Winter 2024 / Features

The Beauty of Art

How It Can Educate, Inspire, and Heal

By Deanna Thompson

During spring break last year, assistant professor Adam DelMarcelle and his family hit the highway. But their destination, an eight-hour drive away, was not the stuff of most people’s vacation dreams. They headed to a former hospice home in Columbus, Ohio, where AIDS patients were cared for in the 1990s. Once there, Adam retrieved a shovel from his car. He dug into the earth in the front yard and scooped the dirt into a Mason jar.

Months later, that dirt, mixed with a black base, became the ink that visitors see in the screen prints that make up “Remembering Two Spirits: The Photos of Therese Frare,” the current exhibition in the Cooley Gallery on Wilson College’s campus. The Mason jar, with a few leftover bits of dirt, is also part of the display, joining the screen prints in providing a deeper connection to the AIDS patients pictured, both for the people viewing the art and for the artist who turned the dirt into ink.

Art, DelMarcelle says, creates the opportunity for powerful dialogue.

“The artist’s job is to make something that’s truthful, to throw a rock into the water, and then the ripples travel away and hit touch points, continuing to move forward,” DelMarcelle said.

The ripples from a piece of art can take a myriad of forms: educating, informing, inspiring questions, and serving as a jumping off point for viewers and artists alike to process difcult emotions. And sometimes, the making of art hits a touch point that can lead to solace and healing.

“For me,” DelMarcelle said, “the act of making the work is therapeutic.”

Arts activism: Beyond ‘pictures on a wall’

Almost 10 years ago, DelMarcelle’s brother Joey died at age 33 of an opioid overdose. Out of the shock and pain of dealing with that, DelMarcelle emerged with a mission: using his art to amplify the opioid crisis and the pain it has caused for millions of people.

“I’m an activist artist that makes work about the overdose epidemic,” he said. “I’m going to do that for the rest of my life. That’s going to be my subject matter in multiple forms.”

He began with projection displays in his hometown of Lebanon, Pa., and moved on to the development of art – often screen prints – that has been displayed internationally. His goal is to raise awareness of the opioid epidemic, to call out those who have played a part in its rise, to honor his brother, and he hopes, to inspire change.

He made ink from some of his brother’s ashes and sent it to artists around the world to create their own works. When he has exhibitions, he has rules on what the gallery must do in concert with the display to educate the public on the topic of opioid addiction and overdoses.

“It’s really as much social work as it is art,” DelMarcelle said. “If museums want to have my work, they can only have it if they agree to do heavy community outreach around my work being there. The first time my prints were shown in a museum, I told them they could only have it if they built an active harm reduction space in the gallery while my work was on display. So that means they had to have local harm reduction workers from that community in the gallery, teaching people who come in about needle exchange and wound care and recovery, and meeting people where they are with compassion, whether or not they use drugs. So, it was a way to be able to make it an activated space beyond just pictures on a wall.”

In the Frare exhibition, he sees a strong connection to his own work. Since the COVID pandemic, places where the HIV/AIDS epidemic had lessened have seen a surge in cases – related in part to increases in opioid use.

“This subject matter of HIV/AIDS is hyper-relevant to my subject matter,” DelMarcelle said. “In places like the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, HIV/AIDS is up 400% from last year, and that’s because  intravenous drug use. So, one epidemic is feeding the other.”

The job of art

While not all artists are activists, most believe the value of art goes beyond simply creating a thing of beauty. Artists tell the story of human life – and help the rest of us process and understand it.

Joshua Legg, associate professor of interdisciplinary practice at Wilson, is an interdisciplinary artist – a painter, poet, choreographer, theatre director and performer who has “used a variety of media to engage people in conversation and to share stories for almost 35 years.”

He notes that art is one of the key ways that humanity, from the beginning of civilization, has examined the world around us.

“When you get down to brass tacks, movement, or dance, is our first language,” Legg said. “We have always as human beings processed and analyzed what was going on around us through some art form. So, it is absolutely essential to human beings’ understanding of ourselves as individuals and our place in the world. And the times when we have pretended as though we could do away with the arts are those times when communication has broken down. Why has communication broken down? That happens because we have lost a critical lens and a way of processing. The ability to engage in the world and to explore, to seek understanding, and to then communicate what we see and understand is absolutely necessary for the maker and for the viewer.”

Art is not designed to provide answers, but rather to encourage those who see it to ask questions, DelMarcelle said.

“That’s what artists are supposed to do,” he said. “It’s not about giving answers to things. It’s about giving an opportunity for another person to ask a question. I think on a decent day, it might be: What is this thing? On a good day, they might want to find out one more thing about that subject matter. On the best day, they walk away asking a question of themselves: What part of the landscape of this issue am I responsible for? And what can I now do about it?”

