‘The Tobacco Project’ Bridges Art and Public Health

Friday, September 15, 2017

An installation of art created at Saint Joseph’s University is calling attention to public health concerns.

In partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, students in the Appropriated Art class led by Ronald Klein, M.F.A., professor emeritus of art, used confiscated tobacco products to create pieces of art.

“The products used to create these works of art were illegally sold to undercover youth surveyors in the city,” explains Elissa Martel, special projects coordinator at Get Healthy Philly, an initiative of the Philadelphia Department of Health. “As a result of compliance checks, we have amassed a sizable collection of tobacco products. We wanted to use these items that traditionally cause harm to create art as a tool for social change and education.”

Inspired by mandalas, wallpaper and other patterns, Klein encouraged the students to create their work in small, square frames. Some of the resulting pieces are geometric and repetitive, calling to mind the habitual use of the materials from which they are created. Others employ shredded cigars, empty boxes or crumpled wrappers to create abstract art.

“The art created here is beautiful work,” Klein says. “None of the students in the class were art majors, but they took to the project naturally, and the quality of the finished pieces is very high.”

On Thursday, Sept. 28, at 11 a.m. in Boland Hall, the University Gallery will host a lecture, “Art and Social Change: The Tobacco Project,” inspired by the exhibit. Ryan Coffman, tobacco policy and control program manager at the Philadelphia Department of Health, will speak about Philadelphia's initiatives to reduce smoking addiction among Philadelphia's youth, and Emily Hage, Ph.D., associate professor of art history, will speak about the importance of using art as a means for social change.

The exhibit will be on display at Boland Hall through Saturday, Sept. 30. After the exhibit closes at Saint Joseph’s, it will be on display in Philadelphia’s City Hall for the months of October and November.

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