On the Beginnings of My Projects & an Introduction to Volunteers in Medicine—Raina Wellman, BFA Graphic Design, 2019
For the start of my Maharam Fellowship I’ve been working on several projects in order to get a greater sense of what it means to provide healthcare and promote wellness, particularly in the United States.
My work in the field began this June with a series of collaborations and graphic design projects at Volunteers in Medicine (the Cascades office in Bend, Oregon).
VIM uses retired medical personnel to provide voluntary, part-time help for those without access to medical care. Currently, there are 88 member clinics from 26 states in the VIM Alliance. These locally managed and operated clinics provide health care to the uninsured and medically underserved in their communities. As an organization, VIM created a model that provides a comprehensive, guided process for creating free clinics, which is meant to be rooted in community organizing. This means that the clinics are able to run effectively and offer the services that their communities truly need.
VIM has no federal funding, they use volunteers and pro-bono healthcare help from generous practitioners or hospitals. Many of the pharmaceutical prescriptions as well as medical devices are donated as well. With over 80 clinics nationally, VIM must demonstrate it’s dedication to quality care and value as an organization in order to receive financial support in the form of donations and grants.
Following the expansion of medicaid programs, VIM has begun primarily serving patients that are not U.S. citizens and who mainly are Spanish speakers. As a clinic, they only take in patients without insurance and no billing occurs. I also learned that appointments often take double the time due to the need for translation between patient and health provider.
During my time on site I was able to attend a group meetings where they discussed issues and goals. One in particular came up a few times. How can they clearly communicate (to volunteers and donors especially) where money comes from and how they operate? As the clinic runs only on private donations, how can they communicate gifts from the community effectively? Within nonprofit structures it is so important to be clear about the ways in which your organization is running.
Later, on June 24th, I joined a group of Oregon providers who were meeting to discuss diversity and healthcare and more big questions arose. How can they shift views to show how inequalities effect everyone? How can they break the myth that Oregon is not diverse in order to provide and support better care models? How can they create greater awareness of need and address disparity at all levels?
These questions are all so important and difficult. I know that visual communication can play a role in resolving them, but it certainly isn’t the whole solution, nor is it a project that can be properly taken on by an individual. Through a larger scale project, the “Roadmap to Health Equity,” I’ve been able to witness a new model of collaboratively working to provide the best possible content to the public. .
Since early June, I’ve been working with VIM (and several other health organizations) on the “Roadmap to Health Equity” project. With projects like this one, every detail is discussed and many people are involved. Currently, they’re collaboratively working to best define their mission, goals, and messaging as a whole. I’ve virtually attended several large meetings (often in the double digits), which have included participants from each participating organization, including Americares, the National Association of Free Clinics (NAFC), and Loyola University of Chicago. In projects like these I am always both impressed and shocked by how much energy and thought is put into finding the exact right words and designs.
Here are a two of the drafts I created for the project:
So far, I’ve felt like I’ve been given the opportunity to operate as my own “design agency,” providing visual communication aid to groups in medicine and healthcare. In the process of engaging (in person and remotely) with VIM (and now the New York Health Department) I’ve been able to learn about how different agencies relating to health and wellness operate, utilize funding, engage the public, and their interesting relationships with graphic design.
Working with VIM has been a lovely experience and I plan to continue donating my “designer time” once my fellowship has concluded. I have never felt so welcome or appreciated (right off the bat!) at an organization. As a group, they are really aware of the power of good visual communication in a way that truly surprised me.
So far the bulk of my work produced directly for VIM (Cascades) is headed straight for Instagram. They know the power of social media too! I worked a great deal on visualizing statistic information for VIM, which seems to be a consistent graphic design need within public health/healthcare provider sectors. I’m starting to wish I took statistics back in high school instead of Calculus.
When creating these designs I needed to use VIM’s current brand colors, shades of pink, orange, green, and blue. Besides these color restrictions I had a great deal of freedom. I aimed to create designs that were playful and engaging. Additionally, as these are primarily infographics I wanted to add a human element to the content, rather than just focusing on numbers.
