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NXTLVL Experience Design

Episode 61: Tasha Golden

“The Art and Neuroaesthetic Science of Well-being,” with Tasha Golden – Director of Research, International Arts + Mind Lab, Johns Hopkins University

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EPISODE SUMMARY

“We evolved to make and share art for a reason. It does something for us or we would have abandoned these practices millennia ago. We ignore that fact at our peril” says Tasha Golden, PhD – Director of Research at The International Arts+Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins University. In this episode, Tasha Golden and host David Kepron discuss how the arts have been deeply connected to our evolution as a survival mechanism in the making of tools and shelter as well as being a vehicle of cultural expression and a way to discover and express things about ourselves, our community and the cosmos. They unpack how the arts is deeply connected to our sense of health and wellbeing.

EPISODE NOTES

ABOUT TASHA GOLDEN, PhD:
Tasha’s Profile: linkedin.com/in/tashagolden

Websites:

Twitter:

BIO:

Tasha Golden, PhD is Director of Research at the International Arts+Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins University, and a national leader and consultant in arts + public health. Holding a PhD in Public Health Sciences, Tasha Golden has published extensively on the impacts of the arts, music, aesthetics, and social norms on health and well-being. She has served as an advisor on several national and international health initiatives, is adjunct faculty for the University of Florida’s Center for Arts in Medicine, and recently led the pilot evaluation of CultureRx in Massachusetts: the first arts-on-prescription in the U.S.

Golden is also a career artist and entrepreneur. As singer-songwriter for the critically acclaimed band Ellery, she toured full-time in the US and abroad, and her songs appear in feature films and TV dramas (ABC, SHOWTIME, FOX, NETFLIX, etc). She is a published poet (Humanist Press) and founder of Project Uncaged: an arts-based health intervention for incarcerated teen women that amplifies their voices in justice reform.

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Tasha’s diverse background drives her success as an international speaker and thought leader. She gives talks and facilitates workshops for artists, businesses, researchers, practitioners, and more—helping them enhance and reimagine their work. As a consultant, she helps leaders and organizations draw on the science of arts and health to further their goals.

This is one of those conversations that literally just scratches the surface of what is possible when considering how the arts influences our lives. It is an important conversation about why  we need to put art back into our daily routines as a prescription to wellbeing.

 

SHOW INTRO: 

Welcome to episode 61 of the NXTLVL Experience Design podcast.

These dynamic dialogues based on our acronym DATA – design, architecture, technology, and the arts crosses over disciplines but maintains a common thread of people who are passionate about the world we live in and human’s influence on it, the ways we craft the built environment to maximize human experience, increasing our understanding of human behavior and searching for the New Possible.

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As usual, thanks go to VMSD magazine and Smartwork Media.

VMSD is the publisher of VMSD magazine and brings us, in the brand experience world, the International Retail Design Conference. The IRDC is one of the best retail design conferences that there is bringing together the world of retailers, brands and experience place makers every year for two days of engaging conversations and pushing the discourse forward on what makes retailing relevant.

You will find the archive of the NXTLVL Experience Design podcast on VMSD.com.

Thanks also goes to Shop Association the only global retail trade association dedicated to elevating the in-store experience.

SHOP Association represents companies and affiliates from 25 countries and brings value to their members through research, networking, education, events and awards. Check then out on SHOPAssociation.org

In a minute, we’ll dig into my discussion with Tasha Golden – Director of Research at the International Arts+Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins University.

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But first a few thoughts to set up our talk…

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Art and making is part of our human experience – it is part of who we are as a species.

I have had this feeling for a number of years, and probably expressed it on this podcast a number of times, that art and making are intrinsic to all of us.

There’s something unique about the making of things that humans do that is different than other living creatures on the planet. Sure, some of the animals in our world make things too. Birds make nests and the great apes do as well, for some apes, new ones every night as I understand it.

But the defining feature between humans and the other creatures making things on the planet is that we make things that can make other things.

We are Homo Sapiens – “Man The Thinker” but we are also “Homo Faber” or Man The Maker. I think we’re equally “Homo Ludens” – “Man The Player.”

I’m sure that there’s some deep connection between the idea of the making of things and play that are also deeply connected in defining who we are and how we come to understand ourselves and navigate the world.

When I am deeply connected to the making of things, specifically when listening to music and painting, I am very aware of the fact that I am in a Flow state that feels like being deeply involved in play. Time disappears, dissipates… its otherworldly.

