Art and Public Health

Engaging in the arts is essential to the overall well being of a community. Practitioners and scholars have long connected the dots between art and health, typically in the form of art therapy. That exploration has now expanded to art and public health. One way to understand the distinction is that art and health/medicine focus on the well being of the individual, while art and public health focus on the well being of a collective or community.

I believe in the power of the arts as a form of health intervention. The infographics below share recent evidence of arts on public health issues like trauma, racism, isolation, mental health, and chronic disease.


Arts Equity Mayoral Candidate Forum

Arts Equity Mayoral Candidate Forum
moderated by Judge Sheila Calloway

Register here! Please share with your networks!

Mayoral Candidates: Natisha Brooks, Fran Bush, Heidi Campbell, Jim Gingrich, Sharon Hurt, Stephanie Johnson, Freddie O’Connell, Vivian Wilhoite, Matt Wiltshire, and Jeff Yarbro

June 14, 2023 at Nashville Children’s Theatre
6:30 PM reception
8 PM forum start
10-11 PM after-party
Reception and after-party DJ is Jason Eskridge

Local artists and organizations join in asking our next mayor to equitably fund the arts.

We are Music City and the Athens of the South!

Cosponsors (this list is growing daily):

abrasiveMedia, Actors Bridge Ensemble, April Gloaming Publishing, Art & Soul Nashville, Arts Bellevue, COOP Gallery, Dewey Comedy Productions, Elmahaba Center, FALL, Found Movement Group, Free Nashville Poetry Library, Global Education Center, International Black Film Festival, Kindling Arts, Liberated Grounds, Music for Seniors, Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Nashville Arts Coalition, Nashville Creative Group, Nashville Dance Collective, Nashville Filmmakers Guild, Nashville Musicians for Change, Nashville Women in Jazz, Nashville in Harmony, North Nashville Action, North Nashville Arts Coalition, One Drop Ink Tattoo, Poboys & Poets, Queen Bee Ink LLC, Southern Word, Sylvan Heights Neighborhood Association, TMProductions, The 37208, The African American Cultural Alliance, The Museum of Presence, The Native American Indian Association of Tennessee, The Porch, The Nashville Children’s Theatre, The Radicle, The Upcoming Artist Organization, We Keep The Faith Corp, Noel Marie Alexander, Audra Almond-Harvey, Alayna Renae Anderson, Rebekah Hampton Barger, Gina Carrillo, Telisha Cobb, Jo Collins, Chris Crofton, Jasmine Dominique, Susannah J. Felts, Collier Goodlett, Christine Hall, Cynthia C. Harris, Vali Forrister, Michelle Harris, Shayna Hobbs, Amy Hoskins, Beth Inglish, Courtney Adair Johnson, Perris (Spoke) Johnson, Megan Jordan, Hazel Joyner-Smith, Leslie LaChance, Candace-Omnira LaFayette, Matthew Ezell “Honest” Lewis, Leah Light, Dana Malone, Barton Mangrum, Tosha Marie, Elisheba Mrozik, Matthew Robinson, Andee Rudloff, Landrew Sevel, Abby Whisenant, Rev. Dr. Donna Krupkin Whitney, Caroline Randall Williams, Robin Wolfenden, and Alex Wong

Join as a cosponsor: https://forms.gle/V9upBNd6t3VDQVog6

There is no cost associated—we only ask you sign onto the call for arts equity. We will share mayoral candidates’ statements with our cosponsors for the opportunity to prepare questions ahead of the forum.



Date: Saturday, March 4th
Location: Actors Bridge Ensemble at Darkhorse Theatre
Time: 11:30 am – 4:00 pm
Fee/Suggested Donation: $25

Are you a theater maker looking for new tools? Are you a theater student? Do you work in community engagement? Do you create programs for young people?

Come explore choreopoems with playwright, Cynthia C Harris, MPH. Learn about her unique method of community-engaged theater making. Use a personal narrative approach to build performances that combine poetry, monologues, call and response, choral refrains, movement, and music. This workshop is for all levels. Ages 12+. Come ready to play!


-Crafting the “good invitation to play.” Laying the foundation for collaborative work among diverse groups.

-Use individual writing prompts to build choreopoems in small groups.

-Find points of connection in individual writing.

