Project Reflections

“Art is a wound turned into light.” ~ Georges Braque

During my senior year of high school, depression attempted to seek control of me after months of medical testing and worry. After being diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) at a late age of 18 a month before graduation, it won. Although I tried to stay as positive and strong for those around me as possible, inside the disease was not only sickening my body, but was sickening my spirit and mind as well. My dad was the one to tell me about my diagnosis. As we sat on my bed, he told me the news and immediately after told me a quote I will never forget for all my life. He said, “You get to choose the color of your own sky every day.” Some days, I have pancreatic attacks or stomach aches. Some days, I feel pretty good. I learned that each morning when I wake up, I have the choice of how I will act and treat others on that day. So even if my sky is gray and cloudy when I wake up, I am capable of painting it the clearest blue. His words inspired me to start painting again, which proved to be incredibly healing for me. Art was a way for me to process all of the emotions I was feeling at that time of diagnosis.

While attending Concordia, I found out about a scholarship, called The Phillips Scholarship Program, which allows the recipient to create and implement a service project the summer between their junior and senior year of college. I drew upon my experience of being diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis and the healing art provided to come up with my project Hope in Focus, which uses photography and art as a way for patients with chronic conditions to deal with their diagnosis and have fun in a hospital setting. I realized when spending time there that although hospitals do an outstanding job of providing physical care to patients, emotional and mental wellbeing are often overlooked. So Hope in Focus was created to bridge that gap.

Hope in Focus took place at St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital in Duluth, MN from June 21st through July 1st, 2016. Each day I met with patients and had fun exploring the hospital to take photos and “teach” them about photography, although the patients ended up teaching me much more than I ever thought possible. Each day we did activities that combined photography and mental health concepts. Every moment spent with the kiddos was wonderful even though not every part of the project “went as planned.” There were also other challenges. Working within the specific population of chronic illness was incredibly difficult emotionally. I worked with ill children and their siblings, sometimes meeting with them between their treatments or even when they were receiving treatments (such as infusions). I worked with kids who had recently suffered loss, gone through a recent traumatic experience, or were not currently admitted to the hospital but had chronic conditions and were currently healthy. So it was a vast range of participants. I also worked with patients who I’m not sure will live until the end of the year. Seeing that is hard. Seeing that is hard to describe.

But I can say that even though the participants were sick or going through tough things, I was greeted each day with a smile. Every child was kind, humble, and eager to learn. My favorite part of the entire project was watching the kids’ faces light up when they learned something new or took a really great photo. It was such a humbling and exciting experience.

The Chandler Gallery at Maud Morgan Arts has a stupendous quote that tells of the power art holds more eloquently than I ever could: “Art making has the ability to move people along their journey of grief and loss into a more balanced place of healing and hope. In the face of tragedy, the creative process can help recalibrate a mourner’s life.” Whatever situation you are facing, whether it be loss of a loved one, illness, questioning the world, divorce… art brings healing. I encourage you to find something that brings you joy, provides rest and calms your spirit. For you, this may be meditation, hiking, or music. And even if you think you aren’t creative or artistic, I promise you may surprise yourself by trying. Whatever it is, incorporating it into your daily routine is beneficial and has power to heal you soul; and who knows, maybe one day you’ll have the opportunity to help someone else heal too.

-M

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