Calling Rural Artists: Help Us Share the Art of Rural Health

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Murals by Thomas Hart Benton in the House Lounge of the Missouri State Capitol

By Kenyon Gradert

Since its founding, Art of the Rural has espoused a vision of art that’s entwined with social practice. Health, in particular, has always been on our mind, whether of individual bodies kept healthy with good foods or on social bodies kept healthy with good communities. Our own Rachel Reynolds Luster’s work with the Oregon County Food Producers and Artisans Co­op is a prime example, as is the creative work of Appalshop in the Appalachian region and M12 on the High Plains, to name but a few. America’s rural artists have long contributed to the overall health of their communities.

Now, we’re seeking your stories and your creative work to spotlight the health of individual rural American bodies.

There’s a reason that this topic is on our mind. Art of the Rural’s home of Missouri is one of the few Midwestern states that continues to deny the need for expanding Medicaid, leaving 260,000 Missouri workers without health insurance. 700 of them are projected to die each year because of these gaps. Strong grassroots organizations such as Missouri Healthcare for All and the Missouri Medicaid Coalition have been raising the issue with legislators for two years, but have been met with a common retort: Medicaid is an urban issue, and won’t affect our rural constituents.

However, research suggests that Medicaid expansion would reduce the number of uninsured rural Missourians by 30%, and would stop the current wave of closures among Missouri’s rural hospitals. Artists are often among these ranks, and a recent Washington Post article focused on two goat farming artists from West Plains, MO whose lives changed when they signed up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Many rural Missourians can’t afford this coverage, but make just a little too much to qualify for Medicaid.*

Folks from the legal community and grassroots organizations continue to speak to this issue and present legislators with the data necessary to understand this rural dynamic. To lend clarity and context to this conversation, Art of the Rural is seeking further stories of rural Missourians who live and work without healthcare — stories of all sorts: poems, sculptures, paintings, interviews, videos, songs, exhibitions, and more.

We aim to honor and elevate the intrinsic nature of arts and culture within our many senses of the “health” of rural communities. If you are a rural artist with something to say about the art of rural health, if you know someone in your rural community who is uninsured or recently insured, or if you have stories to tell, please contact us. You need not be from Missouri. Most of our neighboring states in which we’ve built treasured relationships ­­have chosen to expand Medicaid to the benefit of their rural citizens; we value those stories as much as stories of trial from Missouri, and we are seeking commentary and information as we work to better understand the artistic, social, and legislative intersections of rural arts and health.

If you have stories or ideas, please email them to me, Kenyon Gradert. We’ll brainstorm together, in conversation with key leaders from Missouri Health Care for AllMissouri Medicaid CoalitionMissouri Health Matters, St. Louis Chapter of Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts (VLAA)

*For more information on Missouri’s Medicaid gaps, visit Missouri Health Care For All (and their handy fact sheet) or the Missouri Medicaid Coalition. For stats on how this specifically affects rural residents, check out this fact sheet put out by Missouri Health Matters.

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Kenyon Gradert is a member of Art of the Rural as well as a doctoral student in English at Washington University in St. Louis. He was raised on a third-generation grain and cattle farm in northwest Iowa, where his immediate and extended family continue to live, mostly as mechanics and farmers.

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