I think that making, whether objects, stories, music or other manifestations of our creative minds is part of who we all are. But I also think we have pushed it aside getting up in our rational heads believing that we could think our way through our lives rather than feeling, or maybe even creating our way through them.

Sir Ken Robinson had said something like ‘we are all born creative, and we have it educated out of us.’ That’s a tragedy with huge implications to our world when I think we really need super creative solutions to life’s pressing challenges.

It seems to me that creativity was a necessary skill to be developed as part of our evolutionary history. Being creative, a good problem solver, was an insurance policy for survival. This is also true of our ability to engage in empathic relationships in collaborative communities. When working together, we were much better able to survive. Millenia ago, being cast out of the group and having to go at on your own in the wild might have significantly reduced your chances of survival.

And so, making and creating close knit social communities and problem solving have been with us from time immemorial.

But beyond making tools, creating shelters and being creative in these ways so as to survive in an unpredictable and sometime brutal world, the arts, at least we call them now evolved as a way for us to express ourselves, our ideological orientations, our understanding of the world.

In some ways they were an attempt to understand and answer some of the existential questions of what it meant to be human and how we fit into the cosmological scheme of things.

The arts in its many forms; sculpture, dance, song, music, and later literature, brought communities together in shared understanding of the meaning of being individuals as well as members of a larger whole. The arts were a vehicle for the expression of ideas, the asking of questions and searching for answers.

In many ways the arts helped to express the ineffable.

The arts aligned with our penchant for using narratives to navigate through the world.

Stories put things into place, they described the why and how of things. Cognitive scientist Roger Schank has said “Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; they’re ideally set up to understand stories.”

And many of the stories we tell are in the form of the arts. From the paintings on the walls of caves in Lascaux France 1700 years ago, to the contemporary dance of Martha Graham, to best-selling books (you pick the author) or immersive digital experiences of media artists like Refik Anadol, the arts have been, and continue to be, part of our lives.

Without the arts, life would be bereft of meaning.

I have often heard people say I can’t draw or I’ve got no rhythm and can’t dance or I can’t hold a tune. These self-judgmental comments go completely contrary to what we know from science about the value of engaging in art or even doing simple things like humming your favorite tune and the positive effects it has on your mind-body state.

I find myself humming or singing to myself all the time – Christmas carols in the summer, old 70’s rock classics any day, doesn’t matter. Humming, an ancient artform, plays a key role in activating the parasympathetic nervous system – also known as your ‘rest and digest state’.

Because your vagus nerve, one of your neural superhighways connecting your brain to major organs in the rest of your body, runs through your larynx and pharynx in your throat, the vibrations that humming stimulates your vagus nerve and creates what’s known as “vagal tone.”

Humming can also improve heart rate variability which is an important metric that shows how well you can recover from experiences of stress. So, when you hum you induce something called “parasympathetic dominance” which means that you move from a fight or flight state into one of increased relaxation.

The idea here is that bringing the arts into our lives even in the simplest of ways like humming, reconnects us to ourselves and helps support mind body health, an overall sense of well-being.

More and more research is pointing to the fact that engaging in the arts and having a sense of well-being can be directly connected.

In fact the whole emerging field in cognitive science called neuroaesthetics is geared towards the understanding of how the arts, in all of their incarnations, influences how we feel – not just when listening to a piece of music or staring at a painting on a wall in a museum – but how the    overall built environment potentially influences our emotional state which may have a direct effect on our body systems potentially leading to disease.

So, there is a significant problem at hand when arts funding is slashed from school curricula thinking that it is less important than getting our school aged children ready to compete on the world stage by simply focusing on STEM based curricula only. Fully integrating the arts into the school, and even our workdays, increases learning and company performance.

As a personal example, I know I’ve described this in a number of the podcast episodes, and at the risk of being repetitive I’ll do so       now…

…during the pandemic between 2020 and 2022 and I poured myself into painting, writing and doing this podcast all of which would qualify as the arts.

I firmly believe that if it weren’t for me finding a Flow state, a pseudo meditative experience, through painting and listening to music while doing it , that my experience of the pandemic may have been drastically different.

I think that in many ways, it might have actually been quite negative and that I might have been a very difficult person to live with.

Instead, art gave me a sense of agency to be able to navigate the ambiguity of an uncertain future. Engaging in the arts, if even on a small plain of my physical world in the form of a 36 by 48-inch canvas, gave me a certain sense of control.

I shifted the negative energy of anxiety and fear of the unknown into creativity in the form of a pandemic production of 25 canvases. I was directly exposed to the value and impact of how the arts could be harnessed to create a profound sense of well-being.

