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Atlanta Artist Spreads COVID-19 Information Through Her Art

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Communities of color are being hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic - Native Americans, Latinos and African Americans. Sherri Daye Scott is trying to use her art to alert and inform some of those who are most at risk. She started a grassroots campaign called Big Facts, Small Acts, which hopes to spread public health information about COVID-19. Sherri Daye Scott joins us now from Atlanta. Thanks so much for being with us.

SHERRI DAYE SCOTT: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: How do you use art to get across the message?

DAYE SCOTT: Well, you know, the visual image is one of the earliest forms of communication. And so what we're doing with Big Facts, Small Acts is using a mix of murals throughout the city of Atlanta, street signs and yard signs and, of course, social media - because we are of that age - to spread the message about wearing masks and protecting particularly the African American community here in Atlanta.

SIMON: Give us some idea of how this differs from what, let's say, government officials or the CDC are trying to do.

DAYE SCOTT: What we're trying to do is take the information that organizations like the CDC and Johns Hopkins are putting out and, you know, making it culturally relevant - really this idea that we put the art that features Black and brown faces speaking to the communities that are particularly at risk in language and places that resonate with them.

SIMON: And what do the messages say? What do they look like?

DAYE SCOTT: So one is by an artist named Fabian Williams, who is an internationally known street artist. And so his Colin Kaepernick mural, for example, is a mural of Kaepernick as St. Sebastian. So that one has been masked - really bright, big masks on the (unintelligible) of Ralph David Abernathy and Joseph Lowery, which is, I think, a really beautiful symbolism. And then we worked with artists like Fahamu Pecou. And he made yard signs for us featuring Malcolm X that he hand-painted and hand-drew with messages like, stay safe by any means necessary. And instead of that iconic rifle, there's a can of disinfectant or Martin Luther King saying, you know, I have a dream that you stay masked up. And, you know, some tongue in cheek, but really, the idea is to spark conversation and to get people thinking about, maybe it's time for me to start paying attention.

SIMON: What kind of response have you gotten from people that you've been able to hear or measure?

DAYE SCOTT: So the beautiful thing about the campaign is we are able to track through social - our growth, right? So we're seeing our followers increase 5 to 10% every week - so that means the message that we're driving on social. We have information about staying healthy, about getting tested, about how to properly wear your mask. We know that the art is driving people to that information, which was always the goal.

And then, just on a personal level, quite a few of the artists are my friends. And so one of them did - you know, did this solely on based on our friendship. You know, he just wasn't someone who really believed in the whole mask thing or just wasn't as interested. But because he got involved with the campaign and started reading the information, his perspective on that changed. And because his perspective on that changed, thousands and thousands of people who follow him on Instagram are now being exposed. So the hope is that we can just start changing minds by saying, hey. You know, I know there's a historical bias, particularly in the Afro American community, about the medical system, right? But please believe...

SIMON: Yeah. Well, help us understand that.

DAYE SCOTT: Sure. So, you know, the truth is there is a longstanding distrust in the African American community of the health care system and medical science. And it's rooted in good reason. You know, the Tuskegee experiment, where generations of Black men were allowed to live with syphilis for testing and studying purposes long after penicillin had been invented - you know, that's very present today in the mind of Black families, particularly here in the South. You look at Henrietta Lacks, you know, whose DNA was used to develop vaccines and testing. And yet she was never properly cared for. You know, these stories are very present. So the issue, I think, a lot of times when we see these kind of medical messages going out - they're coming from sources that have not already built equity in the community. And so I think what we were able to tap into just by - I live in southwest Atlanta. A lot of these artists live and work in southwest Atlanta. Their work has been up in these communities for years. You know, so by just tapping into, hey, we're your neighbors and friends, and we're telling you this, taking the time and effort to push this message out to you, that resonates, I think. And I hope to see other cities, other grassroots efforts take this model and fly with it, too.

SIMON: Sherri Daye Scott, an artist in Atlanta, thanks so much for being with us.

DAYE SCOTT: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.