HNES residents launch a Gesundheit mural

On Sept. 26, a brilliantly coloured mural was officially unveiled in the lobby of the Health, Nursing, and Environmental Studies (HNES) Building on York’s Keele campus. The painting, called Gesundheit (German for “Good Health”), is intended to emanate a spirit of joy, life and compassion and to capture the overlap between health and the environment. It is also an expression of the community that exists in HNES, which was explicitly brought together through the mural’s creation.


Above: Coordinating artist Leah Burns (MES ’03) explains the mural’s highlights
during the official launch celebration

The impetus for the mural can be traced back to fall 2004, when the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) and the Schools of Nursing and Health Policy & Management – then both part of the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, now part of the Faculty of Health – moved into the newly renovated HNES Building. Following the move, FES Professor Deborah Barndt initiated the “Transforming Space into Place” task force, with the aim of making the building into an inviting place that reflects who its residents are and what they care about. More than 40 representatives from FES, Nursing and Health Policy & Management came together to propose projects, one of which was a community mural.

FES alumna Leah Burns (MES ‘03) was hired as the coordinating artist in summer 2005 to manage the mural’s collaborative creation. From the beginning the project was conceived of as a process that would involve the HNES community of students, faculty members, staff and others. The ideas and visual imagery in the mural were generated through a series of workshops and questionnaires that encouraged participants to think about stories and images they associated with health. A variety of questions were posed, such as: What are the words and images that come to mind when you think of health? Are you healthy? How would you communicate the concept of health to someone who does not speak your language?

 Above: A mural detail

The responses sparked a running dialogue and negotiation among a core group of artists, mainly students from FES and the Faculty of Fine Arts. For more than 300 hours, the artists grappled with the concepts that emerged through the questionnaire responses, discussions with HNES community members, and interactions with people that happened to come by the HNES Building while the mural was being made. The result was a rich tapestry of imagery that the artists transformed into the Gesundheit piece.

Gesundheit’s launch was marked by celebratory comments from Barndt; John Vainstein, coordinator, FES Wild Garden Media Centre: Anders Sandberg, associate dean, FES; Regina Cowan, nursing professor; and Michaela Hynie, associate dean, Faculty of Health. Then Burns guided the crowd through a few of the mural’s highlights, revealing the artistic decisions hidden behind the images. Pointing to an image of a tree, she said: “We knew that health was to be the central theme, and for many cultures around the world, a tree is often used as a symbol of health, but there are many more. In the roots of this tree, you will find a heart, one that is formed by two hands. This was meant to reinforce the theme, but also to reveal the importance of caregiving and an ethics of care to health.”

“The HNES mural is unique and provocative,” said Barndt. “I love it – the colour, the layers, the complexity, the way it challenges us. But it’s more than the work of art itself. Community art is about how we create together. This is about us, about art that was created by us, and about the process that brought us together.”

The student artists who collaborated to create the Gesundheit mural are: Sarah Aranha (BFA), Alex Goss (MES), Kat Morrow (BFA), Joel Stubson (BFA), Elaine Teguibon (BES), Martin Vezer (BA), Liz Forsberg (MES), Vanessa Marian (BFA), and Tomoko Yoshida (BFA). The Mural Committee, which supervised the planning process, included staff from the Faculty of Environmental Studies, the School of Nursing, Critical Disability Studies MA Program, and the Wild Garden Media Centre. Generous support was given by FES Dean Joni Seager and Atkinson Dean Rhonda Lenton.

This article was submitted to YFile by Arlene Williams, media & communications coordinator, Faculty of Environmental Studies and MES student Diego Garcia.