Students team up for public health art

Students from the School of Art and the School of Public Health joined forces to open an exhibit this week that promotes awareness of health issues among parents, teenagers and Spanish speakers.
Students from the School of Art and the School of Public Health joined forces to open an exhibit this week that promotes awareness of health issues among parents, teenagers and Spanish speakers. Photo by Sarah Eckinger.

School of Public Health and School of Art students opened an exhibit this week of posters promoting health issues.

“The Art of Public Health” show — which opened in a School of Art gallery on April 13 and closes April 24 — features themes ranging from vaccines, to nutrition and global health. According to organizers, the posters aim to condense “complex” public health information into visually striking posters, while targeting parents, teenagers and Spanish speakers. After the success of this year’s pilot project, the group expects to produce a similar gallery next year, said Vanessa Lamers SPH ’13 FES ’13, one of the gallery organizers. This project marks the first time students from both schools have collaborated on interdiscplinary work, she added.

“We wanted to focus on bringing the ideas we were learning in the classroom to the public,” Lamers said. “So we chose an interdisciplinary project that condensed all that information into powerful visuals.”

The idea for the project, said School of Public Health professor Catherine Yeckel, originated as an outside activity in her “Physiology for Public Health” class. She said the more students learned about the scientific concepts behind public health, the more they realized that they were losing focus on the “public” part of it, to which Yeckel responded by challenging the students to create a public project.

“It’s easy for students to learn lots of things, but they are not often implemented in the community,” Yeckel said. “Students became so creative that they decided to bring the project outside the classroom and came up with this brilliant idea.”

Lamers and three other students contacted School of Art lecturer Julian Bittiner ART ’08, who recruited artists from his graphic design classes to help design the posters, Lamers said. Fourteen undergraduates and graduate students from the School of Art responded, and were then paired up with School of Public Health students based on topics of interest to work on their posters for the show.

One of the highlights of the project, Lamers said, is that the students became invested in critiquing each other’s work, holding meetings that at times ran for four hours.

A good poster effectively condenses the large and complex issues of public health into a “visual shorthand” that influences its audience, can be spread online, and naturally extends to other media, Bittiner said.

Pointing to a white poster on measles vaccines as an example, he said that its creators aimed to provide a subtle, yet eye-catching message for the parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. The poster, he said, featured 14 crowded gray shadows of children that remind the audience of a classroom setting. Crawling orange clouds that remind of measles scars, he added, cover two of them. On the left corner, a subtle message completes the image: “Two out of 24 children have not been vaccinated for measles.”

Danica Kuncio SPH ’12 worked with artist Martha McGill ART ’12 to create the measles vaccines poster. She picked this topic, she said, because even though vaccines are effective, people still refuse to give them to their children, so that preventable diseases still kill many people every year.

Hanae Fujii-Rios SPH ’12, one of the organizers of the show, said she hoped to continue the project in the future, adding that SPH Director of Student Affairs Susan Whalen helped the group with organizing the exhibition.

“This project just shows how committed and passionate Yale students are and how supportive faculty are to their ideas,” Fujii-Rios said.

The Connecticut Office of Health Reform and Innovation will sponsor a showing of “The Art of Public Health” exhibit at the State Capitol in July.

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