This portrait of Peta is one of many taken by Frare over a two-year period.

David Kirby’s father Bill helps care for Peta at the end of his life.

Peta blurred the lines between male and female, as seen in this photo. 

Peta tries on wigs in a shop near the Pater Noster House in Columbus, Ohio.

The iconic photo that Frare took of Kirby as he lay dying is a poignant example of how art can educate, inspire action, and sometimes provide healing. Before her photo was published, there were few images of the suffering of victims of the virus. Frare’s photo helped change the world’s view of HIV/AIDS patients, bringing their humanity home in ways that hadn’t been possible.

“You can’t look at that picture and hate a person with AIDS. You just can’t,” Barb Cordle, the volunteer director at the hospice where Kirby died, is quoted as saying in a 2014 LIFE retrospective about the photo.

Similar to the process DelMarcelle described, people reacted to the photo first with a recognition that AIDS patients were human beings like them, with some moving on to learn more about AIDS, and others ultimately examining what could be done to make life better for those suffering with HIV/AIDS.

While Frare sees all art as a powerful tool, she notes the draw of photography and video and points out how that power is being used today in social media communication. “Information from photos happens in an instant. You see it, you get it. They’ve figured it out. We can use pictures to communicate quickly.”

Her images of Peta in the Wilson exhibition bring home the early 1990s world for an AIDS patient, but also highlight the fluidity of Peta in terms of gender, identity, and status as patient or caregiver. Seeing that duality can be cathartic for those who also feel as if they straddle a variety of lines.

Ryan Reinhardt, a junior art and sociology major at Wilson who attended a class where Frare spoke as well as the panel discussion and exhibition, felt a strong connection to Peta’s story and found Frare’s images of Peta to be emotionally compelling.

“The stories that she is telling through her work are very eye-opening, and it was relatable for me as a person because I think I have a commonality in the fluidity that she depicted,” Reinhardt said. “I had a very intense emotional reaction, just to see this person living their life in a very fluid manner in a very truthful and honest manner, and embracing who they are, even though they struggle with AIDS or with not being accepted into certain communities.”

Art like this, Reinhardt believes, can encourage people to see beyond their own lives and perhaps be more accepting of others’ way of living.

“Art plays a role in speaking to something larger and also getting people to think about things in a different way,” Reinhardt said. “Because I think, especially with work like Therese Frare’s exhibit, it puts a different way of living into the world, which you have to then live with. So, I think it makes people more adaptable in some ways.”

The value of art for other disciplines

Another way that art can bring about change is by helping nonartists working in other disciplines view their work through a different lens. A number of pieces of DelMarcelle’s work on the opioid epidemic are housed in a collection at Yale University’s Cushing Whitney Medical Library.

“That collection, which is a huge art collection, is used for one reason, and that is to educate doctors on the humanity of the people they’re going to be serving,” DelMarcelle said. “So, they bring future doctors in, and they will pull out my work about the overdose epidemic [and others’ work in different areas] and they will have conversations about the actual humans they’re going to be serving, not this idea of them. So, that’s really important.”

During Frare’s visit to campus, DelMarcelle made a point of having her speak not just to art classes, but to a sociology class as well.

“It’s a really important goal of mine as an educator, especially as an artist, that we have to use what we’re doing to attach to all interest areas on our campus, meaning art is relevant to all of these areas, and we need to figure out ways to bridge the gap to show why it’s important for sociologists to be looking at art, why it’s important for medical students to consider art,” DelMarcelle said.

“One of my hopes with the shows that we’re bringing on campus now, and the community engagement we’re trying to bring around them, is that the professors on this campus see the value of bringing their students [to the exhibitions], even if they think the subject matter has no application to their major,” DelMarcelle said. “Because I’m here to tell them: It absolutely does. The artist’s job is about documenting what it means to be alive. That’s all of us.”

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The Exhibition: World AIDS Day Show in the Cooley Gallery

Fine Arts professors bring awareness of World AIDS Day to campus with Cooley Gallery Exhibit

By Deanna Thompson

When Therese Frare arrived at Ohio University in 1990 to pursue a master’s degree in visual communications, she had no idea that, within months, she would capture an image that would be seen by an estimated billion people around the world and described as “the photo that changed the face of AIDS.”

That image, showing the last moments of an AIDS patient named David Kirby, was published by LIFE magazine in November 1990, and credited with humanizing AIDS patients, who at the time were often ostracized by others.

