Sowing Place is a creative placemaking initiative organized by the Department of Art, Culture + Tourism (ACT) and the Healthy Communities Office ( in partnership with the Providence Healthy Communities Office, the African Alliance of Rhode Island (AARI), West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation’s (WEHDC) Sankofa Initiative, and Southside Cultural Center of Rhode Island (SCCRI). Supported by the Kresge Foundation’s FreshLo initiative, as well as with funding from the Rhode Island Foundation, Sowing Place has been facilitated by Providence-based poets Vatic Kuumba and Laura Brown-Lavoie. Over three years it has supported a unique set of food and arts activities to promote an expansive perspective on health and wellbeing.
Our collaboration has centered communities, vendors, and artists of color to support an inclusive local cultural economy and a resilient local food system. Working as a team of municipal workers, artists, and farmers, we have shared bread, poetry, and consensus organizing with the aim of shifting the way the City works in relationship with community partners. In early 2020, with continued support from Kresge’s FreshLo program, ACT and HCO invited artists with a social practice to participate in a new pilot training in Artist Facilitation and Community Health Work followed by a three-month residency in a community-based organization. The Creative Community Health Worker Fellowship provided a cohort of five Providence-based artists 70 hours of training under Dr. Dannie Ritchie, Director of Community Health Innovations of Rhode Island and three artist facilitators, Laura Brown-Lavoie, Vatic Kuumba and Valerie Tutson. This pilot program was designed to support artists to become RI certified Community Health Workers, expanding the impact of the arts on the social determinants of health. Awarded fellows began weekly sessions in core competencies on February 12, 2020, and continued meeting virtually with the artist facilitation team through the first week of July. We then matched each fellow with a community-based organization. Fellows were provided a $1000 stipend for their participation in the training and up to $5000 in compensation for time spent completing their residencies; partnering organizations received a small host-site stipend as well.
Our collective approach on this pilot project reflects our desire to connect creative workforce development to a shared address of social determinants of health in our neighborhoods. We hope that by sharing out the amazing work of our artist facilitators that we will inspire other communities to take on the challenge of reconnecting cultural work to public health work.