary to be creative and solve problems. As a networking group, the coalition strives to provide a safe place for persons of all ages and backgrounds to gather and achieve a sense of belonging and respect within a larger community and to explore arts-related skills in a facilitated environment.

The artist's understanding on the dilemma of health disparities and the resilience of the community, underscores the importance of "voice" of visual and performance artists to engage the community in reflections of health-related influences and quality of life. Understanding health disparities through visual and performance art highlights the role that art and performance play in health intervention. This program is in recognition of Black History Month, and is co-sponsored by ASU's Hugh Downs School of Human Communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center (SIRC), a national Center of Excellence in health disparities research and the Office of the Vice Provost for Administrative Services at the Downtown Phoenix Campus.

Booths from many sectors of the community supporting AIDS education and medical facilities dealing with persons from economically depressed neighborhoods lined the entry hall way. Subjects like quality of life, risk, resilience, culture, substance abuse, mental health and HIV/AIDS were all focused on during the evening.

My second purpose for being at this ASU event was to introduce Ngurimuje "Naf" Mieze from Namibia to the educational opportunities that exist in Arizona.

Gene Blue, Dir. of OIC, Naf and Dr. Eugene Grigsby, Jr., Dir. Of COBA

Naf came to Arizona following the suggestion of an ASU graduate student, Janie Ross, in dance who had spent the summer as a cultural development worker and teacher in his home country of Namibia, Africa.

The first person Naf and Janie met Friday night was Dr. Davis. Naf explained his educational objectives: to return to Arizona next semester to learn photography and digital storytelling skills to take back to youth in Namibia to facilitate opportunities to learn skills for employment and to reconnect to all members in the communities where they reside. There is 40 % unemployment amongst the youth in this country.

Janie just completed her master's dance thesis, a presentation at Arizona State University. Naf had assisted her and together they created a program that focused on Hope for the youth and rest of the population of Namibia in spite of poverty and high incidence of AIDS.

Dr. Davis spoke of the work of talented African-American dancers and professors who focus on this very conversation in the work they do in the community. "Dr. Racquel Monroe (in the image above) was formerly a master's student in our School (Hugh Downs School of Human Communication) and I directed her master's thesis. She went on to earn a doctoral degree from UCLA in Performance and has recently returned to the valley, now teaching at Scottsdale Community College."

The drumming of Dr. Mark Sunkett and his ASU teaching staff along with the Kawambe-Omowale dancers http://kawambe-omowaleafricandrumanddance.com/danceclass.htm presented an interactive dance session. Dr. Sunkett has spoken in the past concerning how the slaves were brought to this country in the hulls of ships tightly closeted, in chains, one on top of the other. Their survival was dependent upon exercise through dance allowed on the ship's deck. Again it must be understood that when forced together, not speaking a common language a means of universal communication was attained through music and movement that united these persons' souls and gave them the capacity to thrive. This kind of creative expression is essential today for many of all ages and bridges the two worlds of Africa and the United States.

During the past years educational programming through the Cultural Arts Coalition has taken Kawambe-Omowale dance programming through interdisciplinary curriculum into multiple school settings in Phoenix, Glendale and Tempe. (Kawambe-Omowale offers a FREE West African drum and dance class for the community on Saturday mornings from 10:30 to 11:45 a.m. at Eastlake Park Recreation Center. Eastlake Park is located on the southwest corner of 16th Street and Jefferson in downtown Phoenix (physical address: 1549 East Jefferson Street, Phoenix, AZ 85034).


At this ASU gathering Naf and Janie met R.J. Shannon, Director of AIDS Education throughout the state of Arizona. There are 1,800,000 people who populate Namibia. There are 400,000 recorded cases of persons diagnosed with AIDS. It is suspected that the rate is closer to 800,000 persons infected. Ms. Shannon received the "Friend of Phoenix - Thank You Award" from Mayor Phil Gordon last year at the MLK, Jr. breakfast. She is the Chairperson of the Phoenix Human Relations commission. R.J. wants very much to interact with Naf when he and his family return to Arizona for education.

Janie and Naf also met Dr. Bernard Young, ASU Professor of Art Education

Last year Dr. Young and Dr. Mary Stokrocki, Professor of Art Education and Research at ASU, invited me to meet with them and a visiting professor from Portugal who was speaking on campus. In a group session facilitated by Dr. Stokrocki persons like Dr. Kathryn Coe (Ancestress Hypothesis: Visual Arts as Adaptation), teachers and interested persons discussed the UNESCO World Arts Congress and its purposefulness of focus through InSEA (International Arts and Science Organ. http://www.insea.org).

What are UNESCO's global reforms?
At the 2006 World Congress in the Arts in Lisbon, Portugal, UNESCO set forth reforms based on four pillars: Learn to know; Learn to do; Learn to live together; and Learn to be.

How do we do we transcend fear locally and globally? Bamford (2006) stresses that the world of tomorrow will need invention, innovation, and design to be able to design the materials, conditions, and community to fit this new world shaped by globalization. And young people need sustained and sequential learning in the arts. Students also need to learn to be critical/ critique/evaluate/reflective (visual culture). We MUST help children develop critical thinking to help them become aware of transcorporate manipulation and the transcultural allure of the InterNET. We provide cross-cultural exchanges of ideas and artwork both locally displayed and on the Internet through blogs.

This is exactly why Naf is in this country: To make the connections for this kind of learning to take back to his community. It is also to establish an artists and student exchange between the 2 countries.


Nate and Donna Davis are very active in the African-American community. Nate creates beautiful beadwork and works with children in schools.


Joe Willie Smith, nationally recognized Visual Artist, and Naf meet.