Today, more than 30 years later, that iconic image is one of the screen prints included in “Remembering Two Spirits: The Photos of Therese Frare,” an exhibition that opened on Dec. 1, 2023, World AIDS Day, in the Cooley Gallery at Wilson College. In addition to Frare’s well-known image, the exhibition includes powerful images of another AIDS patient known as Peta, whose right arm can be seen in the famous photo as he helps care for Kirby. After Kirby’s death, Frare followed Peta (born Patrick Church) over a period of two years, documenting moments in his life and end of life for her thesis project at Ohio University.

The genesis of the show

The exhibition of Frare’s images at Wilson College came about after Adam DelMarcelle, assistant professor of Graphic Design, reached out to Frare about including her famous picture of Kirby in a collection he was assembling of major art pieces in the realm of social justice. As they continued their conversation, he learned about her photos of Peta. Like Kirby’s photo, the images of Peta help tell the story of the AIDS epidemic in the 1990s, but they also touch on other issues that are front and center today.

Professors Joshua Legg, M.F.A. and Adam DelMarcelle are joined by Therese Frare, Ryan Rinehardt ‘25, and Faith Crawford ‘26 at the opening of the “Remembering Two Spirits: The Photos of Therese Frare” exhibit.


In her artist’s statement for the exhibition, Frare notes that the photos of Peta explore “life in a pandemic, the issues of multiracial heritage, and the fluidity of gender identity. Does this sound familiar? These topics are still very relevant today. In this project, I was looking for the blurred lines between male and female, between White and Native American, and between being a caregiver and being the one who needs care.”

After DelMarcelle saw the photos, it was clear to him that the portfolio focused on issues that were important to explore.

“Not only is it about HIV/AIDS, but it’s about the indigenous population, it’s about gender,” DelMarcelle said. “It’s so relevant to right now, maybe even more so than it was when she took the photographs. So, I asked her, … I want to do something with this. Maybe we could do an exhibition.”

Frare was intrigued, and so was Joshua Legg, Wilson’s associate dean for Academic Affairs, director of the Master of Fine Arts program, and curator of the Cooley Gallery. His goal as gallery curator is to feature the work of living artists and provide opportunities for students to have a dialogue with them. A longtime AIDS activist, Legg vividly remembered Frare’s photo of Kirby, showing a gaunt, dark-haired man looking into the distance, cradled by his father as other family members look on.

“I remembered that image from when it was released back in the 1990s and the impact that it had on the conversation, the dialogue around HIV/AIDS at the time,” Legg said. “And I was like, yes, let’s do an exhibition. We looked at when we were going to open the show, and I knew I wanted it to be on World AIDS Day.”

Creating the exhibition

As DelMarcelle and Frare discussed the exhibit, he told Frare that instead of simply showing her photographs, he would like to go a step further.

“Why don’t I take your photographs and turn them into screen prints? And she was interested in that idea,” DelMarcelle said. “What she did for me is, she sent me physical prints. I made really high- quality scans of the physical prints. Then I could turn those into screen prints from the digital images. It’s all hand- done, a hand process.”

DelMarcelle selected 17 of Frare’s photos for the exhibition, creating screen prints measuring 22 by 30 inches. He used dirt taken from the site of the hospice home where Kirby and Peta met to make the ink he used in the screen prints. (For more on this, see story on The Beauty of Art.) Viewers of the exhibit can see Frare’s iconic image of Kirby and his family, but also numerous prints of Peta, showing the dualities in his life.

The title of the exhibition, “Remembering Two Spirits,” refers to that duality, specifically Peta’s Native American ancestry – he was half Native American and half-White – and his blurring of the lines in gender.

“Two Spirits is used to describe indigenous people who embody both a feminine and masculine energy and have traditionally held a number of important social and spiritual roles in their tribes,” Frare wrote in her artist statement.

In addition to the screen prints, DelMarcelle wanted the exhibition to include a panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt, a project started in 1987 that today includes the names of 110,000 people who died of AIDS on over 50,000 hand- sewn panels, each the size of a burial plot. He approached the nonprofit that manages the quilt and asked if there was a panel with Peta’s name.

“I thought that would be a long shot,” DelMarcelle said. “But sure enough, Peta was on one of the panels.” DelMarcelle arranged to have that section of the quilt sent for the exhibit.

“Not only do we have this whole gallery full of images of Peta made with the dirt of the ground that they walked, now we also have the AIDS quilt panel that was made for him after he passed away,” DelMarcelle said.

The exhibition

The show opened on the 35th annual World AIDS Day, an event created in 1988 to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and honor those who were affected. At Wilson, the day’s events included a panel discussion among Frare, DelMarcelle, and Legg about the exhibition and World AIDS Day, followed by the opening of the show.

