Arts & Health Pilot for Creative Workers | Provided, Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events

A pilot program in the city of Chicago will select 10 artists to receive training to become community health workers, an initiative designed to strengthen trauma-informed and culturally responsive health services in communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through this pilot program artists can access career pathways in creative therapy.   

“Chicago is ripe with lots of artists who work with community and who think of the work they’re doing, through all kinds of creative interventions, is helping people,” Meida McNeal, senior manager of arts and community impact investments at the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, said. “They’re helping people express themselves better, mitigate conflict and envision a more productive future for themselves and their communities.”  

McNeal said the pilot program is an extension of that work that responds to the labor needs of Chicago artists, many of whom lost their jobs or lacked a sustained income during the COVID-19 pandemic. Simultaneously, the pandemic increased the demand for mental health services citywide and nationally. It is the result of a collaboration between the city’s department of cultural affairs, the Chicago Department of Public Health and City Colleges of Chicago.  

“This felt like a great opportunity to mix those two needs, to build a pipeline for artists to become community health workers, which is a growing field and to use that training to merge with artistic practices to serve communities.” 

The Chicago Arts & Health Pilot for Creative Workers is funded by American Rescue Plan coronavirus funds and a grant from FGC, a national funder of community projects. It is also supported by One Nation One Project, a national arts and health initiative taking place in nine cities and towns in the United States.  

Through this pilot program, Chicago will join cities like Providence, Rhode Island which had a similar model that brought artists into short-term community health residencies at community-based organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic.   

“It became a really important model for us in Chicago to think about what we can create that will bring artists into community healthcare centers and offer creative services as an intervention,” McNeal said, adding the city’s pilot was designed with input from local mental health clinicians, the Chicago Mental Health Board,  

The pilot program is also inspired by data and research that shows the effects of arts in mental health and wellness.  

“There has been a lot of work and research, not just nationally but internationally with the idea of social prescription,” McNeal said. Through social prescription, mental health clinicians prescribe creative activities to help support their patients’ wellness goals.  

Artists selected for the apprenticeship program will be awarded $66,000 to participate in a full-time year-long training program from Fall 2023 through late fall of 2024. The apprenticeship program includes a certification as a community health worker at Malcolm X College, where they will also be trained in mental health first aid and overdose prevention. They will also get practical experience through on-the-job training at one of the five mental health clinics run by the city of Chicago. The award covers the artist’s salary and benefits. In addition, they receive a fully funded tuition package from City Colleges of Chicago that covers tuition, books and stipends and a $10,000 budget for materials and supplies to support their programming at mental health clinics. As part of the pilot program, they will have access to mentorship and participation in One Nation One Project creative public events taking place in July 2024. 

To be eligible, artists must meet at least one of three requirements: live in qualifying community areas including low to moderate income communities or qualified census tracts, have an annual household income that does not exceed the low to moderate income limits for the Chicago Metro area or have evidence that can demonstrate they were a dislocated worker between March 2020 and December 2021. Other requirements apply. Experience in mental health or community health is not required, yet it is welcomed.  

Applications close June 22. For more information about eligibility, visit the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events website.