Moments of Transformation: Rha Goddess’s LOW and Understanding Social Change
Artist Rha Goddess’s Hip Hop Mental Health Project (HHMHP) seeks to contribute to shifting the cultural paradigm of shame and alienation surrounding mental illness, and satisfy a need for a SAFE place to confront the issue and obtain vital information. Through the integration of performance and dialogue, the HHMHP works to impact public discourse and values among urban communities in a way that educates about the signs, symptoms, and spiraling course of mental illness, and to explore possible solutions to the contributing life stressors of societal stigma and the difficulties of an overtaxed mental health system. A key creative component of the project is LOW, Goddess’s one-woman performance that unflinchingly depicts the very human reality of mental illness in our culture. It fuses monologue, movement, and music to tell the story of Lowquesha, a vibrant young woman, and her all-too-common journey through the mental health system. The Hip Hop Mental Health Project is committed to engaging young urban and low-income communities of color as they are the most detrimentally affected by the disparities in mental health diagnosis, treatment, and care. Dialogues that immediately follow performances aim to create a safe space for audiences to confront issues around mental health that might not happen in another context. Through performances such as LOW and its related dialogue, HHMHP seeks to: educate about the signs and symptoms of mental illness and tools for recovery; decrease the social stigma of mental illness, especially for those of lower incomes and of color; explore possible solutions to some of the life stressors that influence mental health; increase awareness of, and access to, mental health services and support; and impact public discourse about mental health. The Hip Hop Mental Health Project is an initiative of 1+1+1=ONE, a Brooklyn based nonprofit organization that utilizes the methodology of Arts Based Civic Transformation to empower individuals and communities to affect positive social change. As part of Animating Democracy’s Arts & Civic Engagement Impact Initiative, the collaborative inquiry between Rha Goddess and evaluator Suzanne Callahan of Callahan Consulting for the Arts focused on the impact of LOW, and post-performance dialogue on audiences’ attitudes, beliefs and perceptions about mental health and illness. The assessment of impact is based on: 1) a formal evaluation conducted by City University of New York (CUNY) researchers using an IRB-approved study (Institutional Review Board); and 2) an alternative approach to audience evaluation developed in collaboration with Callahan and tested with one audience. The two studies complemented each other and allowed comparison of two research processes that asked similar questions in different ways. For information about the CUNY study, visit the Hip Hop Mental Health Project web site.