Conversations in Art & Innovation
with Cheryl Paul & Dolores Coe of Arts at the Clinic at USF
by SARAH TELESCA
On Thursday April 19th, join Creative Pinellas for the next installment in our Lecture Series, Conversations in Art & Innovation. This month’s session will be a conversation with Cheryl Paul and Dolores Coe of Arts at the Clinic. Coe and Paul work creatively with patients living with Aphasia, helping them to express themselves artistically when other communicative methods may fail. I talked with Program Director and Curator Coe and Clinical Instructor Cheryl Paul about their roles within Arts at the Clinic to find out more about what they do.
The following email exchange has been lightly edited for formatting and flow.
Sarah Telesca: What Aphasia is and how does it affect people who have it?
Cheryl Paul: Aphasia is a language disorder that results from injury to the communication centers in the brain. Most often is it caused by a stroke, but aphasia can also result from open and closed head injuries. Aphasia impacts communication input and output systems such as talking, writing and reading, and making meaningful gestures.
Aphasia can vary in type and severity, depending on the location and size of the lesion and a person’s original brain “wiring.” Aphasia does not impact intelligence, but damage to the communication centers makes it challenging for a person to demonstrate their intelligence.
ST: What are your backgrounds, pre-Arts at the Clinic?
Dolores Coe: I’m a visual artist, painter, and educator. I have an MFA in painting and an MA in counseling. I was a Program Director and taught a range of media at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota before leaving to focus full-time on studio art. I now work at USF as Curator of Art in Health with the Institute for Research in Art.
CP: I have been a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) since 1990; I got my Masters in SLP from USF.
ST: How did the program get started and how did you become involved?
CP: I had a client who demonstrated newly acquired drawing skills to communicate. He drew quick, intricate sketches to supplement his verbal speech despite never having drawn or painted in his life. I began to seek someone who could help him learn some artistic techniques to make his painting and drawing better. It took several months of asking in different departments before someone pointed me toward Dolores Coe.
DC: I was working with the initiation of the Art in Health program in conjunction with USF Health. After being connected with Cheryl Paul, I heard from a clinician who asked about the possibility of in finding someone to work with a client. I met with Cheryl, observed a group session and then met the client and caregiver. I had intended to help find someone appropriate to work with the client, but after observing and interacting with the client and caregiver, I had to reconsider my expectations and the potential possibilities. We decided to start with a weekly pilot for a short period and then proceed forward.
ST: Can you give a quick run down of what a typical session is like?
DC: We function as a “Pop-Up Studio” in different available spaces around USF. For a session, interns and volunteers transform the space into a studio environment filled with mixed materials. Everyone including clients, caregivers, clinicians, volunteers, interns, and lead artists all work with a common focus, yet still in their own way. Facilitators are spread among participants, so assistance and observation is always readily available.
ST: Is there a particularly illuminating or inspiring story you’d like to share?
DC: For our initial meeting and for the two following semesters I watched our original client, with great effort, use his non-dominant hand draw a jet airplane as a symbol of something that represented him. At the beginning of the next semester his identifier became, and remains, an easel—he stepped into a new identity, which is huge.
We also observe initially reluctant caregivers who become full participants and find their own uses for the process. It can be an island free of stress and responsibility; they seem to find something engaging to truly share and enjoy with their partner outside of their usual roles.
CP: I am inspired by the client who drew to communicate who started this process, who continues to draw and paint. The first time I called him an artist, he gave me the dirtiest look, because he did not see himself that way—he does now. He’s completed dozens of canvases and has had his work in a few exhibitions. His wife, who had originally just been driving him to the art sessions turned out to be quite the artist herself; they even had a joint exhibition of their works. Art has drawn them together and has given them a beautiful way to communicate with each other.
We’d like to thank Cheryl and Dolores for taking time out of their very busy schedules to talk with us. Come listen to and converse with them at 7pm on April 19th at the Pinewood Auditorium, located at 12211 Walsingham Road in Largo. Click here to RSVP for the free event and to find full details.