A New Partnership with Duke Health and Duke Arts Bridges Creativity with Wellness

Pictured: Jane Gagliardi, Photo by Rob Underhill

When visions converge, it is a beautiful thing. Jane Gagliardi was looking for ways to promote a sense of wellness for students under her care as Associate Dean for Learning Environment and Well-Being in the School of Medicine, and Anna Wallace as Student Engagement Manager at Duke Arts was looking for ways to be present in expanded communities on campus.

Gagliardi and Wallace happened to be seated next to each other at a tabling event at a Student Resource Fair in August in the Trent Semans Center for Health Education. “Anna’s table was amazing,” says Gagliardi.  “She had markers, crayons and a large piece of paper set out to encourage students stopping by to doodle or create, and I wanted to get involved, too!

“We got into a discussion about ways in which creativity and artistic endeavors can be wellness-promoting.” So a partnership was born.

Gagliardi is responsible for 1,400 students in different health professions and graduate programs and knows that there is no “one-size-fits-all” activity that will be wellness-promoting for everyone, so she was seeking a variety of outlets for these students in rigorous and demanding programs.

I was so appreciative of Anna’s enthusiasm and “can-do” response to the idea of working together, and over a few Zoom meetings and email exchanges we came up with our pilot of having Duke Arts Create workshops in the Trent Semans Center two Wednesdays a month.

A mindful watercolor class kicked off the collaboration to great success, with 20 students and faculty showing up and diving in to the paints and brushes and watercolor paper scattered across the tables.

Taught by Amelia Shull, a multidisciplinary artist, musician and educator, the participants learned a variety of different experimental and texture-building techniques, then played with the materials and created their own paintings.

Shull is determined to help her students, no matter where she is teaching, break away from expectations of realism and perfection and let go of preconceived notions and judgment, thus the emphasis on “playing” with the materials.

Her goal in the mindful watercolor workshop was to help participants find their way to meditative work and away from the constant demand of achievement in their daily lives as students and practitioners in the science world.

That notion appealed to Carly Williams, a 5th year PhD student in the department of biochemistry. “I wanted an outlet to be free and let my creativity flow,” says Williams. “I remembered doing watercolors as a kid and loving it, so this seemed like the perfect art session for me. And it turned out to be a relaxing 2 hours of painting and good company.” She will definitely sign up for further sessions, she says.

Upcoming events in the collaboration include needle felting (1/31), weaving (2/14), poetry through text deconstruction (2/28) developing zines (3/6), creating mandalas (3/20), stress free singing (4/3 – also taught by Shull in keeping with her dedication to being free in the art making process) and mindful mending (4/17).

All photos by Rob Underhill


Anna Wallace, pleased with the outcome of the first session, is enthusiastic about the future of this collaboration. “This series was so easy to populate and I thought of many instructors and topics right away that would be perfect for this space and population. I’m so excited to see how it grows.”

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