“It’s probably one of the best attended events that we’ve had,” Legg said. “And the feedback from students, staff, faculty, everyone, both about the conversation and the exhibition itself – it was incredibly well received. I continue to hear from people who stop by the exhibition. It [the exhibition] is very moving and a little overwhelming.”

Although HIV cases and AIDs-related deaths have declined dramatically since the first World AIDS Day, the opioid epidemic combined with the COVID pandemic to fuel increases in recent years, Legg noted. In 2022, 1.3 million people became newly infected with HIV and 630,000 people died from AIDS- related illnesses worldwide, according to The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) organization.

“One of the reasons why I think it’s important for us to have this dialogue here at Wilson and in this region is that for a while, HIV infection rates had shifted globally to developing nations,” Legg said. “The developed world has, since the COVID pandemic, seen a marked increase in cases.

That’s particularly true in rural areas and places that are economically challenged. So, this was an opportunity to bring the subject matter back to our community’s awareness.”

“Remembering Two Spirits: The Photos of Therese Frare” is on display through March 15. The exhibition is open to the public as well as students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the College.

The Artist

Therese Frare on How the Photos Came About

Therese Frare had worked as a newspaper photographer for more than a decade when she decided to return to graduate school in January 1990 at Ohio University, where she hoped to create a documentary project about a subject that interested her: the developing HIV/ AIDS epidemic. Very quickly, she found obstacles in her path.

When she approached AIDS organizations in the rural area around Ohio University, none would allow her to photograph patients. She branched out to Columbus, a much bigger city an hour- and-a-half drive away, and approached the Pater Noster House, a hospice home for AIDS patients.

They initially said no as well but encouraged Frare to volunteer at the hospice. She did, making the drive from Athens to Columbus every week or so, with no guarantee she would ever be able to take photos there, she recalls.

“When you’re staff at a newspaper, you can’t invest a lot of time in a ‘no’ or a ‘maybe’,” she said. “[But as a student at the time] I think I just decided, okay, I’m interested anyway, and I have time, and I’ll just volunteer. I think it actually came as a bit of a surprise to me, to tell you the truth, how it all unraveled.”

The “unraveling” that led to her iconic photo of David Kirby began a couple months after she started volunteering. Pater Noster House allowed a television crew to film at the hospice, prompting them to relent and allow Frare to shoot photos as well. During her visits as a volunteer, Frare had become friends with Peta, then HIV-positive and later an AIDS patient, who helped care for Kirby. She also had spent time with Kirby, who gave Frare permission to take pictures of him as long as the images were not used for personal gain. She was at the hospice outside his room on May 5, 1990, the day of his death, when his mother came out and asked Frare to document the family’s goodbyes. Frare took her place in a corner of the room and shot photos.

It wasn’t until Frare went into the darkroom to develop the roll of black- and-white film that she realized what she had captured.

“Back then we had film, so there wasn’t that instant feedback of the image. And it took me a while to get around to processing the film, maybe a week or so,” Frare recalled. “And then when I saw the negative, it was like, wow. I could tell it was a picture for sure at that point, which is what made me send it to LIFE magazine.”

Her picture not only appeared in the November 1990 issue of LIFE but also won two World Press Photo Awards in 1991: second place in General News, and the Budapest Award, a special humanitarian award for understanding relationships among people. A colorized version later was used with the Kirby family’s encouragement in a controversial ad campaign by the global fashion brand Benetton.

While that photo has taken on a life of its own, it is her images of Peta that Frare is especially drawn to as a photographer. After Kirby’s death, Frare spent two years capturing moments in Peta’s life for her thesis project. In addition to photographing him in everyday life at the hospice, she accompanied him to Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota where, she says, “we were guests of his uncle, the medicine man and tribal chief.” She also documented in photographs Peta’s last days, when he was cared for by Kirby’s family, just as he had cared for Kirby.

Frare was happy to have her compelling images of Peta – recreated as screen prints by DelMarcelle – featured in the exhibition at Wilson.

“The photos of Peta have been seen, but definitely not as much [as the Kirby photo],” she said.

In addition to participating in a panel discussion about the exhibit while at Wilson, Frare met with students in art history, sociology, and drawing classes to discuss her pictures and the stories behind them in detail.

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Fun and Flexibility Collide for Wilson’s Psychology Program

By Morgan Faith ’24

New partnerships, flexible degree concentrations, and faculty expertise are leading Wilson’s Psychology Department to enhanced academic offerings and student empowerment. Guided by Assistant Professors of Psychology Alexandra Toms and Brittany Harman, Ph.D., the program has undergone significant transformations, aiming to attract diverse student learners and equip them with the tools necessary for both academic and professional success.

