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  • Writer's picturePamela Lawton

Body, Mind, Spirit

Body, Mind & Spirit, is a collaborative community-based art project that examines participants’ holistic thoughts about wellness. Prior to the start of the fall 2018 semester, I met with Dr. Nicole Lee in the School of Social Work at VCU to discuss how our students might collaborate with members of the East End community. Undergraduate social work students in field experiences with agencies in the area [Peter Paul Development Center, Tricycle Gardens, and the Neighborhood Resource Center] conducted interviews with residents about their thoughts on maintaining healthy lifestyles. The answers/quotes they gathered were used by art education/art history graduate students in my ARTE 780 Cultural Diversity in Art and Society course as inspiration for visual works. After meeting with Jackie Washington, Coordinator for the Six Points Innovation Center (6PIC) in Highland Park, my class collaborated with youth from 6PIC to create a word web on wellness. The words were then grouped and five categories related to body, mind, and spirit emerged: connections, self-care, self-expression, nourishment, and strength. The group then generated visual symbols to express the five categories and collaborated with one another to create the five large, mixed-media works on display. The intent of this project was twofold: to use art as a catalyst for intergenerational collaboration and conversation on what it means to live a healthy life and to develop sustainable partnerships between VCU and the East End community. Each piece measures 30"x 50" and hangs in the reception area of The Health Hub, which opened to the public in May 2019.

During the fall 2019 semester, my art education colleague, Molly McFadden, and I worked with graduate and undergraduate students on a community-based art project at the Health Hub. The Health Hub is a health education and wellness center located in Richmond's East End community. This area of Richmond has been described as a food desert; few healthy food choices and medical/wellness services are available to neighborhood residents. The Health Hub, built by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is a partnership between the university and the East End community designed to "build on collaborative strengths to empower community members to improve their health and wellness." The center opened in May 2019. We approached them about an art/wellness project that would partner our art education students with community members. We had a lot of textile materials and as a class proposed a health and wellness quilt continuing the theme, body, mind & spirit. While there were more VCU participants than community members, we did have 2 community members who regularly worked with us. After brainstorming ideas related to body, mind & spirit to help us envision the quilt, we decided on incorporating cyanotype prints on cloth with hand sewing and printmaking techniques. Each week one or more students led an art technique workshop at the center. It was rather involved as there wasn't much storage space and the classrooms were not designed with artmaking in mind, but by the end of the semester we'd created a wall quilt that was installed at the center in December.

Faculty and students also created their own personal story quilt square using techniques learned in class to use as an example in their own teaching.

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