And this brings me to my guest Tasha Golden.

    Tasha Golden, PhD is Director of Research at the International Arts+Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins University, and a national leader and consultant in arts + public health. Holding a PhD in Public Health Sciences, Tasha Golden has published extensively on the impacts of the arts, music, aesthetics, and social norms on health and well-being. She has served as an advisor on several nati      onal and international health initiatives, is adjunct faculty for the University of Florida’s Center for Arts in Medicine, and recently led the pilot evaluation of CultureRx in Massachusetts: the first arts-on-prescription in the U.S.

Golden is also a career artist and entrepreneur. As singer-songwriter for the critically acclaimed band Ellery, she toured full-time in the US and abroad, and her songs appear in feature films and TV dramas (ABC, SHOWTIME, FOX, NETFLIX, etc). She is a published poet (Humanist Press) and founder of Project Uncaged: an arts-based health intervention for incarcerated teen women that amplifies their voices in justice reform.

Tasha’s diverse background drives her success as an international speaker and thought leader. She gives talks and facilitates workshops for artists, businesses, researchers, practitioners, and more—helping them enhance and reimagine their work. As a consultant, she helps leaders and organizations draw on the science of arts and health to further their goals.

This is one of those conversations that literally just scratches the surface of what is possible when considering how the arts influences our lives. It is an important conversation about why  we need to put art back into our daily routines as a prescription to wellbeing.

 

ABOUT DAVID KEPRON:

LinkedIn Profile: linkedin.com/in/david-kepron-9a1582b

Websites: 

https://www.davidkepron.com    (personal website)

vmsd.com/taxonomy/term/8645  (Blog)

Email: david.kepron@NXTLVLexperiencedesign.com

Twitter: DavidKepron

Personal Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/davidkepron/

NXTLVL Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nxtlvl_experience_design/

Bio:

David Kepron is a multifaceted creative professional with a deep curiosity to understand ‘why’, ‘what’s now’ and ‘what’s next’. He brings together his background as an architect, artist, educator, author, podcast host and builder to the making of meaningful and empathically-focused, community-centric customer connections at brand experience places around the globe.

David is a former VP – Global Design Strategies at Marriott International. While at Marriott, his focus was on the creation of compelling customer experiences within Marriott’s “Premium Distinctive” segment which included: Westin, Renaissance, Le Meridien, Autograph Collection, Tribute Portfolio, Design Hotels and Gaylord hotels.

In 2020 Kepron founded NXTLVL Experience Design, a strategy and design consultancy, where he combines his multidisciplinary approach to the creation of relevant brand engagements with his passion for social and cultural anthropology, neuroscience and emerging digital technologies.

As a frequently requested international speaker at corporate events and international conferences focusing on CX, digital transformation, retail, hospitality, emerging technology, David shares his expertise on subjects ranging from consumer behaviors and trends, brain science and buying behavior, store design and visual merchandising, hotel design and strategy as well as creativity and innovation. In his talks, David shares visionary ideas on how brand strategy, brain science and emerging technologies are changing guest expectations about relationships they want to have with brands and how companies can remain relevant in a digitally enabled marketplace.

David currently shares his experience and insight on various industry boards including: VMSD magazine’s Editorial Advisory Board, the Interactive Customer Experience Association, Sign Research Foundation’s Program Committee as well as the Center For Retail Transformation at George Mason University.

He has held teaching positions at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.), the Department of Architecture & Interior Design of Drexel University in Philadelphia, the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising (L.I.M.) in New York, the International Academy of Merchandising and Design in Montreal and he served as the Director of the Visual Merchandising Department at LaSalle International Fashion School (L.I.F.S.) in Singapore.

In 2014 Kepron published his first book titled: “Retail (r)Evolution: Why Creating Right-Brain Stores Will Shape the Future of Shopping in a Digitally Driven World” and he is currently working on his second book to be published soon. David also writes a popular blog called “Brain Food” which is published monthly on vmsd.com.

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The next level experience design podcast is presented by VMSD magazine and Smartwork Media. It is hosted and executive produced by David Kepron. Our original music and audio production by Kano Sound. 

The content of this podcast is copyright to David Kepron and NXTLVL Experience Design. Any publication or rebroadcast of the content is prohibited without the expressed written consent of David Kepron and NXTLVL Experience Design.

Make sure to tune in for more NXTLVL “Dialogues on DATA: Design Architecture Technology and the Arts” wherever you find your favorite podcasts and make sure to visit vmsd.com and look for the tab for the NXTLVL Experience Design podcast there too.

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