-Use individual writing to introduce to build movement and create tableaus.

-Create call and response and choral refrains.

-Shape the choreopoem, identify transitions.


The Tennessee Tribune on The Calling is in the Body: New Play Tells the Story of TSU Student Deidre Williams

Nashville, TENN. (TN Tribune) – Actors Bridge Ensemble (ABE) is pleased to present the World Premiere production of THE CALLING IS IN THE BODY by Cynthia C. Harris. Ms. Harris, who also directs the play, is a graduate of Hume Fogg High School, Florida A&M University (B.S.) and Tennessee State University (MPH).

STORY: THE CALLING IS IN THE BODY is a choreopoem telling the story of Deidre Williams, a Nashville hero and early HIV advocate in the 1990s as the pandemic was growing internationally and changing culture and language around sex, safety, and intimacy. It is the story of her memory and legend as told by a young high school student who searched for closure after losing contact, a nurse practitioner and HIV/AIDS care trailblazer who befriended her, and a woman in recovery who commits to her cause and champions her work.

Deidre was studying pre-med when she contracted HIV from her fiancé. She became one of the first Black women in Nashville to publicly tell her story in an effort to save the lives of countless others.

“One of the things that is really interesting to me about the piece is how differently we respond as a culture and community to HIV now as opposed to when I was younger. So many people don’t have that experience of it being the epidemic and pandemic that it was. Now it’s a chronic disease. That looks very different for humans relating to each other, for physicians and people caring for folks. This is going to take people back in time to the realities of those moments,” reflected playwright and director Cynthia C. Harris.

“While this piece is very much about lifting a southern hero for us, in her work to educate people, we’re also making a statement about bodies in general. No matter what happens to the body- whether that is some form of illness or accident or assault that changes how we relate to our bodies, changes how our bodies function, changes how they look- that can radically change us and our sense of self. We still get to acknowledge that these bodies deserve goodness. These bodies, our bodies deserve joy, these bodies deserve pleasure. No matter what the experience of the body is,” Cynthia continued.

Cynthia Harris is available for media interviews beginning July 14, 2022.

Original Post: https://tntribune.com/new-play-tells-the-story-of-tsu-student-deidre-williams/


FEATURED in Nashville Scene

The Calling Is in the Body Celebrates Early HIV/AIDS Advocate Deidre Williams by AMY STUMPFL

AUG 4, 2022

The Calling Is in the Body
 All Photos: Sally Bebawy Photography

Whether it’s through her work as a theater artist or as a public health professional, Cynthia C. Harris has always recognized the power of storytelling. 

“As a child, I grew up listening to women share their stories in my mother’s beauty shop,” the Nashville native says. “Even then, I think I understood that it wasn’t necessarily about the details of the story itself — it was the power of being in community together, of recognizing ourselves somewhere in the story.”

Harris hopes audiences will find that moment of recognition with The Calling Is in the Body, which premieres this weekend at Actors Bridge Ensemble. Billed as a choreopoem, this new work tells the story of one of Harris’ own mentors — Deidre Williams, a vibrant young Black woman who was an early advocate for people with HIV/AIDS in 1990s Nashville. 

“Deidre was an incredible human being,” says Harris, who received a Rural Performance/Production Lab fellowship from The Mississippi Center for Cultural Production to support the development of The Calling Is in the Body. “She spoke at a Red Cross Leadership Camp that I attended during high school, and I was immediately drawn to her. She was young, ambitious and full of energy. And then she tells us that she has HIV, and our jaws hit the floor. I mean, this is the early ’90s, so there was a real stigma surrounding that whole subject. But she was so open and wise, and encouraging. I felt like she really saw me. This was in the days before social media and cellphones, and we eventually lost contact. But she had such a profound effect on my life. And as I started working on this piece, I discovered that she had a real impact on a lot of lives.”

As with Harris’ other original works — including Phrases of Womanhood and How to Catch a Flying Woman — The Calling Is in the Body blends storytelling and movement, much in the style of Ntozake Shange’s groundbreaking for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf.

“My aunt gave me a copy of for colored girls when I was in fifth grade, and I think I’ve always gravitated to that type of work because it provides the most freedom to explore and really express what you’re feeling.” 

In this case, Harris was particularly interested in exploring the idea of “how we navigate this life in our human bodies.”

