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Posts Tagged ‘Visual Aid’

Yesterday I spoke about the closing of Visual Aid, an important San Francisco nonprofit.  I received an invitation to a fundraising event taking place in the coming days.  You may ask why would a nonprofit that’s closing continue to promote events.  I’ll tell you why; it’s because they are forward thinking.  They are showing their true concern for the participants in their program.  Julie Blankenship, the Executive Director, is creating a transition plan for those who have depended on the organization for over twenty years.

Transitions are difficult for everyone, but when you have a chronic or life-threatening illness transition becomes a way of life.  I’m not saying transition is easy, but I am saying it becomes more of a constant than for those without a health challenge.  It’s one of the most trying aspects of a health challenge…change!

What if we took the idea of transition management and applied it to our lives?  As someone with a health challenge, it’s easy to get caught up in the trials and tribulations of the day-to-day uncertainty of what our bodies will do at any given moment.  It’s not uncommon for medications to change their level of efficacy.  Symptoms may change or emerge without notice (symptoms don’t send a warning to our conscious selves).

I’d like to say that change is easy, but I’d be faking.  Change is often equated to loss.  This is apparent when we see the emails coming from Visual Aid as they begin the final phase of their story.  I hope we can all take lessons from as we move through out own set of change and loss.  Visual Aid is being proactive, supportive, and compassionate in their transition.  How can we become more proactive in our lives when it comes to our health (I’ll discuss this more in days to come)?  How compassionate are you to your own body, emotional state, and soul?

Transitions allow us to seek options.  They provide us with a continual set of crossroads allowing us to consider alternatives.  Possibility has to be a part of our consciousness.  What lies ahead for the participants of Visual Aid I can’t say, but I can ask you, what are you going to do today to manage your life transitions?

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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!!!

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I’m in the midst of completing my doctoral dissertation.  It’s a long and arduous process at least that’s what I thought until I went on a trip to California the past 2 weeks.  I spent time with a nonprofit, Visual Aid, who works with artists facing life-threatening illness continue to create.   They were gracious enough to assist me in recruiting potential interviewees.

I was sitting in the first interview and felt like I had come home.  I was interviewing an artist whose story was so authentic, hopeful, and complex (not meaning difficult, but layered like his art).  As I moved through the interviews I found the same qualities with each participant.  I was taking a journey to the depths of storytelling that I’ve never experienced, even in my thousands of hours of hours working with psychotherapy clients individually and in groups.  These twelve artists shared with me verbal canvases that were masterpieces.  Their stories matched the work, and their spirits were the greatest masterpieces of all.

It confirmed the importance of our stories.  The interviews catapulted the story to the top of my list when it comes to inspiration, hope, and possibility.  These are three qualities that are crucial when living life with a chronic or life-threatening illness.

While in San Francisco I was reminded by the importance of our stories.  I went to the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and in the corner of one of the exhibits was a booth with the words StoryCorps written at the top.  National Public Radio airs stories of people from around the country who step into one of these booths and record for all of posterity a story that is important to who they have become and how they got there.  It was one more sign that the story was at the heart of the dissertation.

If you know an artist with a life-threatening illness who might be interested in telling their story, I hope you’ll pass on my information.  I think this project will impact how we look at illness, and the stories of those who tell them.  Please refer them to greg@survivingstrong.com and look for more stories!

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