The National Academy of Medicine has called on artists of all kinds to explore what health equity means to communities across the country for a community art show on: Visualizing Health Equity.
Now, health equity can mean different things for different communities, however, the central idea is that everyone has a fair shot at living the healthiest life possible. Chester, PA is an environmental justice community, which disproportionally experiences health disparities such as high rates of asthma, diabetes, cancer, stroke among others. Chester has a high concentration of industrial facilities and waste-processing plants. The majority of solid waste for Delaware County (population 556,000) and surrounding areas is incinerated in Chester, and raw sewage and associated sludge from about 500,000 people is treated in Chester. The combination of environmental injustice and poverty cumulatively worsens the community’s health disparities.
The Community Outreach and Engagement Core (COEC) at the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine has been working in Chester on these environmental health issues and recently collaborated with the Chester Boys and Girls Club to bring to talk about environmental injustice and its impact on health. Students expressed their experience and concerns about health disparities in their community through art. A small group of 11th and 12th grade youth at the Chester Boys and Girls Club collaborated to develop an environmental health equity quilt for submission to the National Academy of Medicine art showcase.
COEC and the youth met on two occasions. First, to talk and learn more about environmental health and environmental justice through discussion and presentation, led by the COEC Coordinator, Tom McKeon. Second, to create personalized environmental health patches for a unified quilt, directed by the COEC artistic facilitator, Grace Bridy. The quilt is composed of photosensitive imprints and watercolor. The common expression found on each patch is of the surrounding urban aura washed out and altered in nuanced ways, depicting the changes influenced by the environmental conditions in Chester. The youth maintained a focus on commonalities across all communities such as plants, streams, and open spaces. However, the mosaic of discoloration invites the viewer to experience the impact of environmental influences on health equity in Chester.
The quilt was selected to be featured on the National Academy of Medicine’s Visualize Health Equity nationwide community art project artwork and is featured in a permanent online gallery which can be viewed here