Fingerpainting As A Gateway Drug To Better Health

Head over to CityLab and read an interesting piece about how Minneapolis health clinic used pop-up art stations to provide services in their community.

People’s Center Health Services hired 16-17 artists to spend a few hours every Thursday over a summer in an attempt to “…engage with the community about health in a less disease-focused and more organic way.”

Part of the People’s Center’s mission is to engage its community in health education and outreach. But it has found that more traditional mechanisms like classes and workshops had not been well attended.

“If you invite people to a class on health, no one will show up because it’s boring,” said CEO of People’s Center Clinics & Services Sahra Noor.


The People’s Center asked the artists to engage with those who sought treatment at the clinic, as well as staff and passersby. In addition to Hirschmugl’s trailer, pop-ups included a ping pong table, letterpress station, and tented spa offering facials and tea.


”You’re doing the art sitting next to people and you start talking to each other,” Shella said. “It creates community and is therapeutic in the sense that the hospital becomes less sterile—it gives it a sense of beauty and helps people feel more at peace and connected to others.”

Shella said that such activities have emerged from health care providers’ desire to give patients a positive experience. This means seeing them as “whole people,” not just a specific problem or organ that needs fixing. “

The pop-ups did have a health focused element that they tried to get people to respond to, but everything was offered in a low-key manner without much pressure. The goal seemed to be to get people to have positive social and trusting relationships with the clinic so they will feel comfortable coming to discuss physical and mental health questions at a later date versus getting participants to commit to any immediate changes in behavior regarding their health.

Though the pop-ups weren’t just about making people feel more comfortable about approaching the clinic for services. Those with appointments at the clinic had the opportunity wait in a more relaxed environment than the typical waiting room.

Being an old hand at the grant writing game, I was particularly sensitive to the discussion of outcomes and impact in the article. I don’t know what the appropriate organization is going to write in their grant report, but Mimi Kirk, who authored the CityLab piece, seems to feel that the clear quality of the program outweighs an attempt to quantify the value in numbers.

It’s hard to quantify the pop-up’s impact. While more than 500 people participated, and an evaluator reported that as many as 30 people would cluster at a popular station at any given time, Noor said it’s not possible to gauge whether the people will now use the center’s services more or if they feel differently about the space.

But Noor and others felt the pop-ups were a success based on their observations. Laura Zabel, the executive director of Springboard for the Arts, the organization that facilitated the artists’ involvement, noticed that some participants who had brought a child to an appointment would go home afterward, fetch their other children, and bring them back for the fun.

And Noor said that when she would leave work at 7 p.m.—two hours after the clinic closed—kids would still be playing outside, their parents talking to the artists. “The artists needed to leave, but they didn’t, because people were enjoying themselves,” she said. “I had feared we were forcing people to engage, but I realized that people want this.”

By the way, Laura Zabel wrote about this project for Shelterforce in the context of similar work Springboard for the Arts is doing around Minnesota. I wouldn’t have made the connection except both articles used to same image and it drove me crazy trying to figure out where I had seen it before.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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