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Your Environment. Your Health.

Joe Taylor - Building Community Resilience through the Arts

Joe, Taylor
Joe Taylor speaking at the NIEHS Deepwater Horizon Research Consortia stakeholder meeting, held February 22-23, 2013 in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy of Andy Kane, University of Florida)

January 07, 2015

Joe Taylor is Executive Director of Franklin’s Promise Coalition, an organization in Apalachicola, Florida that partners with a network of researchers and community organizations using creative tools, such as community drumming, visual journaling, and square dancing, to promote health and build resilience.

Communities struck by disasters often are challenged by high levels of uncertainty, a loss of trust, and social dysfunction. Taylor and his team are addressing these challenges as they work with the University of Florida’s Health Impact of Deepwater Horizon Spill in Eastern Gulf Coast Communities grant. The grant is part of the NIEHS’s Deepwater Horizon Research Consortia, a $25 million program examining the effects of the oil spill on human health in the Gulf Coast.

While the overall program seeks to address a broad range of issues, ranging from stress to exposure to contaminants in seafood, Franklin’s Promise Coalition is focused on reducing the knowledge gap between researchers and communities by (1) engaging the affected population in developing solutions, (2) developing resources that bridge socioeconomic lines, and (3) building broad social networks to promote resilience.

Taylor’s path was shaped by his 15-year career as a civilian employee for the U.S. Air Force, followed by a career as a Florida businessman – wherein he saw a major disconnect between the business world and his community. In response, he started volunteering for a food pantry and other community projects, and he eventually was asked to serve as the Executive Director of Franklin’s Promise Coalition.

Taylor and a partnership of researchers and community organizations are looking at barriers to resilience within the community as part of the University of Florida’s oil spill research effort. One example of their work was an arts symposium that was recently convened to build relationships and promote conflict resolution and anger management. Community members and a variety of stakeholders gathered to sing gospel music, hold a drumming circle, square dance, and create visual art. These kinds of activities have been proven to facilitate relationships so that individuals with differing perspectives build trust, have productive conversations – and get things done.

Speaking of the power of these activities, Taylor notes, “The way you go through the dance, you meet, you touch, and engage with different people – and it builds [a sense of] community. It breaks down barriers, and you begin to develop those relationships with people you didn’t really know before.”

For example, these activities brought together researchers, the fishing community, and other stakeholders to clarify misperceptions about the decline of oyster populations in the Apalachicola Bay. In addition, these activities create a space to discuss potential solutions, such as diversifying the local economy with alternative seafood products.

While highlighting their program’s success, Taylor points out the broad applicability of their activities: “The work that happens while building strong social networks and…a broad set of relationships among a diversity of people – that’s the solution to almost any issue.”

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