Jacobs Arts Festival Showcases Creative Side of Students, Faculty

Published May 10, 2016

The inaugural Jacobs Arts Festival showcased works by Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences students and faculty alike in celebration of where art and medicine meet.

“Tapping into their artistic side enhances their critical thinking skills. It promotes wellness and maintains a balance. It enriches them. It also shows their humanity to each other. ”
Ginny O’Brien
Curator of education for UB Art Galleries
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The event was sponsored by the Jacobs Center for Medical Humanities and the Jacobs Arts and Visual Interest Society (JArVIS), a student interest group component of the Center that promotes art-focused activities.

More than two dozen pieces of artwork, encompassing paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, knitting samples, crafts, poetry and music, were displayed May 4 in the Biomedical Education Building atrium.

Using Art as a Reminder to Maintain Balance in Life

Linda F. Pessar, MD, director of the Center for Medical Humanities and professor emerita of psychiatry, notes that from its beginning, the Center has incorporated art and medicine as a major component of its educational offerings.

“We are fortunate to have so many engaged and enthusiastic students,” she says, noting the works serve to show the importance of maintaining a balance.

“All of this art serves to remind ourselves that we have other lives — and to take joy from that,” Pessar says. “After all, how can you treat others if you are so narrow and only focused on chemical formulas? Medicine needs to embrace life.”

Honing Observation Skills Vital for Medical Students

Ginny O’Brien, curator of education for UB Art Galleries, is also a registered nurse who has been working with the medical school on arts in health programs.

Through the Center for Medical Humanities, she and Pessar organized live model drawing sessions for first-year students.

“Visual arts are important for first-year medical students,” O’Brien says. “It is art for observation, because observing is important to the medical practice.”

Showing Their Humanity to One Another

Art has other, far-reaching benefits for medical students, who carry heavy workloads throughout their academic training.

“Tapping into their artistic side enhances their critical thinking skills,” she says. “It promotes wellness and maintains a balance. It enriches them. It also shows their humanity to each other.”

O’Brien acts as faculty adviser to JArVIS and said first-year medical students Nabiha Ahsan and Julie Lee, who co-founded the group, organized the festival under her supervision.

“They handled all the logistics. It is what is called a ‘pop-up exhibition,’ where you put it up for a few hours and then take it down,” she says. “They are a very trendy thing in the art world right now.”

O’Brien says she was very pleased with both the turnout and the number of contributors, noting it was a “good first start” of an event that organizers hope will become an annual occurrence.

Paintings, Steel Sculptures and ‘Twisted Music’

Among some of the artwork displayed:

  • Steel sculptures: The pieces were sculpted by Frederick Sachs, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor of physiology and biophysics. “Art is a faster turnaround than science, so it fills the gaps left behind in grant applications and papers,” he notes. “Steel sculpture has an immediacy that is satisfying.”
  • A chalked pastel: Entitled “Where the Soul Feels Free,” it was made by biomedical sciences student Taylor Glausen, who re-created it from a photograph taken on a hike during a research trip to Iceland.
  • Acrylic paintings: Works were created by Allen Chung, MD ’16, PhD ’16, who — while on commission for a British arts academy — spent a summer studying landscape painting in the Italian Province of Tuscany.
  • Poems: Students Tom Fuchs and Nora Serghany showcased poetry along with Kathleen Kitzmiller, chief financial officer of the Office of Graduate Medical Education.
  • Music listening station: The station featured original piano and guitar compositions by first-year medical student Janet Lee and “Proteomusic” by Ram Samudrala, PhD, professor in the Department of Biomedical Informatics. He described his compositions as “twisted music inspired by genomes and proteomes; beautiful biological atonality created by considering interactions of the atoms in a system.”
  • Quilling or paper filigree: Biochemistry student Anushila Chatterjee displayed her quilling, an art form that involves using strips of paper that are rolled, shaped and glued together to create decorative designs.
  • Eccentric woodturnings: Ray Bissonette, PhD, associate professor emeritus of family medicine, created the wooden art with conventional tools. He described the pieces as “rare, but intriguing, both in execution and outcome.”
  • Knitting sample: Microbiology and immunology student Mary Gallo harvested the raw fiber from her pet llamas.
  • Artwork from a “Paint Nite” outing led by O’Brien: During the outing, JArVIS members worked with a depiction of the butterfly pin associated with the UB Anatomical Gift Program. “We treated it like an adult coloring book and used lots of layers and colors to create each individual butterfly,” O’Brien says. “They were all created in a one-hour session.”