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Behind the Scenes: The Making of Art + Medicine: Disability, Culture and Creativity

October 27, 2023

We sat down with Brittany Shrimpton, Producer of Art + Medicine: Disability, Culture and Creativity, to learn more about the Art + Medicine series and the role of community collaboration in shaping the latest installment.

Watch Art + Medicine: Disability, Culture and Creativity at 6:00pm on October 29 on TPT 2 and stream the series at or on the PBS App.

Brittany Shrimpton

How did the Art + Medicine series come to be? 

The Center for the Art of Medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School and Dr. Jon Halberg, the center’s Creative Director, had previously hosted in-person salons exploring the connection between art and medicine. With the pandemic, the salons were no longer possible, so Dr. Halberg reached out to TPT to explore options. We were both excited by the possibility of engaging larger audiences in conversations around art and medicine and believed the community would benefit from talking about the pandemic in a larger context. That excitement led to the first installment.  

That first installment, Hippocrates Cafe: Reflections on the Pandemic, recently renamed Art + Medicine: Reflections on the Pandemic, was successful. The project is connected well with TPT’s commitment to produce arts and culture programming, so we collaborated with the Center for the Art of Medicine to identify additional topics that would foster important conversations. That is how the additional installments came to be. Through the four-part series we have examined race, aging, and disability through the lenses of art and medicine. In each film we aim to provide new context to ongoing conversations. 

You often work with advisory committees to tell stories with members of specific communities. What role did the advisory committee have in shaping Art + Medicine: Disability, Culture and Creativity? 

My work at TPT often shares stories and perspectives from communities I am not a part of, so it is essential to work with members of those communities when creating that work. Doing so allows TPT to tell stories with the communities, rather than about communities. Advisory teams have been part of each Art + Medicine production. These collaborations allow us to tell stories important to the communities from a broader lens than a single producer can bring to a project. The goal is more authentic storytelling and creating work where people feel they are being represented well and accurately.  

How were the members of this advisory group chosen? 

We worked with our team at the Center for the Art of Medicine, which we have for all the shows, to identify advisors. Dr. Jessica Williams Horvath is a professor of English and Disability Studies. She was able to bring an academic lens to the project. Gaelynn Lea and Kevin Kling are established artists who are also disability community advocates, so they helped us build a bridge between the artistic framework of the film and the narratives of disability the project presents. All three members of the advisory team identify with being part of disability communities. It was important to have their diverse perspectives on the communities to produce a film that did not paint experiences with disability with a broad brush. They helped us ensure that nuance and complexity remained in our storytelling. 

What is one lesson you have learned working on Art + Medicine: Disability, Culture and Creativity 

The disability community is very vast. Most of us – if we don’t already identify with a disability community – know someone who does. And at any moment, we could become part of the community. It is important to educate ourselves and be aware that systems have often not been created with disability communities in mind. We need to change that. We need to prioritize accessibility of all forms and build accessibility into our systems.  

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