I also created some holiday content they will use later in the year… Before shifting projects, I shared all of the visual tools with them (in an Illustrator file) so that they can continue producing their versions of my designs with new content and new design experiments…
Ten minutes after arriving on my first day at the office, the city-wide Committee On Transportation met, a group consisting of representatives from myriad city and non-profit groups interested in improving public and active transportation options in Nashville. They discussed the city transit budget decision, upcoming events, political alliances, funding, and organization strategies. Then, I was surprised to hear scooters come up.
Because of several recent electric scooter-related accidents, there’s been talk around Nashville of regulating, or even banning, electric scooters like Bird, JUMP, Lime, Lyft, and others. Since I’ve barely been out of the Architecture building at RISD to eat and sleep, I hadn’t been closely following the introduction of electric scooters on US streets. Though making space for small motorized and electric vehicles was a focus of my studio design project this past spring, I hadn’t expected them to be a focus of my work experience this summer. Sure, I’ve seen kids riding them down the street on my way home sometimes, and I’ve noticed them laying around Providence in a few unlikely places, but I hadn’t taken a moment to really consider how they might be subtly catalyzing an important shift in urban design. I hadn’t realized that the scooter industry might be just the extra pressure cities need to expand biking infrastructure.
In Nashville right now, scooters are the source of much controversy. With around 70 accidents and 1 death involving scooters since the beginning of 2018, many are calling for intervention and regulation. Because of our shared interest in biking and scooter lanes, Walk Bike Nashville has emerged as a natural ally to the scooter cause. Walk Bike staff have begun teaching scooter safety classes and including scooter helmet giveaways at some of their events. This week, WBN’s executive director, Nora Kern, appeared on National Fox News during my second week here, to represent the pro-scooter interest. She took the opportunity to point out that far greater numbers of people have been injured or killed in car-related accidents, including pedestrian-car incidents, in the period in which scooters have been in our streets, suggesting that cars may be the greater issue. She took the opportunity to make the case that moving to a more safely diverse (“multi-modal” as they say in the biz) transportation system is a better long-term solution than the banning of devices that might get people out of cars.
In the transit meeting on my first day at WBN, committee members expressed concern that the Mayor might ban scooters, and that the city council would not vote to fully fund city Transport. The next day the word came that basically all of these worst case scenarios–funding cuts to public transport and a temporary ban of scooters–had indeed taken place. What a way to start the summer!
I decided to take a scooter to work while I still could. When there wasn’t a bike lane to ride in, I felt pretty uncomfortable, and definitely got some looks from drivers. When I hopped on the greenway on the way home, I wasn’t sure whether I belonged there either, but it felt great to ride in the cool respite of the greenway on a 90+ degree Tennessee day. A few cyclists cheered for me as we passed each other; one mother held her child nervously to the side of the path though I slowed to a crawl as I passed them.
From regular community ride events around town to safety classes, kids education, fundraising, and tactical active transport interventions, Walk Bike Nashville is already doing so much, that including scooters in their advocacy and education efforts is a lot to take on. The general feeling around the office is, however, if we don’t advocate for the scooter option, who else will? Scooter representatives came to our fundraising party last Friday night and their sponsor logos are now all over the graphic materials I have been designing for various upcoming events.
All around, it’s been a great start to my time at Walk Bike Nashville. The first week even ended with a big fundraising party where I was able to meet many of the organization’s supporters, board members, volunteers, partners, and a few people that accidentally wandered in from the bar next door. Next I’m looking forward to helping more with event planning, and diving into discussions about my city design guide.
After settling in fully at ABCittà (and getting accustomed to the scorching Milanese heat!) I have been able to actively partake in the development and ideation of a series of projects for the ABCittà areas of Urban Regeneration and Museums & Culture, and I am excited to finally look over the work I have done over the past couple weeks, and reflect on the realities of participatory planning that I am learning day by day by being involved in the operations of an organization like ABCittà.
