This past semester, I enrolled in a class called “Design for Social Innovation.” Taught through The Sam Fox School of Art & Design, the course culminates in a month-long, open-ended project of the student’s choice. After learning about the connection between design and social change during the first half of the semester, I began brainstorming for my project.
The idea of personal health and self-care had been looming in my mind all semester, so I decided to promote wellness through my design project. Some of my peers focused on cities, like St. Louis, but I figured I would get better, more tangible results if I worked with a more narrow scope. So, I targeted the Wash U campus, with the hopes that I would spark a conversation and enact change.
First, I reached out to Student Health Services to find out how they currently market the wellness programs at Wash U. They discussed the use of fliers, TV adds, and links on their comprehensive website. I began to wonder how art could work to encourage wellness on campus. Thus began a tremendous research binge on public art installation projects. I filled dozens of folders with pictures of art pieces, using the photos as inspirations for own my design ideas.
After hours of narrowing down my ideas, I decided to create two interactive chalkboards. I would write a unique prompt on both of them, and then display them outside of Olin Library. When this idea finally came together, I couldn’t hold back my enthusiasm. I drove to Michael’s that very day, purchasing spray-on-chalkboard (this is a very neat product by the way), and a box of colorful chalk. When I returned back to campus, I got permission from the library to install the chalkboards.
With my boards, I was able to generate conversations about mindfulness and self-care. Every day, I rejoiced outside the library, watching people constantly add to the colorful chalkboards each day. People delighted in writing their thoughts on the board with their friends, and by themselves. The two prompts generated slightly different responses, but contributed to the overall theme of wellness.
The first prompt, “I feel peaceful when…” yielded creative answers that focused on self-awareness. In general, most of the responses focused on activities that people do alone. Students shared their love of books, dancing, music, and more. I also noticed that most of the activities were quiet ones. The noise level while people fall asleep, drink coffee, or do yoga is low. From this prompt, I learned that although people find peace in different ways, they usually unwind in serene settings.
The next prompt, “I feel confident when…”resulted in slightly different answers. Although similar questions, this one dealt with self-love. I believe that it is important for students to recognize their strengths, rather than concentrating on their faults. People shared their experiences with working out, putting on a good outfit, or doing their hair. I noticed that all these activities allow people to focus on themselves.
I received feedback during Student Health Service’s Stress Buster’s event and throughout the time the boards were on display. Community members responded positively to the boards, expressing support and gratitude. They seemed to truly understand the importance of focusing on wellness in such a stressful environment. Students explained to me that focusing on small moments of peace and confidence improves the quality of their daily lives. I am confident that my art project made an impact on the community.