RISD Presents Make It Better: A Symposium on Art, Design and the Future of Health Care

Supported by a grant from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, these conversations frame an expanded role for art and design in health care innovation.

    • March 9, 2011

On March 11 and 12, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) will host Make It Better: A Symposium on Art, Design and the Future of Health Care. The Friday evening and full-day Saturday event takes place in Providence at the RISD Auditorium, Canal Walk at Market Square (near the corner of College and South Main streets).

Supported by a grant from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), this vital series of conversations will bring leading artists, designers and activists together with health professionals, policy-makers, entrepreneurs and members of the RISD community to frame an expanded role for art and design in health care innovation and change. The symposium is free and open to the public, but requires registration in advance.

Make It Better will look at how artists and designers—both at RISD and elsewhere—engage with issues of health and wellness in innovative and unexpected ways. It will focus on the role of these visually astute critical thinkers and problem solvers in helping to improve health care delivery, public health and everyday wellness. Designed to stimulate ongoing conversations among participants and the larger fields they represent, the symposium will explore how to bring more creativity to the realm of health care by expanding, collaborating on and developing new, more integrative models for art and design research. The challenge is to create spaces, products, systems, policies and messages that offer fresh, effective and humane approaches to maintaining health and delivering health care.

Make It Better will begin with a RISD student discussion on their art and design research in health-related fields on Friday afternoon, March 11, followed at 5 p.m. by a keynote address delivered by Howard K. Koh, M.D., M.P.H., FACP, Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A second keynote will be delivered by Donna Garland, Associate Director for Communication, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The symposium will continue on Saturday, March 12 with a full day of talks, panel discussions and conversations including prominent members of the art, design, medical and research communities.

“At RISD we are redefining an institutional model for art and design research that incorporates expanded engagement with problem solving for the public good,” notes Deborah Bright, RISD’s Dean of Fine Arts. “As part of this, we are asking questions such as: What are the forms of practice that enable artists and designers to engage with health care beyond conventional models and narrow instrumentality? How can artists and designers contribute to public discourse on the complex issues associated with health and health care—from medical and ethical considerations to economic, political and cultural concerns?”

Dean Bright and President John Maeda are leading the institutional initiative, serving as co-principal investigators, along with a programming committee made up of faculty, staff, and students. Make It Better builds upon past publicly engaged studios and partnerships at RISD and looks to the future as a means of examining how artists and designers—with their specific skills, practices and peculiarities—can help create new forms of knowledge and develop products, systems and processes that help improve health care delivery and make it more humane.

In hosting this type of multidisciplinary conversation, RISD can help transform creative practices by asking them to be more issue-oriented, publicly engaged and ready to address everyday needs. “By bridging the qualitative approaches of art and design with the quantitative methods typical of modern medicine, we can make meaningful and innovative contributions to patients’ well-being—ultimately turning STEM to STEAM [stemtosteam.org],” says John Maeda, RISD’s president.

RWJF is supporting this effort through its Pioneer Portfolio, which focuses on health and health care innovation, in an ongoing effort to support innovators whose bold ideas push beyond conventional thinking to explore solutions at the cutting edge of health and health care. According to Steve Downs, assistant vice president, Health Group, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “Catalyzing partnerships between the health and design communities can refocus problems and lead to transformative change in health and health care. “

Make It Better speakers include Mel Chin, artist; Darell Hammond, KaBOOM!; Amale Andraos, WORKac; Kelli Auerbach, California Institute of the Arts; Dr. Jay Baruch, Brown University Medical School; Kelly Dobson, RISD Digital + Media; Susan Doyle, RISD Illustration; Alexandra Drane, Eliza Corporation; Sarah Goldhagen, The New Republic; Natalie Jeremijenko, artist; Lindsay Kinkade, RISD Graphic Design; Khipra Nichols, RISD Industrial Design; Claire Pentecost, artist; Aidan Petrie, Ximedica; Damon Rich, City of Newark Urban Designer and Center for Urban Pedagogy; Benjamin Sawyer, DigitalMill and Games for Health; Pamela H. Wescott, MPP, Patient Perspectives Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making.


About Rhode Island School of Design
Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) has earned a worldwide reputation as the preeminent art and design college in the country. Today, with more than 26,000 alumni, the college enrolls approximately 1,900 undergraduates and 400 graduate students from the U.S. and almost 50 countries, offering degree programs in the fine arts, architecture, and design disciplines, and art education. Academic programs include research and design initiatives, the exploration of art criticism and contemporary cultural concerns, as well as international exchange programs. Each year, RISD hosts prominent and accomplished artists, critics, and authors to its campus. Included within the college is The RISD Museum of Art, which houses a world-class collection of art objects from Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome and art of all periods from Asia, Europe and the Americas, as well as the latest in contemporary art.

About Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pioneer Portfolio
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) granted RISD funding for Make It Better through its Pioneer Portfolio, which supports innovators with bold ideas that push beyond conventional thinking about health and health care. As the country’s largest philanthropy devoted to improving these areas, RWJF shares RISD’s belief that bringing together leaders in the fields of art, design, health and wellness and exploring alternative models for research and collaboration can transform health and health care delivery in the 21st century.