With regards to the BinG project –which I covered in my previous blog post– we finally have had a chance to present our ideas for the BinG basketball court railway arch to a couple of stakeholders in the sponsorship process for this project, and to do so we developed a small publication that articulates the ideas for this area, starting at the scale of the city of Milan and ending at that of a single railway arch. Developing this publication was challenging at times, but I am so grateful that I had Valentina (ABCittà facilitator and graduate from the Politecnico di Milano) by my side to bounce ideas off of and compare and contrast the work I was producing with the long-term goals of the BinG project.
Throughout the development of this project proposal, I found it extremely valuable and meaningful to put myself in the shoes of those consulting the work once completed. I often find myself underestimating the power –and limitations– of different representational techniques, and being able to use the expertise of those around me as a sounding board to test my ideas before they became physical products was an incredibly valuable learning experience –and time saver as well!–
Overall, the presentation of this project proposal was successful, and I was pleased to see that the representational language I selected for this document was positively received both from ABCittà’s collaborators and those whom we addressed in our presentation. I can’t describe the feeling of excitement and gratitude I felt once the booklet was fully compiled and printed: seeing people actively comment upon and work through the drawings and text in the BinG book was a wonderful reward for the work I invested in this project.
One huge aspect about the innerworkings of a no-profit organization that I was able to quickly understand since joining ABCittà, but especially this week, is that priorities are constantly shifting because of a multitude of factors –such as staffing, fundraising, deadlines for public and private calls and so on– and that being able to reorient one’s focus whilst still being able to remain on top of a project’s demands is a very much needed skill. I am extremely lucky to be supported by wonderful colleagues that are willing to help divide the load of projects as evenly as possible, but I also believe I am learning prime skills for my academic –and professional!– future!
Over the past couple days, I have been taking on another project in parallel to BinG, which is the development of similar presentation materials for a participatory planning project taking place in the town of Dairago, in the Province of Milan. This project in particular works in a participatory manner with children and young adults, and therefore the implications of the visuals presented is even stronger. I am currently working through assessments of representational techniques with Simone and Valentina, ABCittà planners and collaborators, and I am excited to see what the outcomes of the institutional meeting these materials are being produced for will be.
As of now, in parallel with the projects taking place in the Urban Regeneration area, I am extensively working with Anna and Chiara, ABCittà members focused on Museums and Cultural institutions, on the development of new training tools to be used within the scope of the Museums and Stereotypes International Training School to foster productive discussions around the ideas of museums and the stereotypes that these institutions –and their collections– bear. With a specific focus on the stereotypes that institutions place on their visitors –both consciously and unconsciously– we are in the process of developing a series of activities, envisioned to be collected in a kit, that aim to address the stereotypes that bear on visitors of museums and their interactions with these –often way too institutionalized– spaces. Discovering the project Look at Art. Get Paid. by previous Maharam Fellow Josephine Devanbu was an incredibly important catalyst for this project.
The discourse that I am engaging in right now regarding the position of visitors within the framework of museums and other cultural institutions is extremely significant in Italy’s contemporary cultural framework. Recent re-organizations of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities and its objectives have brought many curators and professionals in the fields of museum curation and development to question whether the direction in which the Country’s plans for where cultural institutions are heading as of now is the most appropriate –and future savvy–
I had the privilege to attend the panel “Multiple Narratives: Challenging Museums” at ArtLab 19, a conference held by Fondazione Fitzcarraldo which addressed some of the most pressing changes that are happening in the world of cultural institutions and their partners. Anna was a part of this international panel and I was able to understand a series of critical perspectives on cultural institutions and their narratives that I believe I would have never been able to grasp from some written works or “textbook like” materials. These insights have given both myself and Anna and Chiara new ideas for the direction in which our project for the upcoming training kit is heading, and we’re excited to complete the first iteration of this project for the workshop that will happen next Thursday.
Overall, I am thoroughly enjoying my experience with ABCittà so far, and I am endlessly appreciative for the time and knowledge that all of the people that I work with are able to dedicate to me every single day. Having the opportunity to be at the forefront of project development in a professional setting, and being able put in practice ideas at such speed is revealing to be an incredibly motivating experience, and I am looking forward to seeing how a more general public will react to the work that we are producing in the coming weeks.
Until next time!