An opening reception honors a year of collaboration

Visual and Comparative Arts students from Interlochen Center for the Arts celebrated a year-long partnership with the Cowell Family Cancer Center on May 19, 2017 in Traverse City, Michigan.

The students were part of the Aesthetics of Health class, which has regularly visited the Cowell Center throughout the year. During their visits, artists met with patients at the Center, and spent their time creating portraits and artwork inspired by their experiences. The students’ resulting work was installed in the Reflection Gallery on the third floor of the Cowell Family Cancer Center and was unveiled with a community reception.

During the opening, Megan Hildebrandt, an Instructor of Visual Arts at Interlochen Arts Academy, explained how her oncologist suggested that she find a way to connect her own survivorship with her profession.

"During my treatment I created visual artwork in the midst of chemotherapy," she told the guests. “So when I came to Interlochen, I thought, ‘Of course we must have a class that goes to a cancer center.’”

After Hildebrandt’s remarks, several students took the microphone to explain how the partnership has had an impact on their lives and art.

“Being in Aesthetics of Health has made me more open-minded and empathetic,” said Bella Rios.

Rios has several pieces on display at the gallery, including two custom-designed hospital gowns she created for friends who were cancer patients.

“I was trying to be empathetic towards them, and to put myself in their shoes,” Rios said. “I was trying to do something that I would appreciate if I were in that situation, and to try to make a bad experience a little better.”

Rios was followed by Tyler Johnston, a Comparative Arts student who created the exhibition’s only sound installation.

“Being a part of this project has made me reconsider the role of art in society,” Johnston said.
On a personal level, Johnston also noticed a positive impact on his own creativity, as well as that of his peers.

“You can see in the artwork a year-long difference,” he said. “Seeing the development of my mind and art has been an incredible part of this experience.”

As the remarks concluded, the Visual Arts students presented Casey Cowell, the Center’s namesake and primary donor, with a large portrait of Cowell and his wife.

“The highest form of art is how you live your life,” said Cowell. “To be surrounded by art can be incredibly uplifting.”

For the entire year, Interlochen Arts Academy has done just that--surround patients with art. In addition to the regular visits by Visual Arts students, several young artists from other departments visited the Center to share their art. In December, cast members from the Academy’s performance of The Sleeping Beauty staged scenes from the ballet in the Center’s atrium. In addition, 12 members of the My Fair Lady cast visited the Center on May 10 to present several selections from their performance.

“We’ve turned the Center into a proper opera house at times,” said Manager of Cancer Support Services Katie Horvath, who represented the Cowell Center during the evening’s proceedings.“I can’t tell you how many people have been touched by this partnership.”

The gallery will remain open in the Cowell Family Cancer Center through the end of summer.