“I’ve always been fascinated by how we relate to our changing bodies,” she says. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a serious illness or accident that changes the way we function or how we see ourselves. It could just be the process of aging — getting bigger, rounder, older. That can really change your sense of self, right? And yet all the things that were true about us before, are still true now.

“In talking to people about Deidre, so many spoke of her joy, her energy and the way she was able to encourage and support others, even when she was sick,” Harris continues. “How did she do that? How does anyone make peace and learn to just be in their body, while acknowledging that they still deserve — and can create — goodness?”

Harris says she is delighted to explore such questions with the cast of The Calling Is in the Body, including Teacora Sherrill, Destinee Monét Johnson, Nicole Mason, Rachel Agee and Lisa Yolanda Treece.

“We have an incredibly talented cast — a few returning to the stage after years away and some recent graduates,” Harris says. “I like my cast to reflect a diversity of bodies and hair textures. I like my heroes to be young and older. We’re building something really beautiful, and these are the only humans for the job.” 

Likewise, Harris says Actors Bridge — under the leadership of producing artistic director Vali Forrister — is uniquely positioned to bring The Calling Is in the Body to life. 

“For me, Vali Forrister simply is Actors Bridge,” says Harris. “She’s absolutely committed to lifting up women’s voices, making space for others to grow and develop as artists. Vali’s been there to support me every step of the way in this process, and I can’t think of a better place to present this work that means so much to me.”

Original post: https://www.nashvillescene.com/arts_culture/theater/i-the-calling-is-in-the-body-i-celebrates-early-hiv-aids-advocate-deidre-williams/article_a453561a-1287-11ed-bc94-2fdad1b69a2e.html


Best of Nashville 2022: The Calling is in the Body

Voted as the Best Celebration of Radical Visibility for 2022

“There are some shows that just capture a specific moment in time. Cynthia C. Harris’ The Calling Is in the Body did just that — telling the story of Deidre Williams, a vibrant young Black woman who was an early HIV/AIDS advocate in 1990s Nashville. Staged at Actors Bridge Ensemble, this brave new work drew us in with powerful storytelling, along with an immersive pre/post-show experience that included writing prompts, local news clips and more. An emotional deep dive into community and connection, it honored those we lost, while celebrating Williams as the ‘Patron Saint of Radical Visibility.'”

Cynthia C. Harris

Cynthia C. HarrisPhoto: Daniel Meigs



Review: Cynthia Harris’ THE CALLING IS IN THE BODY Is A Universal Tale of Love and Inspiration by Jef Ellis for Broadway World Nashville

The Playwright Directs Her Own Script in World Premiere Production from Actors Bridge Ensemble.

Review: Cynthia Harris' THE CALLING IS IN THE BODY Is A Universal Tale of Love and Inspiration
Teacora Sherrill, Nicole Mason, Destinee Monet, Rachel Agee and Lisa Yolanda Treece

“In much the same way that a piece of evocative music can suddenly whisk you away to another time and place, there are moments in Cynthia Harris’ beautifully written The Calling Is In The Body that can take one just as swiftly to the Nashville of the early 1990s. Almost imperceptibly, Harris’ heartfelt reminiscence – a tribute styled as a “choreopoem” – of a young woman who inspired her to believe in herself and to aspire to more than she might have believed possible at the time, becomes a universal treatise on how every life has meaning far beyond any expectation.

If it were indeed the early 1990s and we were revisiting my life then, it would be set to a score that includes “On and On and On” by ABBA, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross and “Tainted Love” by the Eurythmics – songs that aren’t necessarily from those years, but songs which nonetheless define that era for me and reverberate within my heart from too many nights spent dancing at Warehouse 28 or at The Chute Complex, where most of lgbtq+ Nashville gathered for a sense of community and belonging and where we first encountered the specter of HIV/AIDS in our community. As editor of Dare (which later became Query), “Tennessee’s Lesbian and Gay Newsweekly” I wrote far too many stories about this scourge on our community that some said was deserved while we mourned the loss of lovers and other spirits who had made our lives far more interesting and certainly more colorful than we knew what to make of it at the time.

n those heady early days of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, as everyone grappled with coming to terms with a disease that had rendered making love (which is not how my younger self would have termed it, truth be told), which I had always thought of as a revolutionary act against the heteronormative expectations of society had instead become a potentially lethal act that would ultimately rob our lives of a whole generation of vibrant, creative and essential human beings.

