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July 4, 2012


Getting Shocked and Situated at Mayo-Samantha Dempsey, Mayo Clinic


July 3, 2012

Samantha Dempsey

I never thought that a place like the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation could exist in the real world. Though everyone talks about how great cross-disciplinary collaboration is, in reality, the difficulties of getting two completely different sets of people to speak the same jargon, much less fruitfully collaborate often keeps such visions from being realized. At the CFI, however, radical collaborations are an everyday achievement. Monday through Friday, a team of graphic, industrial, and service designers come together with doctors, nurses, and healthcare providers to ask difficult questions and to bring a new vision of the future to life. And now, thanks to the Maharam STEAM fellowship, one new illustrator has joined their ranks.

These first three weeks have been unreal. My journey began with shock when I realized the vastness of the cornfields surrounding Rochester like an occupying army. Since then, I’ve learned that there are stranger things in this city than the vast quantities of agricultural produce. There are things like cheese curds and the propensity of the natives to call soda “pop”. Oh ya. However strange these things are to a born and bred New Englander, by far the most interesting thing I’ve found in Rochester is my work at CFI.

My second instance of shock came when I discussed my position as a Maharam STEAM fellow with Lorna Ross, the design manager at CFI. CFI regularly hosts co-ops, and this summer I found myself working with four other talented young designers. Each co-op works on a specific platform, and follows that single project for the duration of her time here. I assumed that my position as a fellow would be much the same. You can imagine my surprise when Lorna sat me down and explained that there are no limitations on the projects I can complete or conceive of as a fellow. She explained that because I came here with my own funding, I am free to explore any area of design that I’m interested in, will be able to conduct my own research, and can create whatever I deem appropriate to explain my experience. I can produce anything from an installation to an exhibit to a concrete product. My job is to figure out just what an illustrator can do here. I’m “an experiment”, the CFI’s “artist in residence”, and the first illustrator to be part of this incredible team.

My third shock came when I met the design team for the first time. All the designers sat around a single table, discussed the projects they’d been working on, and offered each other insights. Lorna asked the team for ideas and ways they’d like to see my skills implemented at CFI as a free-floating illustrator. I recorded the answers in my sketchbook, which you can see below, and their suggestions were as varied and as exciting as any projects I could have dreamed up for myself. In the end, two themes emerged that were important for me as an illustrator to explore: storytelling and the importance of empathetic (as opposed to just data-based) information.

Being a part of CFI feels almost unreal in the freedom and perfect niche I’ve found here. The entire clinic is open for me to observe, experiment with, and figure out just what I can do here as an artist, a designer, and a storyteller. I’ve never been so inspired by a team, and it’s still hard to believe that I’m lucky enough to be a valued member and a part of that. I don’t fetch coffee here. I’m using the intersection of art, design, and medicine to help people, and in the process I’m carving out a new place for at least one illustrator in this world.

Read more from RISD Maharam Fellows
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