Portland residents, UNE students bond through art

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PORTLAND — Some University of New England students made Park Danforth resident Rosalie Chagnon reveal herself.

And they made her smile about it.

“What they did is to get us to look at our lives and say things you don’t usually express,” Chagnon said recently. “I found it very therapeutic.”

Chagnon and five other residents of the independent and assisted-living center at 777 Stevens Ave. spent 11 Sundays from February through May working with six UNE graduate students in public health and occupational therapy.

The revealing drawings and collages of the Visual Voices study have been displayed on the Park Danforth and UNE walls, and were on display at the May First Friday Art Walk in Portland.

“There were multiple focuses, to illuminate and share perspectives with greater community, and also the share experiences with health-care providers and family,” said Collyn Baeder, who is working on a master’s degree in public health.

Baeder conducted a similar study with African immigrants in the Riverton neighborhood last year. That effort combined social work and public health aspects by giving residents disposable cameras to use as part of their daily experiences.

This time, the photos were replaced by paper.

Chagnon was joined by Carole Welch, Marian MacIntyre, Ann Heath, Jane Muesse and Donna Wolf for Sunday afternoon art sessions that were often as conversational as creative.

“It was on the bulletin board,” Welch said of her introduction to the project. “I was looking for something I was interested in. I didn’t just want to come here and play Beano. I wanted something with meat to it.”

Residents were asked to record daily life, including their interactions with relatives and health-care providers.

“By shedding light on these different perceptions, we’re aiming to encourage a more holistic view of the aging adult population,” Baeder said.

Developed by Dr. Michael Yonas of the Pittsburgh Foundation, Visual Voices is often used to study adolescents, Baeder said. The Park Danforth participants were initially leery of the art assignments, but they came around.

“I enjoyed it very much. I didn’t understand what was going on at first, but I caught on,” MacIntyre said.

The results were evocative.

“Not everyone always wants to see someone in a white coat,” Welch said as she pointed to her collage about dealing with health-care professionals.

Chagnon said showing her art was nerve-wracking at times.

“It is your private thoughts and you put it on paper, and then it is on display,” she said. “Holy cow.”

Baeder was joined in the study by public health student Zoe Hull and Adrian Jung, Rebecca Masterjohn, Virginia Sedarski and Michaela Hoffman, each pursuing graduate degrees in occupational therapy.

“This was my first big project at the university. We wanted to look at identity and how that changes over time,” Hull said.

The students were advised by faculty members Rebecca Boulos and Regula H. Robnett.

“There are a lot of misconception about public health,” Boulos said. “This is what its about, fostering relationships and getting people to live healthier and happier lives.”

Students were funded largely with a $2,000 grant from the UNE Center for Excellence in Interprofessional Education.

“We saw this as making a deeper, more individual focus on public health,” Center Program Coordinator Kris Hall said, praising the collaboration between academic disciplines.

The social aspect was enlivened with food donations from area stores that made each Sunday a feast, and Hull said it was much more than an academic experience.

“It was the community building; now we see you on the walk to Starbucks. From a professional and personal standpoint, to learn from you was a good experience,” she told Chagnon, Welch and MacIntyre.

Hull gave a presentation on the study last month at a UNE training session, and the students will present their work at a conference in November in Vancouver, British Columbia. In April 2016, Baeder said, the students will be joined by Yonas for a presentation on Visual Voices at UNE.

Chagnon said she hopes to see more programs of this type at Park Danforth.

“It was completely different than our daily lives,” Chagnon said. “It is stimulating and makes you think of things.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements

Park Danforth residents Marian MacIntyre, left, and Rosalie Chagnon said June 26 they had reservations about creating art based on their daily lives as part of a University of New England study. “What they did is to get us to look at our lives and say things you don’t usually express,” Chagnon said.

Park Danforth resident Donna Wolf drew this picture in response to questions about self-perception while participating in a UNE graduate study with public health and occupational therapy.

UNE graduate student Michaela Hoffman and Park Danforth resident Carole Welch discuss Welch’s collage during one of 11 Sunday afternoon sessions where students and residents worked on expressing daily life through art.

“Not everyone always wants to see someone in a white coat,” Park Danforth resident Carole Welch said June 26 about her collage portraying relationships with health-care professionals.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.