Medical Center Shows Its Creative Side

The opening reception for the fifth annual CUMC Fine Art Exhibition on May 3 looked more like what one would see in a Chelsea gallery than in study space in the Hammer Health Sciences Center.

Until the end of June, 244 pieces of art by 77 CUMC artists are on display in the Hammer Health Sciences Teaching and Learning Center (TLC), on Hammer Lower Levels 1 and 2. Medical center students, alumni, faculty, staff, friends, and family contributed art and attended the opening reception.

"It was great to see people wandering around and truly appreciating the artwork,” said Nikita Consul, a first-year student at the College of Physicians and Surgeons and president of the P&S for the Arts club. Ms. Consul helped put the show together, assisting the curator, Robert Sideli, MD, the chief information officer and associate professor of biomedical informatics at CUMC. Dr. Sideli performed jazz and blues tunes on an electronic keyboard at the reception.

In 2010, student Nicholas Colacchio, P&S class of 2011, approached Dr. Sideli with the idea for the show and curated the first exhibition under Dr. Sideli's mentorship. As an art lover, Dr. Sideli had long thought the expanses of white walls in the TLC would make good gallery space and that art would make the popular study spot more student-friendly.

“Our students spend endless hours studying there. We don’t want them staring at blank walls,” said Dr. Sideli. “And this helps us showcase our talent to the community, including the Columbia Trustees, who visit each summer.”

The show provides a great opportunity for Jenny Kindman, P&S class of 2015, whose scholarly project marries medicine and art. She builds models of the viruses behind pandemics, using prominent high-tech materials that reflect the time periods of the viruses. The first in her series, which is in the show, is a 7-foot model of the HIV virus, constructed from compact discs, circuit-boards, and other materials from the 1980s and 1990s, when the AIDS epidemic peaked.

Showing this work of art to an audience who understands its references was thrilling to Ms. Kindman. “One of the coolest things,” she said, “is that this isn’t just an art audience—it’s a science audience, too. Lots of people in the medical center walk through, see my piece, and know it’s HIV.”

The breadth of community involvement in the exhibition is represented by, among other works, those of David Forrest, P&S Class of 1964, whose many pieces include figure drawings and Pop art-style paintings from his student days, and a wall of art created by children in the Pediatric Oncology and Pediatric Neurology Clinic at “Wilma’s Studio,” an art therapy program at the Children’s Hospital of New York.

“This show brings together the entire community,” said Stephen Nicholas, MD, associate dean for admissions, professor of pediatrics and of population and family health, and director of the IFAP Global Health Program at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Dr. Nicholas plays an integral role in putting the show together each year, along with Patrice Spitalnik, MD, an associate professor of pathology and cell biology at CUMC and assistant director of the MD-PhD program.

“The reception was packed with people from all four schools and departments—faculty, students, security guards, maintenance workers, family members. There is a real power in bringing this together as a community,” said Dr. Nicholas.

The CUMC Fine Art Exhibition will be on display until June 30. Approximately 80 pieces selected by an anonymous jury will be on display through the rest of the year, with permission from the artists.