The 222 Richmond Gallery (located on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the medical school) showcases the visual artworks of students, doctors and staff in the Alpert community, with work ranging from digital photography to oil painting to mixed media installations.
The show continues all year and is reinstalled with a new selection of pieces at the end of the spring semester as curated by the Arts Council.
The Arts Council was founded in 2014 through the vision of Ali Rae, MD’18. MURMUR had a chance to sit with Ali and talk more about the realization and evolution of the 222 Richmond Gallery project.
Image above: Ali standing before two oil paintings on linen by Jason Tsichlis MD’21
1. Tell me more about how the process behind the idea and fruition of the Arts Council and 222 Richmond gallery. Did you always envision it to be a gallery type presentation?
In retrospect, I think this project was a confluence of some fortuitous events – during my first year, I was on Senate with Nick Nassikas, who was a fourth-year. He mentioned that he and another student, Sam Klein, had tried to get a similar project off the ground but had run into roadblocks. The idea was just to give students at AMS an avenue to showcase their varied artistic talents, which were sometimes muted by the professional atmosphere of the school.
I have a humanities background myself, and I thought this was an excellent idea given the wealth of talent here. At the same time, the Senate had set up a grant fund for “improving the medical school” based on some rollover funds they had found. We got clearance from the administration, sent some polls to the classes, applied for the grant, and got funded for the big costs associated with putting something like this together.
We envisioned a yearly exhibit with new work annually from students, faculty, and staff to mirror the evolving nature of artistic ability that had been so much a part of our AMS experience. The Arts Council is the organizational body we created to curate the exhibit and manage the details of installation. We take applications for the council every year, and it’s always been an impressive group of people with personal backgrounds in art theory or creation.
The whole process took a lot of convincing and lots of attention to detail, but now that the exhibit is in its fourth year, I look back on those efforts with gratitude for how things turned out.
2. What was the first exhibition like and how has the Arts Council and the gallery shows changed over your time at AMS?
We were surprised by how enthusiastic a response we got from the community. We had a small budget and way too many submissions that we wanted to display. It was fun to review people’s artwork (mostly digital photography, but we also had mixed media including sculpture and glass art) and I remember being impressed by how many people at our school had this creative, intentional side to them.
Many things have changed since that initial exhibit. We’ve received a few subsequent grants in later years and have been able to buy more gallery frames so that we don’t have to print photos on canvas anymore and we can have a uniform, professional-looking gallery exhibit. We’ve received more varied mixed media – we’ve displayed zines, audio files, and frames carved from fallen trees. We’ve also expanded our artist complement: we’re getting more engagement from faculty and residents, as well as artists from the larger Brown community.
I like the idea that the AMS building can participate in this way as a bridge between the hospital and the university, which is sort of the liminal space we find ourselves in as medical students.
3. What has the feedback been like from staff, students, and visitors?
The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive! Students have told me that they appreciate the reminder that their careers are not the only important thing in life and many of the works give them a larger context for why they’re working so hard now.
Visitors are always impressed by the quantity and quality of talent at the medical school: I think the student body here is one of the things that sets Brown apart, and, more importantly, displaying our various artistic capacities in the medical school space is indicative of what we value as an educational institution. I think the gallery and the exhibits have become an example of that ethos for the school, and I hope it’s something that they’re proud of having here.
4. Tell us more about yourself as well – what is your background with the creative arts and what’re your plans after AMS.
My own background in the creative arts largely comes from language – I studied comparative philosophical poetry and have written and published some pieces in English myself. This project has been my first foray into the curation of visual art, and I’ve learned an incredible amount about the process both from the practice of putting an exhibit together, and from the other members of the Arts Council.
After AMS, I’m headed to Portland, Oregon to start my residency in neurological surgery at OHSU. I’m excited to take this next step in my career and to explore more of the Pacific Northwest!
5. What are some of your favorite pieces that have been displayed in the past? What is the selection process like?
The selection process is a blinded, democratic system. It’s the most fun part of putting this together: we all get together in a room and go through the submissions, discussing them and deciding whether they would fit in the exhibit we’re planning. It’s a great experience to discuss new work with a group of people who are attentive and knowledgeable about art. We vote on the pieces and take as many as we can, given our limitations of space and funding. Unfortunately, every year there are many great pieces we can’t take given those limitations – hopefully we can find a way to grow in the future so that we can involve more of the community in this project.
There are quite a few works that I’ve really enjoyed, it’s impossible to name just a few! In general, I tend to enjoy the mixed media and paintings the most, but we’ve displayed excellent digital photography submissions as well.
6. Who is your favorite artist – visual or non-visual? Do you have any thoughts about curation?
I think my favorite artist might be poet Hafez-e Shirazi, who I think of any poet in any language I’ve read, has the greatest mastery of his craft. If the purpose of poetry is eloquently articulated density of meaning, then there’s no better poet than Hafez.
I think curation really is an art unto itself. I’ve been to museums and galleries where the presentation or placement of a piece has really added dimensions to the original work. The statue of Nike of Samothrace in the Louvre comes to mind – she is situated in the recess of a wall at the top of a staircase, such that as you ascend the stairs, she seems to be flying at you. These intentional choices of presentation can serve to accentuate certain features of some works or really even transform the experience of a piece altogether.
7. Now some fun questions: What is your spirit animal? If you could only eat one thing everyday what would it be?
I could eat tacos everyday – I like that it’s a versatile food with tons of flavor.
I’m not sure what my spirit animal would be, but I’ve been told on separate occasions it’s a wolf or an owl or a “common house cat”, so I suppose it’s anyone’s guess…
8. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions for the future of 222 Richmond?
Sure! I think I’ve mentioned that one of the things that makes this a special place is its dedication to nurturing the multifaceted interests in students’ lives. I think this enriches us in ways that are difficult to articulate – exposure to nuanced views of the world are crucial to cultivating the type of outlook required to practice effectively in a diverse environment.
We operate in a fundamentally human field and, more importantly, a human world. I think we really have to place this sense of humanism squarely at the center of medicine. It’s easy to forget the importance of that amidst the many exams and constant deadlines and general race to build a successful career. But there is really nothing gained from any of our successes in this profession if we neglect to understand that we are here in the service of humanity. The machine of medical education has become so rigorous, we need constant reminders of that purpose, and I think we can only become better physicians for truly internalizing it.
My suggestion is that we continue as a community to foster avenues of creative expression; that we make the time and space for reflection in our personal and communal lives; that we continue to find ways to cultivate those qualities that make us better able to serve our patients. Isn’t that the point?
Interview by Grace Sun MD’22 and managing editor.
The 222 Richmond Gallery is located on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the medical school. Works by students, doctors and staff in the Alpert community are showcased throughout the year with new installations chosen by the Arts Council.