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The Arts

Introductory Painting course turns Rochester waiting rooms into ‘welcome rooms’

Abigail Liebhart '21 works on her painting titled "Blank Space," latex on canvas for the Anthony L. Jordan Center on Holland Street as Sarah Sun '18, who created the painting "Calle en Viejo San Juan," looks on. (University of Rochester photo by J. Adam Fenster)

Inside the Anthony L. Jordan Health Center at Brown Square, in the heart of a Rochester neighborhood marked by its high rate of poverty, lives a group of polychromatic paintings created specifically for the center’s space and patients by students in an introductory painting class taught in spring 2017 at the University of Rochester.

The works, all a permanent donation to the center, adorn waiting rooms, patient rooms, and hallways. Hanging above the check-in counters, the first stop for patients, a majority of whom are refugees, are a series of small paintings depicting flags of countries from around the world, and the word “welcome,” in the various languages. They’re the work of Prerna Vatsa ’20, a sophomore from Singapore who is studying biochemistry and studio art.

“I’ve done projects before, where I give away my paintings to families, but this was different,” says Vatsa. “When you’re doing it for a place like the Anthony Jordan Center, you can see a transformation of the space.”

Students in senior lecturer Heather Layton’s introductory painting class created paintings in the Sage Art Center for the Anthony Jordan Center on Holland Street. (University of Rochester photo/J. Adam Fenster)

Community Connections: A Newscenter series highlighting the ties between the University and its communities.Heather Layton, the instructor, has made community engagement a centerpiece of her introductory painting course. “I want our students to learn how to be engaged in a community. I want to create opportunities for them to develop meaningful relationships with people from cultures other their own,” she says. The students are “learning about privilege, class, and culture and what it means to be here at the University within the city.”

A senior lecturer in the Department of Art and Art History, Layton had students in the advanced painting class in 2015 work with University-affiliated Highland Family Medicine and the local nonprofit Refugees Helping Refugees to create a journal, Painting for Health, which is distributed to patients as a way of sharing information about personal wellness through visual means.

This fall semester, Layton and a whole new class of Introductory Painting students embarked on a painting project for a second Anthony L. Jordan Health Center (there are 10 in the Rochester region), the center on Holland Street.

The students began by conversing with the Holland Street staff. The imagery would need to represent the patients at the clinic, which serves the surrounding neighborhood, where residents are primarily Spanish-speaking. The staff also asked the students for art work that contributed to the center’s mission to offer a welcoming environment and safe space for the LGBTQ community. The students also had the challenge of filling an entire floor at the center, which serves patients coming for a broad range of services related to family medicine, mental health, HIV and Hepatitis, and a suboxone treatment program.

Shourya Jain ’20 works on an oil painting, “The Forest Spirit Up on the Darjeeling Hill.” (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

“I saw the art at Brown Square and it was really moving,” says Halley Koehler, the practice manager for family medicine, behavioral health, and urgent care at the center on Holland Street. “There’s a sense of belonging that we’re hoping to get over here. The colors are bland at Holland Street, and people comment that it’s like walking through a jail,” says Koehler.

Practice manager Halley Koehler, a registered nurse, and maintenance worker Jordan Walker install works made by students of the introductory painting class. The goal was to turn an otherwise intimidating medical space into a welcoming one. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Ryan Carbone ’20, a sophomore from the eastern Pennsylvania town of Pipersville, depicted a dinner scene reflecting the demographics of the Holland Street neighborhood. A major in chemical engineering, he chose to work with ink and watercolor, referencing the painting “The Supper at Emmaus,” a work that he came across during his research of Italian master Caravaggio. The baroque masterpiece guided his arrangement of the diners, but he substituted new figures, such as an infant in a high chair. “I wanted to create a visually interesting piece that’s heartwarming for a time in people’s lives when it may look bleak,” he says.

Abigail Liebhart ’21, a first-year student from Freeport, New York, went large, creating a 48-by-96-inch landscape. She says she finds nature relaxing and was inspired by a place she visited in upstate New York. “I thought it would give the center a nice, calming feel,” says Liebhart, who plans to major in studio art and minor in mechanical engineering.

Chris Kjellqvist ’21 talks with Layton. Kjellqvist uses acrylic paint on canvas and glass in his work titled “Succulents in Fall.” (University of Rochester photo/ J. Adam Fenster)

Take Five scholar Madison Carter ’18 aimed to express the themes of unity and diversity through brightly colored hands reaching out to the planet earth. “I want people to feel loved and accepted in this space,” says Carter, an environmental studies major whose Take Five program explores how public art influences social interactions in the city of Rochester.

Wendy Zhou ’20, a computer science and psychology double major from Beijing, is drawn to the idea of being in an unfamiliar environment—and thriving. Her series of paintings, depicting animals, shows a shark lying on the grass, a chicken swimming in the sea, and a frog walking on a stream. “You can shine wherever and whoever you are,” says Zhou.

Mikayla Shunk ’20 works on “Sintra.” (University of Rochester photo/J. Adam Fenster)

Layton has received financial support for her course from the University, which counts community engagement as one of its core missions. Materials, transportation, and other expenditures related to the collaborative projects are funded as part of a Community-Engaged Learning Grant from the Rochester Center for Community Leadership, a unit within the Office of the Dean of Students that supports students and faculty who are forging partnerships in the local community.

Layton says it’s likely that she’ll continue the project at Anthony Jordan Health Centers with future students in her painting classes.

She’s likely to have the support of Anthony Jordan staff members such as Koehler. “We want the patients to walk in the door and feel that they are welcome; that they see themselves represented here, if through the staff, providers, or the art on the wall,” says Koehler.

Maintenance worker Jordan Walker (left), and Nicole Paul (right), a registered nurse at the Jordan Center, install a diptych acrylic painting by N’dea Tucker  ’20 titled “Rochester, Welcome.” (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)


About the Anthony L. Jordan Health Center

The University, through the Medical Center’s affiliated Strong Memorial and Highland hospitals, has long partnered with the independent Anthony L. Jordan Health Center—now a network of 10 distinct health care facilities—to support the center’s mission of providing care to the region’s most underserved communities.

As noted on the center’s website, “Anthony L. Jordan Health Center (AJHC) was born out of a demand from one Rochester community to provide neighborhood-based healthcare that was affordable and accessible to all. The action and advocacy of dedicated citizens, in partnership with vital community-based organizations, led to the establishment of the center, originally named the Rochester Neighborhood Health Center, in 1968.” By the center’s own rules, at least half of the membership of the AJHC Board of Directors must be users of the center’s medical services.

Among the founders of the center was Kenneth Woodward (1928-1996), a professor of pediatrics and associate dean of minority affairs at Rochester’s School of Medicine and Dentistry, as well as the executive director of Rochester Health Network from 1972 to 1981.



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