Art as a Public Health Intervention

Updated: May 27

By Rio -



What is art? That’s a question humanity has been asking itself since we evolved opposable thumbs and began to make parietal drawing on cave walls. We look at great artists- Michalangelo, Shakespeare, Beethoven- and can say without a doubt, “this is art”.


Perhaps our definition is a little too physical.




Behind the finger-smudged doors of Cedar City’s local Three Peaks Elementary School, there is a gymnasium that is somehow always perfumed with the scent of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It is here that, for approximately three months of every school year, the school play is auditioned, rehearsed, and performed.



On any given November afternoon, you could wander the halls of Three Peaks and hear the bright timbre of childrens’ voices, specifically designed for shouting at recess, combine into a unified melody. Amidst shrieks and giggles and shushes the worlds from Martin Sharnin’s Broadway sensation can be identified, “The sun will come out tomorrow so you gotta hang on ‘till tomorrow, come what may!”


This is art.


A quick glance into the gymnasium will reveal nine year olds doing eachother’s

makeup, caking blush and eyeshadow where those things should never go. A volunteer mom frantically stitches a missing button on to Daddy Warbucks’ jacket, purchased at the local thrift shop. A few of the older students comfort one of the younger ones who is in tears because she cannot find her prop. A group of boys dart in and out of the set, promising to stop running once reprimanded.


This is art.


On opening day, nerves and a whole lot of mozzarella sticks fuel a cast of 30 third, fourth, and fifth graders through a school performance. Students in the audience laugh and cheer as their peers dance and sing and stumble and bow. Miss Hannigan belts her heart out, completely unaware that the late Fred Adams is in the audience.


This is art.


In my time volunteering as a choreographer and assistant director for the Three Peaks Elementary School’s musicals, I have not worked with any Hollywood stars or master composers. But I have worked with artists.


I believe that the way we define art cannot be so literal. Said Tanner Center Lecturer, Vijay Gupta, “It is time we start to see art as a public health intervention”.

I have seen this best modeled by the students I work with. They are not trained artists, they have not perfected their craft for years in the making. They probably aren’t even aware of it. But they are making art in the way Gupta described.

I have seen friendships forged mid-script by students who never cross paths on the playground. I have seen the community rally together in support of the kids and each other, everyone contributing what they can to an after school activity, something greater, that could not exist without such support.



I have seen individual students blossom with talent and self confidence. When I first met one student, she could hardly say her name in front of the class. Last month, she sang a solo in front of two hundred people.


I have seen positivity and kindness and respect and commitment from students so young they probably couldn’t define half of those words.


This is art.


With nearly half of all students in America being exposed to some sort of traumatic adverse childhood experience, this is more necessary than ever. Opportunities for students to come together and really focus on something they love are so incredibly important. These experiences become an escape for many students, teach life skills, build relationships, and create memories that last a lifetime.


I know this one will last me.


Funded by O.C. Tanner and the Tanner Trust for Utah Universities through the generosity of the late Professor Obert C. and Mrs. Grace A. Tanner, the Center provides a focal point and physical setting for the annual Grace Adams Tanner Lecture in Human Values. 

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