I appreciate that each year Treatment Action Group (TAG) offers a limited edition artwork donated by a visual artist for purchase. Proceeds support the organization’s advocacy work. The New York-based TAG is an independent research and policy think tank fighting for better treatment, prevention, a vaccine and a cure for HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis C.
At the 2018 International Aids Conference in Amsterdam, TAG and the Center for Artistic Activism (C4AA) came up with some brilliant art-infused interventions to show the out-of-proportion power pharmaceutical companies exert. One of these was a registration desk set up outside the official entrance to the conference. Pharmaceutical companies were invited to register in countries where their hepatitis C cure is not produced. Passing out lanyards with “Pharma Laziness Kills” underscored choices at all stages of drug development. Learn more here.
Visit TAG to see donated works of art. The image is from the TAG site.
A cartoon pulls off what a really great poem, folksong, or poster design can do, but even faster. Cartoonist Jen Sorensen’s website contains consistently intelligent, witty, crushingly-accurate observations about daily life in the United States. I look forward to her blog entries almost as much as her cartoons. I highly recommend one of Sorensen’s longform cartoons published by Kaiser Health News called “Open Letter to the Supreme Court.” It is a fine example of healthcare truth-telling and lived experience. Here is one of hers from 2017. “Repeal and Destroy” continues to be pertinent.
Visit her site or follow her at https://twitter.com/JenSorensen. And, Ms. Sorensen, thank you. Thank you for your service to this country.
T1International launched a year-long global insulin campaign this week. Physician and scientist Frederick Banting, physiology professor J.R.R. McLeod, medical student Charles Best and chemist James Collip were key figures in the discovery. May 17, 1921 experiments began at the University of Toronto. See a timeline and learn about it here. On July 27, to honor the day insulin was successfully isolated, T1International and the artist Miss Diabetes will release an animated video.
Insulin came into the world in a spirit of desperate focus and collaboration. Their goal was to figure out the mystery, and to get the results into the bodies of type 1 diabetics as soon as possible. The early story of insulin is a story of access. Today, the story of insulin is a story of profit. The nonprofit T1International advocates for communities around the world to ensure the availability of insulin and supplies.
A great perspective on early collage in the context of contemporary life and art is Jason Farago's New York Times article from this January "An Art Revolution, Made With Scissors and Glue." I appreciate, among other things, the title. These days we are obsessed with digital presentation. I'm posting a couple of pieces from my current series.
Formulary Marginalia. Mixed Media, 2021.
The Kalamazoo Book Arts Center (KBAC) opened its annual exhibit featuring accordion books on Friday, April 9. Visit the gallery or the website to see 90 works from five countries. The materials, themes, shapes and sizes vary, but each one shares that classic back-and-forth fold. It is a pleasure to see these takes on the form. Staff members at the Center are incredibly patient. Unpacking, photographing, wrangling and displaying this many works is no easy feat.
"Big Pharma and the Barkeep" is included in the open exhibit. The sectioned poem appears in a six-panel accordion book. Each panel measures 10 inches high x 20 inches wide. See the February 13, 2021 post here for the text. Those are glass ice cubes at the base of the open book. The photo is from KBAC.
Truth well-told is an art in any media. Tradeoffs: Healthcare, Policy, People is a podcast series addressing crucial topics. It manages to be concise and informative, yet stamped with personality. The team takes turns reporting and providing research updates along with cultural observations and recommendations at at the end as “staff picks.”
Tradeoffs was launched by journalist Dan Gorenstein and University of Pennsylvania community health expert Courtney Summers in the fall of 2019. The first podcast compared health plan proposals of the then-Democratic presidential candidates. I, of course, especially appreciate the podcasts that address drug pricing and choice. We can’t underestimate how useful a series like this is that makes policy understandable. It reminds me of what advocates at the Maryland Health Care for All! Coalition say about access to medicines: “Drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them.” Information doesn’t matter if it is not understandable.
