It stands to reason that “Health + the Arts,” the new exhibition at UW-Eau Claire’s Foster Gallery, has such an expansive scope. After all, health as an issue affects everyone.
But when you also consider that health touches everyone in different ways, and the fact that everyone experiences art with a different perspective, it becomes clear why this show fills the large gallery display area at Haas Fine Arts Center.
Amanda Bulger, director of Foster Gallery, talked about why the exhibition looks at the subject from such a big-picture perspective. “I think initially it was because we were so excited about the various topics we had brainstormed,” Bulger said. “We didn’t want to cut anything.”
Bulger talked about the exhibit this week along with Mel Kantor, also an organizer of the show as well as Oliver Marion Ramsey endowed chair of the UW-Eau Claire Institute for Health Sciences.
“If we had done everything as health presented in graphic design, that would be kind of narrow,” Kantor said. “Whereas by having the diversity and talking about the intersection of health and the arts from different perspectives, we thought it would appeal to a wide audience.”
The exhibition does have graphic design, including posters related to health equity, specifically access to affordable health care and clean water, from Poster for Tomorrow, a project of 4tomorrow, an independent, nonprofit organization based in Paris.
But it also features pieces by local art therapists and clients; work about well-being by clinicians, which is from the National Academy of Medicine; as well as the art of nationally recognized professional artists.
Examples of the latter are by professional artist Ted Meyer from his “Scarred for Life” project. Meyer, who will visit campus as part of the exhibition, uses his art to visually tell stories of people who have gone through major traumas and resulting physical scars.
According to Meyer’s website, he creates “artistically enhanced monoprints taken directly from the scarred skin of his subject.” Each image is accompanied by a photographic portrait and a written story that entails “medical crisis, resilience and healing.” Meyer has been profiled on PBS and in the New York Times.
“Health + the Arts” came about after Kantor arrived on campus about five years ago. He began going to Foster Gallery exhibitions regularly and talked to Christos Theo, art faculty member and at the time department chairman, about the possibility of doing such a show. At some point Theo introduced him to Bulger as well as art faculty member Jill Olm, and the exhibition grew, literally and figuratively, from there.
“When we were putting together the different sections of the show, we were thinking about who it might attract, trying to attract as many people as possible,” Bulger said. “So we were thinking about what could the community benefit from, what could the university itself benefit from, and what could our art students benefit from as well.”
That raises the question of how viewers can benefit from experiencing “Health + the Arts.”
Bulger mentioned, among other potential audiences, the positive effect it could have on students. That is, that they don’t attend simply because it’s a class requirement but because they can gain valuable knowledge.
“Either it’s a new technique for making work or a new way of thinking about what the art could be used for,” she said. “We have a lot of illustration students, and so maybe when they see the medical illustrations they’ll think about how that can be a possible avenue for them once they finish their bachelor’s.”
Kantor said he hoped the exhibition might “build bridges and linkages to the community,” and he saw possible educational benefits as well. Referring to the clinician well-being section, “Maybe they’ll, for the first time, think, ‘Maybe my clinician is suffering burnout. What about the 12-minute appointment schedule that I have to endure? But what about the nurse practitioner or whoever.’”
Kantor also suggested the posters on access to affordable health care and clean water could strike chords of recognition.
Publicity for the exhibition describes it as exploring health and healing as represented in art, and art as a form of healing. The art as a form of healing in the show includes work by the art therapy patients and the clinician well-being section, Bulger said.
“I will say that, especially when it comes to the art therapy portion, the focus isn’t necessarily on producing an exceptional piece of artwork in the end, although that’s not to say they aren’t exceptional pieces of artwork, but it’s the idea that just making it is important,” she said. “It doesn’t matter whether it ends up in a gallery or if someone sees it later on.”
By contrast, she added, “Where some of the other work that’s representing healing, the end result is important. The process is still important, but the end result is the most important part versus the process of making.”