Keith Johnson, Arizona Roster Artist (story teller and percussionist) meets with Naf and Judy and Paul Butzine.


Around the perimeter of the ASU lobby area were the artworks of various Black artists:


Art by Richard Retter


Naf with Mary Gray and her husband John. Mary Gray was the first African-American woman to graduate from ASU with a Master's Degree in Fine Arts: Drawing and Painting. She is on the board of COBA and very active in our community.


Naf speaks with Richard Retter and Mary Gray, both members of COBA (Consortium of Black Artists and Others for the Arts)

Meanwhile Janie begins a conversation with Jackie Mahoney, MSW and playwright.

The conversation ended with a meeting planned between Jackie and Naf concerning teaching youth in his country.

This conversation has already been initiated with Dr. Julie Sullivan, Director of IFESH. http://www.ifesh.org/

Welcome to IFESH

The International Foundation for Education and Self-Help (IFESH) was established as a 501(c) (3) nongovernmental, nonprofit, charitable organization under the vision and leadership of the late Reverend Leon H. Sullivan to reduce hunger and poverty, empower the local community by raising the standard of literacy, and to foster cultural, social, and economic relations between Americans and Africans, particularly those Americans who are of African decent.


Naf met with Dr. Julie Sullivan, Dr. Grigsby and Gene Blue in December 2007 in Dr. Grigsby's studio.


The events of the evening would not have been complete without hitting the streets on First Fridays to see what else was going on in the community.

First Friday Art Walk!!! It's gonna' be a Party!!!!!

I joined Ayo Sharpe-Mouzon, African Dancer & Poet, and John Mouzon, drummer, at Ann Marie's place, 1229 NW Grand Avenue, Friday, Feb. 1, 2008 - 8:00 - 10:00P.M. This location is in downtown Phoenix, west of 13th Avenue & Grand!!!!!

It is a charming boutique featuring an internet cafe', unique & quality vintage clothing, coffee and much, much more. When I entered, Fatimah Halim, Visual Artist and Storyteller, and her friend were still checking out the vintage clothing and enjoying the dance and prose of Ayo.

What an absolutely enchanting space!

Ayo has an African exercise CD as well as one of her prose. ayosharpemouzon@yahoo.com She is also an artist in residence and has worked with the CAC on various educational programs through out the community.

Naf and Janie came by to visit. Ayo came to ASU to instruct Janie and other graduate level students in an ASU class titled Community Engagement in and Through the Arts during the spring of 2006.


Special note: Dr. Davis is an alumna of The Juilliard School and is trained in classical and contemporary theatre, and rhetorical theory and criticism. Olga's television debut occurred on ABC's daytime drama, General Hospital, and later performed in the bicentennial touring production of John Brown's Body with Rock Hudson, Claire Trevor, and Leif Erickson. She has made several narrated documentaries for Nebraska Educational Television and Nebraska Public Radio including the culture of the Lakota Indians and the history of Kwanza. Her performance endeavors and scholarly research blend together as expressions of black women's identity throughout the African Diaspora.


Comments by Olga Davis via e-mail
From: Olga Davis [mailto:Olga.Davis@asu.edu]
Sent: Monday, February 04, 2008 11:51 AM
Subject: RE: Review of Health Disparities in Our Community: Reflections in Art and Performance

Dear Judith,

It was a pleasure to have met you last Friday evening at the Health Disparities event at the University Center downtown campus. What a joy it was to see all of the co-sponsors, the community partners, the community members, and ASU staff, students, faculty....everyone! It was a joyous experience and many have expressed their enjoyment for attending and being inspired by art work, dance, spoken word, music, and light repass.

I thank you for the great coverage you've given the event in your community review of the evening. Thank you so much for the great photos and wonderful captions which provide a continuity of the way in which art and performance are being interwoven into the fabric of our Phoenix community to address some of these salient and devastating issues. I appreciate your attention to detail and inclusivity in your storytelling documentation. Thank you very much.

You had asked about the dancer who was on the West Lobby screen. Her name is Dr. Racquel Monroe. She was formerly a master's student in our School (Hugh Downs School of Human Communication) and I directed her master's thesis. She went on to earn a doctoral degree from UCLA in Performance and has recently returned to the valley, now teaching at Scottsdale Community College.

Thank you very much, Judith, for attending and being such a great inspiration and supporter of this event. I hope our paths will cross again soon.

Peace and blessings throughout the week,

Olga Davis


The Mission of the Cultural Arts Coalition, Arizona: 501 (c) 3
Identifying, supporting, promoting, celebrating, and documenting those community arts practices that stimulate social awareness and honor diverse cultural values, and develop the critical thinking skills necessary to be creative and solve problems. As a networking group, the coalition strives to provide a safe place for persons of all ages and backgrounds to gather and achieve a sense of belonging and respect within a larger community and to explore arts-related skills in a facilitated environment.
The Goals of the Cultural Arts Coalition are to:

  • Provide spaces and opportunities for persons to engage in dialogue, experiences, and research that expand the definition and understanding of the role of the arts in enriching our daily lives in community and academic settings.
  • Examine and explore "guiding arts practices" of programming that meet the needs of an integrated community.
  • Celebrate and feature projects and programs at regular meetings as well as larger, community focused forums. Our intent is to help others, whether children, teens, people of middle age or older adults, to use the arts as a mean by which they can explore "the human condition" (including her or his own condition) in and through time.
  • Document and publish methods and examples of successful cultural arts delivery in academic and community settings.
  • Generate connections across an expanding network of individuals and groups who embrace the mission and goals of the Cultural Arts Coalition.