A community-centered health and art show will transform 18 cities this summer — all on the same day

Diverse women dance next to each other on a stage

What do florists, farmers, nurses, clowns, cooks, poets, analysts, activists, and more have in common? They’re all encouraged to join in on a nationwide community project on July 27, and it might be in a city near you. 

“This July, 18 cities and towns across America will simultaneously premiere their own large-scale public artwork, responding to the theme ‘No Place Like Home,’” said award-winning Broadway theater director Lear deBessonet in a TED Talk in Vancouver last week. 

The Arts For EveryBody campaign is led by One Nation/One Project, a national arts and health initiative that promotes community healing through inclusion, creativity, and play

Lear deBessonet speaks at TED2024 in Vancouver, BC.
Lear deBessonet speaks at SESSION 10 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Thursday, April 18, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

A public arts event on this scale hasn’t occurred since October 27, 1936, when 17 states simultaneously premiered Sinclair Lewis’ work “It Can’t Happen Here” in organized protest against the rise of fascism. 

deBessonet — the founder and co-director of One Nation/One Project — said the project will entail local artists partnering with their towns and local community health centers to “manifest what is possible when the arts belong to everybody.”

“The beauty of this type of art making is that people who might not encounter each other in any other aspect of life — except jury duty — gather together around life’s deepest questions,” deBessonet said. 

Four people play instruments in a community hall
Photo courtesy of Arts For EveryBody/Scout Tufankjian

The inspiration behind the program

For deBessonet, her love of theater began when she was growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Every Mardi Gras, her city sprung to life with singing, dancing, and colorful pageantry. 

“These spectacles were more than just fun,” deBessonet said in her TEDTalk. “Something profound was happening when our community came together in the realm of the imagination.”

These Mardi Gras roots inspired deBessonet to become a theater director and chase the dream of recreating “the feeling of a whole city on stage together.” 

Lear deBessonet gives a TED Talk, with photos of previous performances displayed behind her
Lear deBessonet speaks at SESSION 10 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Thursday, April 18, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

The foundation of what would later become Arts For EveryBody first formed in California in 2011, when deBessonet staged “The Odyssey” with a 181-person cast of San Diego natives from every sector of the city. 

DeBessonet was astounded by the lasting impact of the show. In the decade-plus since, deBessonet has stayed in touch with her former cast, learning how the senior actors were in better health, the teenagers were excelling in school, and one actor — who was experiencing homelessness during the play’s production — had earned and retained a job for the first time in decades. 

He traced his success back to “The Odyssey” production, and the pride he felt being included in the community. 

“Being part of the show reminded him that he had value,” deBessonet recalled. “And he knew that if other people were counting on him, he could show up.” 

After “The Odyssey,” deBessonet went on to replicate the spirit of that show on the opposite coast, staging an annual production in New York City’s Central Park Delacorte Theater through the Public Works artistic program. 

Lear deBessonet gives a TED Tak, photos of stage performances displayed behind her
Lear deBessonet speaks at SESSION 10 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Thursday, April 18, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Jasmina Tomic / TED

The yearly program has become a tradition in the past decade, always with the intention of introducing the cast and crew to neighbors they might never have met elsewhere. With One Nation/One Project, deBessonet hopes to amplify that feeling across the whole country with Arts For EveryBody. 

Her past productions through Public Works included children, teens, senior citizens, military veterans, people rebuilding their life after prison, and even Sesame Street muppets.

The beating heart of the project is a clear message: Everybody is welcome here.  

“That’s how you make a city,” deBessonet said. 

What cities are participating in this event?

Want to get involved? Good news: All cities are still looking for helpers. 

When it comes to big picture planning, Arts For EveryBody has already been underway for a year, as local government leaders teamed up with local health centers and artists to hone in on specific themes conjured by the prompt: “No Place Like Home.” 

People work on a large mural together in a park in Oakland, California
Photo courtesy of Arts For EveryBody/Scout Tufankjian

In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for example, the collective of participating artists and local leaders decided to focus on “healing through the arts.” Plans for the day include Djembe and Native American drum circles, live performances, art galleries, food trucks from a rich mixture of backgrounds, and vendors offering community health resources.

Each city has its own interpretation of the event: Harlan County, Kentucky is hosting the Mountains of Appalachian Music Arts and Wellness Festival, Tucson, Arizona is holding an “Art is Vital” poster-making contest, and Oakland, California is leading an interactive data exhibition and art workshop that promotes racial equality

The following cities are participating in Arts For EveryBody on July 27: 

  • Seattle, WA
  • Oakland, CA
  • Tucson, AZ
  • Honolulu, HI
  • Hawaii Island
  • Edinburg, TX
  • Utica, MS
  • Gainesville, FL
  • Phillips County, AR
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Harlan Country, KY
  • Winston-Salem, NC
  • Rhinelander, WI
  • Washington, DC
  • The Bronx, NY
  • Providence, RI
  • Chicago, IL
  • Chicago, IL (Inner-City Muslim Action Network

For more information on how to participate or attend the Arts For EveryBody events, you can visit www.artsforeverybody.org.

Header image courtesy of Arts For EveryBody

Article Details

April 22, 2024 3:01 PM
A photo collage of a group of islands, a turtle, a truck full of coal, a ferret, and a container ship in the ocean

Good News This Week: May 25, 2024 - Turtles, Ferrets, & Clean Energy

Your weekly roundup of the best good news worth celebrating...
Tennis pro Venus Williams stands on a tennis court, holding up a Barbie version of herself. Her hair is in a ponytail and she wears a white tank top.

Barbie releases 9 new dolls of trailblazing women athletes — who made the team?

Ahead of the 2024 Olympics, Mattel has released nine one-of-a-kind Barbie dolls that represent pro women athletes like Venus Williams and Mary Fowler.
No items found.

Want to stay up-to-date on positive news?

The best email in your inbox.
Filled with the day’s best good news.