The Sozosei Foundation convened a group of artists and leaders from the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors to consider the role of the arts at the Sozosei Foundation. The Arts Convening was diverse by design. Participants traveled from rural and urban communities and brought varied views on race, economics, and lived experience to answer the question: are the arts essential to increase access to mental health care outside of the criminal legal system?
We are eager to answer this question. The word Sozosei means “creativity” in Japanese, and in this spirit and with curiosity, we have been advancing an arts grantmaking strategy to decriminalize mental illness since our launch in 2019. This work has supported art galleries featuring the work of formerly incarcerated people with mental illness, storytelling projects, podcasts, public radio shows, music festivals, and more. Our goal in supporting this work is to positively impact upstream interventions (e.g., enforcing the Mental Health Care Parity Act), rather than other laudable goals, like expanding the use of the arts as a treatment modality. As we advance the Foundation’s arts strategy, we continue to ponder what role the arts play in eliminating the inappropriate use of jails and prisons for the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness?