Wellness, Represented: University Hospitals and Deep Roots Experience

Aldonte the Artist, Wall of Greats 1, canvas print, 36 X 24 inches, 2023.

At the intersection of health, wellness, and representation lies art: this winter, 21 works by Black and Brown artists living in Northeast Ohio were acquired by University Hospital’s (UH) corporate art collection.

Works by Asia Armour, Bryant “Bee1ne” Anthony, Dayz Whun, Aldonte Flonnoy, Jevonte “Jae Capo” King-Woods, Pahpy/SammieDoesIt, Bobbi Reagins, Vivica Satterwhite, and Emanuel Wallace are now installed in two new wellness facilities, one in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood and one in Bedford.

Pahpy@sammiedoesit, Untitled, acrylic on wood, 40 X 40 inches, 2023.

Both wellness centers are in neighborhoods that are home to primarily Black and Brown residents, places whose social determinants of health—healthcare access and quality, education access and quality, social and community context, economic stability, neighborhood and the built environment—have historically led to poor health outcomes. The wellness centers are part of University Hospital’s health investment plan to expand services into the community around UH’s footprint, and will offer health education and screenings, nutritional and fitness programming, and space for community events.

Pahpy@sammiedoesit, Untitled, acrylic on wood, 40 X 40 inches, 2023.

“We wanted to be pioneers in this space,” says Lena L. Grafton, PhD, MPH, CHES and director of Community Health Engagement at UH. “Not only by developing a wellness center with programming that reaches community stakeholders but also by having a place where members of the community feel welcome. Representation matters as you think about racial concordance and healthcare. People are more likely to build relationships in spaces where they see themselves. This environment—with its chosen art—will help people reach the best optimal health.”

The major acquisition of art by Black and Brown artists grew out of an ongoing collaboration between University Hospitals and Deep Roots Experience (DRE), a gallery in the Fairfax neighborhood specializing in representing Black and Brown artists working in all media. During the pandemic, UH and DRE worked together on the We Wear the Mask project, a campaign sponsored by Healthy Neighborhoods/City of Cleveland and based on Paul Dunbar’s poem of the same title. The campaign resulted in murals throughout the community that answered the question, “What does it mean to wear the mask today?”

Asia Armour, Blues, mixed media on paper, 18 X 24 inches, 2022.

UH tapped DRE to help find art created by Black and Brown artists that both spoke eloquently to the community and fit in the new facilities’ spaces. DRE created two intentional surveys for UH to consider: one to explore the messages they wanted the artwork to convey and how it could make the viewer feel; the second, an overview of works by over forty artists represented by DRE.

“We are creating the conversation about what art looks like,” says David Ramsey, CEO and lead curator of Deep Roots Experience. “Our hope was to tell stories of our communities in more direct ways and position our artists to engage with a corporate art collection. It was also a chance to take some of the power that historically has not been ours and make the decisions ourselves. We don’t want to create with a style in mind; this was an exercise of freedom in Black expression.”

Jae Capo, Storefront, acrylic on canvas, 48 X 36 inches, 2023.

According to Ramsey, this project was an opportunity to challenge what is conventionally received or accepted as fine or great art. Many of the artists are self-taught and offer an authentic representation of their experiences through their work that is valuable and powerful. “It is challenging to get people to see that,” says Ramsey. “Challenging to understand the world of art and all that it encompasses, and tell that system that you mean different—what you offer is as valuable but like nothing they’ve seen before.”

For Dayz Whun, an artist with roots in the Cleveland Skribe Tribe who now works in various media—from acrylics to aerosol to tattoo ink—UH’s message of healthy eating resonated strongly. He grew up vegetarian, is a lifelong plant collector (when his plants are sad, he plays music for them), continually paints flowers and plants, and speaks about the vitality and energy of “live food.” For UH’s collection, his series of four, two-foot-by-two-foot panels is an explosion of fruits and vegetables rendered by manipulating acrylic paint to give a watercolor effect.

LEFT TO RIGHT, TOP FIRST: Jae Capo, David Ramsey (DRE), Emanuel Wallace, Dayz Whun, Aldonte Flonnoy, Noah (Dayz Whun’s son), Pahpy/SammieDoesIt, Asia Armour, and Martina Pace (UH).

“Everyone has a way to bring something to the community; my way is art,” says Dayz Whun. “We know art is therapeutic, with the suggestive repetition of showing images over and over to inspire and change behavior. Maybe someone will see my paintings and think ‘You know what? Maybe I’ll eat a salad today.’” Dayz Whun’s work has also been featured at MetroHealth Medical Center, in the children’s trauma rehabilitation department; he is also the owner of Red Lion Tattoo and Art Gallery located in Cleveland’s AsiaTown district.

Asia Armour is a photographer and a mixed media collage artist who collaborated with the Cleveland Botanical Garden last summer for Art in Bloom, featuring an intricate garden design and a solo exhibition. Her Aurora – The Dawn is a rich collage that reimagines the classical myth of the goddess of the dawn as layers of floral imagery surround a young woman resting on a pedestal. Two other works, Dots 1 and Dots 2, are dramatic, repetitive patterns of circles within circles, as bright and heavy pastel circles march behind a lacy web of even more circles.

“Being a part of the UH collection has made me work harder, and find other corporations who might want to see my work,” says Armour. “The pieces that UH picked will be shown in some of the neighborhoods I’ve lived in. I would really like my work to be where I live and be inspiring.”

Jevonte “Jae Capo” King-Woods describes himself as an expressionist working in acrylics and collage, with works on canvas, clothing, and bottles. The Glenville location features two of Jae Capo’s pieces, both quietly pulsing with color and abstract shapes. One is a variation on a favorite theme of Jae Capo’s, chefs and people cooking, and the other is inspired by the Diamond Deli in Akron, a childhood haunt. Simple, clean lines and saturated colors soothe with elegance.

“Having representation from artists of color is really important,” says Jae Capo. “The fact that UH is participating in growing that representation speaks about a more positive way to reach mental and physical health. And it gives me personal validation, that what I want to say and how I say it do in fact matter, and that I need to keep going.”

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