We spoke with Jon Hallberg, MD, to discuss his view of philanthropy and why he gives to the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. Along the way, we also discussed his new role as director of the Center for the Art of Medicine and his creative endeavors.

Earlier this year, the Center for the Art of Medicine officially launched, and you took on an additional role. Can you tell us more about that?

Just as the COVID-19 pandemic was hitting, I received word that the Medical School’s brand-new Center for the Art of Medicine was officially established. However, we decided that the timing wasn't right to promote it heavily, nor was the time right to fund it.

But we wanted to move forward with the center as one way to help people cope with the strain brought on by the pandemic. The arts are an integral part of my being, so I was naturally energized by the idea of getting the center off the ground. I am officially the director, although I'm playing around with the idea of calling myself a creative director because there's no such thing in medical schools.

One outcome of the Center for the Art of Medicine so far has been the daily Artistic Antidote. What is it and how did that come about?

Dean Tolar, Dr. Tim Schacker, and I decided to try to do something inspiring in the face of a very scary and uncertain time. And so, in very rapid fashion, I came up with this idea of creating a daily blog post called Artistic Antidote, featuring poetry, brief prose, music, or visual art that offers a daily pause. It’s a result of asking what we can do right now. I'm not making a ventilator, participating in a remdesivir trial, or working in Bethesda, but I can offer a moment of solace through art. 

Where do those poems, songs, and other creative works come from?

I have a deep well of poetry and beautiful pieces that I have used—or planned to use—in Hippocrates Cafe shows and started the Artistic Antidote using those, often with one of my photographs, just in an effort to get the blog launched. 

Very quickly, however, we started putting a call out there to have people submit things. My daughter is serving as my unpaid intern to help me organize it all. It’s been wonderful because we have had people from all over North America contribute pieces, from British Columbia to Maine. So far, we’ve seen a lot of engagement with the posts, which is exciting. I have to give special credit to Hannah Mickelson (in the dean’s office) and Dr. Maren Olson for their help with the project.

I view it as ever-evolving. We are exploring new modes of creativity to bring into the mix since different people respond to different forms of media—from graphic novels to TV shows.

You’ve produced over 115 Hippocrates Cafe shows since it was created in 2009. What’s next on the horizon for this production?

Dean Tolar and I wanted to do something that was really beautiful and well produced to recognize and thank healthcare providers. Plus, there's so much beautiful content out there right now from visual and performing artists, many if not all of whom are basically unemployed or not working due to the pandemic. And so, through the dean’s generosity and his philanthropy fund, we are going to produce a one-hour Hippocrates Cafe show on TPT about the pandemic. I’m also working with Todd Boss, who created Motionpoems, a film company that makes short films about poems, to create two such films. (One of which was created by a London-based Scottish filmmaker and animator.) 

Each of our pieces will be honoring healthcare workers and patients or exploring the loneliness of quarantine, all through music, poetry, and spoken word. This will be available for social media distribution in August, with its broadcast scheduled for Sunday, September 6. This is the most ambitious art-related project I’ve ever worked on — and I’m thrilled to do so!

Why do you donate to the department? 

The reason I donate is bigger than just the department. I have been giving to causes that are meaningful to me since my senior year in college — that's the first year that I became a member of MPR. I did that because my parents were members, and they instilled in me this idea that we should give money to causes and institutions that we believe in and that enrich our lives — and the lives of others. 

So why do I give to the department? I see it as contiguous with all the other things that I do. I probably give to about 20 different organizations in any given year. And all of them resonate with my wife and me deeply. This includes my place of employment, the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, which does such great work on so many levels. Donating to causes I believe in like this is very near and dear to my heart.

What does being a philanthropic donor mean to you? 

I always make donating a priority because it is a priority. For me, it goes back to the idea that philanthropy comes from the derivation of its Greek roots, literally meaning “love of humankind.” And this is just one way to make that love manifest or tangible. 

We give varying amounts according to our depth of connection. Sometimes the gifts are token gifts; sometimes they're more impactful. My wife and I probably have our top four or five places that we give in a more substantial way. I feel like it ties into this deep-seated desire and need to give, which syncs very strongly with the values of our department.