Review: Cynthia Harris' THE CALLING IS IN THE BODY Is A Universal Tale of Love and Inspiration
Destinee Monet and Lisa Yolanda Treece

Thus, it was with trepidation that I approached opening night of Cynthia Harris‘ The Calling Is In The Body, fearful that its all-woman cast wouldn’t even mention people like me and would instead leave my band of brothers behind for other writers to consider (which, in and of itself, is remarkably selfish and self-centered of me – it’s people like the women in this show who have largely been ignored in the canon of theatrical works about HIV/AIDS). How lucky am I that my faith in Harris and her cadre of creative souls and their nurturing producing entity Actors Bridge Ensemble that I would be compelled forward to opening night?

For it was there in the sold-out intimacy of Darkhorse Theater that I watched a story being told of a driven and dynamic young woman named Deidre Davenport, whose promising life was cut short by the same scourge that depleted my own family. And, while my emotions still seem right on the surface of my being even as I write days after that eventful evening known as opening night, I can report that the story of The Calling Is In The Body is a universal one, which speaks profoundly of incalculable loss that has either the power to consume us or, conversely or perhaps coincidentally, to inspire us.

As with any memoir, Harris’ The Calling Is In The Body is highly personal and reflective of her own experiences and those of Deirdre Davenport, the aforementioned young woman who changed her life during a chance encounter when Harris was still in high school. Their stories – Cynthia’s, Deidre’s, Bev’s, Mary’s and Cynthia’s beloved grandmother’s – contained therein are told with such conviction, authenticity and truth, that they could be yours, mine or anyone fortunate enough to be among the audience of this Actors Bridge Ensemble production now onstage through Sunday, August 14, at Darkhorse Theater.


Photos by Sally Bebawy Photogrpahy


WPLN Honoring National AIDS DAY

On this World Aids Day, we look at the legacy of a Nashville advocate for those living with HIV

by LATONYA TURNER for WPLN’s This is Nashville

DECEMBER 1, 2022

Much has changed about AIDS since the days when most who were infected died. And the stigma was real. Now, HIV can be treated and prevented. But there’s still work to do, which is why local artist and health educator Cynthia Harris wrote the play, “The Calling is in the Body.”

The play is based on her experience as a teenager in Nashville, when she met a brave advocate who was working to stop the spread of HIV by going public with her own status.

“It’s a hero story,” Harris says. “It’s my thank you to a woman who did something very brave and that we look at as our patron saint of radical visibility.”

Read more and listen here.


WATCH: The Calling is in the Body

THE CALLING IS IN THE BODY, presented by Actors Bridge Ensemble, tells the story of a Nashville hero and early HIV advocate in the early 90s as the pandemic was growing internationally and changing culture and language around sex, safety, and intimacy. It is the story of her memory and legend as told by a young high school student who searched for closure after losing contact, a nurse practitioner and HIV/AIDS care trailblazer who befriended her, and a woman in recovery who commits to her cause and champions her work.

AUGUST 5-13, 2022

Destinee Monét is Deidre
Teacora Sherrill is Cynthia
Nicole Mason is Ms. Mary
Rachel Agee is Bev
Lisa Yolanda Treece is Grandma


The Calling is in The Body 8/5-8/13

Actors Bridge Ensemble proudly presents this World Premiere production written and directed by Cynthia C. Harris

Friday – Saturday, August 5-6 at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, August 7 at 5 p.m.

Thursday – Saturday, August 11-13 at 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, August 13 at 2:30 p.m.

Darkhorse Theater

4610 Charlotte Ave

Nashville 37209

Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door

Tickets: https://bit.ly/ABE-TCIITB
THE CALLING IS IN THE BODY is a choreopoem telling the story of a Nashville hero and early HIV advocate in the early 90s as the pandemic was growing internationally and changing culture and language around sex, safety, and intimacy. It is the story of her memory and legend as told by a young high school student who searched for closure after losing contact, a nurse practitioner and HIV/AIDS care trailblazer who befriended her, and a woman in recovery who commits to her cause and champions her work.