By SUSAN JONES
Two scholars in the Graduate School of Public Health got inspiration from their research project in Nepal to create a virtual art gallery with submissions from the Pitt community and beyond that answer the question: During the COVID-19 pandemic, how have you stayed connected and maintained community connections?
Sara Baumann, post-doctoral associate in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, and Jessica Burke, professor of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences and associate dean for Education, have been studying how community art initiatives in Nepal after a devastating earthquake in 2015 helped to rebuild a sense of community and impact mental health outcomes.
Burke was having a discussion with Nathan Urban, vice provost of Graduate Studies, and other associate deans when she mentioned the idea of using art, like in the Nepal project, to help connect with students. They later pitched the idea to a smaller group, including Urban, and others from the provost’s office and the Pitt Postdoctoral Association.
“I was prepared for them to sort of say, ‘What are you guys talking about?’ And they did not, they really got it,” Burke said. “I think that's the power of this idea of using a different mode for communicating, in this case, encouraging people to be creative. And to do that, to talk about how we're all staying connected during this crisis.”
Baumann said their research in Nepal has shown a relationship between engagement with community art and mental health that’s worth exploring scientifically.
While the virtual art gallery exploring resilience and creativity during the COVID-19 pandemic grew out of the Nepal study, the Pitt project is not for research. It just seemed like an opportune time to use what they’ve learned in Nepal to help students and others weather this crisis.
The submissions, which are due by April 20, can be in any form — from painting to writing to drawing, poetry, music, collage, filmmaking, comics, and more — and can be from any member of the Pitt community or its neighbors.
“You don't have to be an artist. It is just a different way of sharing,” Burke said.
In addition to submitting artwork, participants will be asked to give some details on their piece, including:
What was your inspiration?
What issues did you address/explore?
How did creating this piece make you feel?
This information will be used to help curate the submissions, Baumann said, and see if there any reoccurring themes. They want the space to be somewhere people can “reflect on what others are going through as well,” Burke said.
One submission they’ve already received was a photo of a geometric chalk drawing in a driveway. In response to the questions, the person who submitted it said:
“My children and I had seen similar chalk drawings on a few walks and bike rides that we've been able to be on outside of the boundary of our home. These made them so happy and they wanted to spread that happiness with others. … As we've been together in close quarters this week, these weeks, patience with each other is wearing thin. There's been a lot of fights and arguments. This was an opportunity for us to work together to create something beautiful and spread that beauty to others. … It grounded us for a while allowing each of us to contribute our own small piece of the larger work.”
Burke and Baumann hope to have the virtual gallery completed and online sometime in May. They envision it as a Pinterest-type display that visitors can be view interactively. They also are talking to the Center for Creativity about having an in-person exhibit at some later date.
Participants can share their projects as they progress by using #PittCreatingCommunity on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. Burke said there is a good chance that the deadline for submissions will be extended.
Find more information about the project and how to submit your artwork on the provost’s office website.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-648-4294.
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