The Art of Public Health

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the latest Art of Public Health exhibition might have the potential to improve a thousand lives.

A collection of more than 20 original health-themed posters on the dangers of concussions, child abuse, early signs of autism, skin cancer and other issues is now on display after students from the Yale School of Public Health merged their scientific skills with the creative talents of their  peers at the Yale School of Art.

The unique collaboration involved 17 students who worked for months to produce health messages that would resonate with a diverse public audience. Each poster is designed to make people think about their health and, if necessary, take action to improve it.

The project involved a series of back-and-forth sessions, often running late into the night, between students who otherwise might never work together. Many groups developed a message only to scrap it after discovering another approach that was more powerful and effective.

“Conveying public health messages is surprisingly challenging," said Catherine Yeckel, associate research scientist/lecturer at the School of Public Health and the project’s faculty advisor along with Henk van Assen, a senior critic at the art school. "It is the natural inclination to throw more and more text at the problem. Instead, the students worked hard to develop key concepts together with powerful images that convey the essential kernel of health information to the viewer.”

The exhibition remains on display at the Yale School of Art at 1156 Chapel St. through May 21.

Nicholas Berlin, a public health student, teamed up with Yotam Hadar, a School of Art student, to highlight the persistent problem of medical errors, even in countries with highly developed health care systems such as United States. Berlin said he was drawn to the project because it provided a creative opportunity. 

“As medical and public health practitioners, we must interpret statistics and effectively communicate messages to broader audiences. In my experience, however, individuals tend to make decisions based upon emotion and personal experience more often than statistics,” said Berlin. “This project was an opportunity to work with graphic designers to communicate public health messages more creatively and effectively.”

To strengthen their message, Berlin and Hadar decided to include errors within the design of each of their posters. Hadar drew upon his creative background in graphic design to effectively incorporate the approach.

“As proven by the exhibited work, collaboration of equals can truly strengthen the final outcome. It was a great pleasure to see how students from both schools teamed up to rally for different causes. The design process which followed was greatly impacted by the intense working relationship between two or more students, all with very different academic backgrounds. Nonetheless, this fusion generated, clear, straightforward, intellectually compelling, and yet visually expressive and socially engaging communication of important, sometimes difficult, messages to the intended audience,” van Assen said of this year’s collection.

This is the second time that Yale public health and art students have collaborated on The Art of Public Health. The first exhibition was done in 2012 and included a showing at the state Capitol in Hartford. The posters are now on display in the student lounge and in the office of student affairs at 47 College St. at the School of Public Health.

In addition to Berlin and Hadar, other student teams this year include Renu Nadkarni, M.P.H. ’15, Eric Nylund, M.F.A. ’15, Nejc Prah, M.F.A. ’15, and Glorili Alejandro, Yale ’13 (the effects of concussions); Travis Whitfill, M.P.H .’14, and Jiyoni Kim, M.F.A. ’15 (skin cancer); Kevin Gandhi, M.P.H. ’14, Grace Robinson-Leo, M.F.A. ’14 (the importance of being honest with your physician); Bernice Qiaochu Qi, M.PH. ’14, and Mariah Xu, Yale ’16 (awareness of childhood mental, emotional and behavioral disorders); Rongrong Wang, M.P.H. ’15, Erin Knutson, M.F.A., ’15, and Tim Ripper, M.F.A. ’15 (early signs of autism); and Tammie Kwong, M.P.H. ’14, and Sunny Park, M.F.A. ’14 (child abuse).

Yeckel and van Assen said that discussions are underway to display the Art of Public Health at other venues after its run at the School of Art ends next week. They also hope to turn The Art of Public Health into an annual event.

This article was submitted by Denise L Meyer on May 14, 2014.

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Henk Van Assen


Catherine Weikart Yeckel

Assistant Clinical Professor of Epidemiology