Two Paths to Success

Together, Toms and Harman have redefined the psychology degree’s advanced studies courses to cater to the varied aspirations of their students— either preparing them for the rigors of graduate study or to directly enter the workforce.

Assistant Professor of Psychology, Brittany Harman

Starting with the 2023-2024 academic year, psychology students can choose between two distinct paths of study: senior thesis or advanced seminar. While the traditional Senior Thesis track prepares students to apply for graduate school, the advanced seminar option is a novel addition, designed to be a practical workshop where students enhance their employability through activities like resume building, job shadowing, mock interviews, and portfolio development. Professor Harman shares this approach is “a work in progress,” underscoring the program’s commitment to dynamic improvement and staying relevant to today’s students.

A Concentrated Study

The degree program also now offers specialized tracks of study through concentrations. Rather than incorporating specific major choices, such as neuroscience or social psychology, the revised program allows students to choose a minor or concentration along with the psychology major. Concentrations now include leadership and organizational management, healthcare, and the newest – neuroscience. Both professors agree the concentration model offers students more options. “Having a concentration model rather than a focused degree, allows students to have more flexibility when it comes to their career paths and choices,” said Toms. Harmon explains further, “The purpose of the concentrations is to allow students to tailor their education toward what they are interested in.”

Assistant Professor of Psychology, Alexandra Toms

The development and offer of the neuroscience concentration is made possible through a partnership with RIZE. Students who enroll in the neuroscience concentration take most of their general education courses in-person. They then supplement their studies with neuroscience- specific courses offered online through RIZE. Courses include: Cognitive Neuroscience, Clinical Neuropathology, and Biological Basis of Perception and Movement.


Professor Toms reflects on the addition of the neuroscience concentration to Wilson’s pedagogy, “Neuroscience is a growing field across colleges. The RIZE partnership was a happy marriage with Dr. Harman teaching here and neuroscience being one of her areas of expertise.” Harman hopes that with additional interest, she will be able to teach the neuroscience courses in- person in the near future.

Wilson College Online

With the introduction of Wilson College Online, traditional undergraduate and adult learners now have the option to earn their bachelor’s degree in psychology online.

Professor Toms gives insight as to how the psychology program has adapted for the online modality, “We have worked to maintain the rigor and integrity of our online psychology degree comparable to the experience of our ground-campus students, while also providing flexibility to meet our online students’ needs.”

Christina Johnson, Wilson College Online student

Students like Christina Johnson, a full-time social worker, have chosen to pursue their Wilson degree online because of the advantages that experience offers.

Johnson began her journey with Wilson College Online in the fall semester of 2023 and is working towards her bachelor’s degree in psychology. “What I love about Wilson College Online is that I am able to work at my own pace. Of course, you have your deadlines, but I can have all my assignments written out so that way I can stay ahead of the course workload,” she said.

Johnson also shared, “I was a little leery at first of participating in the online college and having a full-time job, but it has been a great experience so far. The online program has allowed me to see that I can get my degree and still have a full-time job. It has made me more self- aware and more confident as a student and as a professional.”

Creatively Engaging

For the past three years, the psychology club has hosted Brain Awareness Week to foster awareness and enthusiasm for brain science. The week often includes a keynote speaker, a brain hunt (similar to the student favorite duck hunt), trivia competitions, TED Talk-style lectures, art therapy sessions, and a student poster presentation. Professor Toms shares that the poster presentations are a “low-stress way for students to gain experience discussing challenging information in a fun and interactive way.”

Lesley Rodriquez and Hennessey Strine 

Some students, like Hennessey Strine and Lesley Rodriquez, embrace the chance to be creative with their posters. Strine and Rodriquez are both third-year students with double majors. (Strine is psychology/sociology; Rodriguez is psychology/animal studies.) For last year’s presentation, they jointly developed posters that explored “The Zombification of the Brain.” Through their creative approach, they detailed the changes that occur in the brain when someone becomes a zombie, such as experiencing damage to the amygdala and thus becoming aggressive and violent. They shared how a zombie’s cerebellum eventually dissolves, causing the individual to lose fluidity of movement and only able to walk with a staggered gait.

Plans for the Future

Professors Harman and Toms both believe their efforts to redesign the psychology program and make it more relevant to students’ future goals will set Wilson’s program apart from others.

“The hope is that this will help develop students’ interest more, reach a broader audience, and increase student enrollment in the program,” said Toms. Until then, these dedicated professors will continue to provide the individualized attention each student needs to succeed, graduate, and pursue their intended career path.

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