In the Loop
Faculty News : Jun 10, 2021

CDC appoints UF Center for Arts in Medicine director as senior adviser to COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force

Jill Sonke will bring arts in public health expertise to national vaccine confidence strategy

By Brandon McKinley

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention appointed Jill Sonke, director of the UF Center for Arts in Medicine, as senior adviser to the Vaccine Confidence and Demand Team on the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force this summer. 

Sonke will serve the CDC for about two months to develop guidance for promoting vaccine education and confidence through health system connections to public engagement organizations, such as museums, arts centers, libraries, and other arts and cultural organizations. 

“I am so proud of all my colleagues in the Center for Arts in Medicine whose research and practice have positioned us to contribute to this important effort,” Sonke says. “I’m excited to serve the CDC in this way and thrilled that our national public health leaders recognize the importance of the arts and artists at this moment.” 

Sonke will write guiding field documents for state health departments, museums, tech centers, and arts groups who want to build durable relationships to promote confidence and acceptance for COVID-19 vaccines. The guides will address how public health entities can partner with artists and arts organizations to develop culturally appropriate health education materials to promote vaccine uptake. She will also host and facilitate webinars on the topic. 

Sonke began her work with the CDC on June 1. Her role as a senior adviser includes serving as the CDC’s liaison to the National Endowment for the Arts and other partners as a subject matter expert to guide cross-sector projects. Among those include collaboration with the David J. Sencer CDC Museum, which is involved with the CDC Vaccine Confidence and Demand Team. 

“The David J. Sencer CDC Museum has worked for years to present the rich heritage of public health through the lens of arts and culture,” says Louise E. Shaw, curator of the CDC Museum. “This opportunity for the CDC Museum to partner with CDC’s Vaccine Confidence and Demand Team on the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force and with the UF Center for Arts and Medicine will actively demonstrate the power and potential of the arts as a public health strategy.” 

Sonke says this work has implications beyond the COVID-19 vaccine and is designed to translate to campaigns for booster immunizations, annual flu vaccines, and other public health initiatives. 

“It's not just a fleeting moment,” Sonke says. “It's more of a paradigm shift that the CDC has in mind. This moment is an opportunity to set a precedent and to nationally institutionalize arts and public health partnerships.” 

UF College of the Arts Dean Onye Ozuzu says this work reflects the goals of faculty and staff across the college. 

“This is one of the clearest and most resounding examples of the goals we all have set in the College of the Arts,” Ozuzu says, “to make paradigmatic change in the world and to make an impact with the arts on the public good as a whole.”

The Center for Arts in Medicine has been working with communities to advance public health through the arts for over a decade, and even longer in clinical settings. Initial projects and research with rural Florida communities expanded into international projects in Rwanda and more recently to nationwide public health research in the United States with the center’s Creating Healthy Communities: Arts in Public Health in America initiative and the EpiArts Lab, a National Endowment for the Arts Research Lab at UF. 

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the center rallied leaders across the U.S. in the arts, public health, and community development sectors to guide an arts response to COVID-19. The group developed a variety of resources to advocate for how the arts can aid individual well-being and health communication during a global crisis.

Ozuzu credits the work of the practitioners, researchers, and staff at the UF Center for Arts in Medicine and UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine for positioning the college and the university for this opportunity. 

“This is a culmination of many, many years of work in field building and research,” Ozuzu says. “I think that we will look at this moment as a turning point, as a moment where the U.S. in particular is starting to understand the arts as effective and impactful in a way that goes far beyond page, stage, and screen.” 

For Tina Mullen, who helped start and has since directed the UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine for 30 years, this appointment is a recognition of decades’ worth of research and practice in the field. 

“This is a massive and important move forward for the arts and for our potential to provide real solutions to the problems that we face here in the United States,” Mullen says. “I couldn’t be more proud in this moment to see this happening.”