In their January 15, 2020 post from the HealthAffairs blog “You’ve Got To Hear This: Funding A New Health Policy Podcast” Steven Birenbaum and Jordan Reese wrote “…the most captivating podcasts employ a combination of journalism, classic character-driven storytelling, and a heaping teaspoon of entertainment.” Exactly. It takes work to make something feel effortless. The effortless feel to Tradeoffs’ podcast and weekly newsletter is the result of much work and thoughtfulness. May it continue. We need artful podcasts on essential healthcare topics right now.
Big Pharma and the Barkeep
Excerpted notes for cocktail recipes
Lobbyist Lemon Drop
Tart. In taste and character.
by all appearances safe and refreshing.
has something slipped into it.
This one will take you
from Kansas to Oz and back.
You just don’t know it.
The Good Journalist
A call drink with your favorite brand
of gin, Diet Coke, lime,
is on the house, every time.
We need Clark Kent more than Superman.
We need reporters who know
the way to save the world
is to inform it.
This one takes a swizzle stick
with a tiny plastic crane.
Use cracked ice
before the grapefruit juice, before
The Federal Trade Commission prevents
deceptive business practices.
Except when they don’t.
Except when they won’t.
This one has a lonnnng, aftertaste.
A daily special,
its price changes any time.
Its availability changes
The barkeep gets a phone call
and goes back
to erasing and hand-lettering
This drink is named
pharmacy benefit managers,
the post-merger Goliaths.
You must repeatedly show ID to prove
the chance to be served.
Serve The Prayer in ceramic steins
by Benedictine monks.
Serve it hot
Spicy, comforting, sharp.
Drink it with your eyes closed
One of my favorite artists is Sally Stewart. Based in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the wise and skilled former art teacher works in different media, but she is most known for her pieces in wood. When she started exhibiting in the 1970’s she was the only woman in shows with male artists. Those were the years when “boys went to shop class and girls went to home economics classes,” she said. Luckily, that is different today. When visiting the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. this summer I thought of this surrounded by Ursula von Rydingsvard’s huge cedar sculptures at her exhibit Contour of Feeling.
After 9/11 Stewart began making sculptures of crosses integrating woods from around the world. They have been presented as ecumenical gifts by the Office of the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA in more than 30 countries.
I was intrigued by a recent conversation Stewart and I had about art and healthcare and access to essential medicines. I was describing some of the misconceptions around drug pricing. She saw a correlation. Stewart has done a lot of commissioned pieces. She has been surprised at how frequently someone will be looking at a piece of wood and touch the spot where a flaw begins. The flaw or change in texture often results from a disease, insects, or an injury that disrupts the way a tree would usually grow. They like it. “This,” they insist, should be included.
This is where it gets interesting. This has personality. We trick ourselves into thinking only perfection is desirable. We dismiss damage, and the aging process and how to attend to them.
Today I am also thinking about two lines from “The Hill We Climb,” Amanda Gorman’s 2021 inaugural poem:
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
Here’s to making that emerging possible. Here’s to what we craft and stop and change and summon on behalf of each other – battered and beautiful people in our battered and beautiful country.
Pictured are some yet-to-be used pieces of wood we looked at during a studio visit. On the far right is a detail from Sally Stewart's “Jonah and the Great Fish” (cherry, obeche, walnut and poplar).
According to STAT’s review of federal disclosures, more than 450 lobbyists worked to help drug makers and their trade group PhRMA oppose lawmakers’ proposals to lower prescription drug prices in 2019.
This spring I had a piece included in the open exhibit for accordion books at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center. Because the accordion form can be as short or long as you like, it offered a fitting way to illustrate this. The book uses black board covers and pages of metallic paper (the green of U.S. dollars, of course) printed with 450 briefcase icons of different sizes. Each briefcase represents a lobbyist. Sections are joined by bands of red metallic paper. I initially chose red as a color that warns, stops, and alerts. One of the artists in the exhibit said the bands remind her of red tape and the hassle often involved in access to medicines and healthcare in general. Exactly...
Take a look at the range of materials and topics in the May 2020 Illustrated Accordion exhibit.