I received a very sad email this morning. Visual Aid, a San Francisco nonprofit, is closing its doors at the end of the month. Visual Aid’s mission is to provide resources to artists with life-threatening illness to continue creating works of art. They provide financial assistance, an art supply bank, entrepreneurial workshops, and exhibition opportunities in their gallery.
I found out about Visual Aid almost 3 years ago when I began doing research for my dissertation, “Artists and Illness: Narrative and Its Impact on Autobiography and Meaning Making”. The Executive Director, Julie Blankenship, a true arts community leader, assisted me in finding and scheduling artists to interview for my research. This is the love and care that Julie has offered the Visual Aid community for the past eleven years.
This organization has served as a place for artists with life-threatening illness to make connections aiding in eliminating the isolation often felt by both artists and those with an illness. They have served to gain exposure for artists who may not have the resources to buy art supplies or promote their work because they have limited connections in the art community.
Why has this organization been so important? They have given voice to a community that holds a story we don’t often hear. Visual Aid artists tell their pathography (stories of their life and illness journey) that we usually only read about in books. I came to see clearly that artists wouldn’t write their pathography, but they certainly create works of art sharing that journey. I was and still am deeply moved by the artists’ works of art, their story, and their generosity to share these personal moments in their lives.
So who will fill the gap? Illness isn’t going away! Artists with illness aren’t disappearing from the planet, although eradicating illness would be phenomenal. Who will be the guardian angel for these artists with life-threatening illnesses? These stories need to continue because they are a part of our social fabric. The provide insight into the disease and healing process. They share experiences of the social aspects of illness that can only be told through art.
Without an organization like Visual Aid we may potentially lose part of our cultural story. Even though the stories of individual’s illnesses will continue, without the artists’ stories, it will be incomplete.
As we say goodbye to Visual Aid, I hope you’ll consider ways to continue promoting the stories of artists’ with illness. We need to have the complete story of healing and/or coping with illness, not just the written word!!!