Life Expectancy Linked to Nature Access: Brushwood Center’s ‘Convergence’ Transforms Research into Art

Brushwood — Convergence

Across the United States, how long you live is determined by where you live. A person’s health is shaped  by their environment, their ability to access nature, and the systems that support communities. In Lake  County, IL, north of Chicago, often recognized for an abundance of nature, including Lake Michigan,  forest preserves, parks, and grassroots-created spaces, residents face significant race-based disparities in health outcomes and access to parks and open spaces, according to a groundbreaking study from the Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods.

The report, Health,  Equity, and Nature: A Changing Climate in Lake County, Illinois, links access to clean air, water and nature to healthier lives, with a 15-year life expectancy gap separating the communities of North Chicago and Lake Forest, situated only five miles apart.  

Now, Brushwood Center is taking an innovative approach to communicating these findings by presenting a world premiere multi-media production of original music, artwork, and narrative — Convergence: Health Equity in a Changing Climate,

By translating the research of the report into a multi-disciplinary performance through original music, illustration, and storytelling, Brushwood Center hopes to mobilize even more people and communities in  this movement for a healthy and just future.

The world premiere of Convergence: Health Equity in a Changing Environment debuts at 7 p.m., Friday, June 28 at the Gorton Center located at 400 E. Illinois Rd in Lake Forest, IL. Tickets are on sale for $25 at

Video Promo for Convergence: Health Equity in a Changing Climate

The 90-minute, bilingual (English and Spanish) performance, guided by Brushwood Center’s Ensemble in-Residence, Black Moon Trio, translates the lived experiences of communities in Lake County — experiences common to communities around the country affected by environmental racism and health inequities.

The signature concert experience features original music, including two commissioned compositions by composers Marc Mellits and Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate and original artworks from five visual artists across the country: Natashna Anderson, Kelley Clink, Laura Horan, Lakosh, and Naimah Thomas.

Black Moon Trio performs at Brushwood Center
Black Moon Trio performs at Brushwood Center | Photo courtesy of Brushwood Center

“Audiences will watch and listen to stories from members of communities affected by environmental  racism and health inequities through original art accompanied by the music of American composers,”  said Parker Nelson, Director of Music at Brushwood and Black Moon Trio member.  

“My art piece Sol, Spanish for “Sun” and a play on words for the English pronunciation of the word soul,  is the graphic accompaniment to Eric Ewazen’s musical composition for Convergence,” shared Natashna  Anderson, Chicago visual artist. “Full of somber chords, Sol is tempered with bright harmonies that form  a delicate dance through both my visual art piece (to be displayed onstage), and through the music.”  

"Sol" by Natashna Anderson
“Sol” by Natashna Anderson is one of artworks on display at Convergence | Photo courtesy of Brushwood Center

Brushwood Center hopes that Convergence will equip Lake County community members and policy makers with the information and tools to apply a climate justice lens to improve health equity, and access to nature — all in the interest of  human health and wellbeing.  

Brushwood Center’s analysis of 38 data sets covering health, environmental quality, climate, transportation, green space, and demographic data revealed Black and Brown communities in Northeastern Lake County are the most overburdened by health and environmental injustices.

The report reveals that almost half of Black respondents and 31% of Hispanic respondents expressed concerns about access, safety, or maintenance of open spaces, compared to only 21% of white respondents. Key barriers to accessing nature include limited transportation options, lack of materials in Spanish, and a need for more culturally relevant nature-based programs, providers, and partnerships.  

The report was created in collaboration with community organizations, Lake County land agencies,  community members, artists, researchers, and environmental jusftice groups, as well as a 16-member  advisory board.  

Convergence promises to be an evening of excitement, entertainment, and the opportunity to continue the movement to expand understanding of how health, longevity and nature are directly interconnected.  

Read more Brushwood Stories:

How To Help

Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods’ initiatives connect more than 10,000 people to art and nature around Lake County, IL. and across the Chicago region. Your contribution to Brushwood Center will help this program bring their research study findings to life with action steps including new artistic partnershps, integrating nature-based solutions with health care systens, advancing climate justice through clean water and air collaborations with Clean Power Lake County and much more.

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