Spring 2022 / Features

The Phoenix Spread Fledgling Wings

Wilson’s newest athletics team have hit their screens running thanks to a generous donation.
By Darrach Dolan

Esports, an umbrella term for competitive video gaming, is the fastest growing sport globally. Not only are more people playing competitively, but hundreds of millions regularly watch tournaments where the top professional players can earn millions of dollars in prize money and even more in endorsements. Last year in the USA, only the NFL had more viewers than esports.

In other words, the sport has come a long way from kids playing video games in their parents’ basements. Today’s tournaments are held in large venues such as Las Vegas casinos and traditional sports stadiums where live audiences watch players and teams compete, and the games are simultaneously streamed to audiences worldwide. With global participation and viewership in the hundreds of millions and growing, esports are on an explosive upward trajectory.

This academic year, Wilson has joined the ranks of colleges with esports teams thanks to a seed grant from Charlene Cronenberg Berardino ’63 and Tom Berardino. The College used their donation to help create and equip an esports “arena” on the ground floor of Prentis Hall. The windows are covered, and the lighting is muted to minimize reflections and glare on the screens. The walls are freshly painted and decorated with Phoenix decals. Comfortable couches and chairs are arranged around coffee tables in the middle of the room and close to a large TV where games can be replayed and critiqued. And, most importantly, the walls are lined with computers and monitors where individual student-athletes in gaming chairs practice or compete.

“The College didn’t skimp on anything in this room,” Josh Bound, one of the two coaches the College has hired to launch the Phoenix esports team, said as he showed off the facility. The room has a dedicated internet connection, which means there is virtually no lag time when the players compete against other teams (to be competitive, you cannot have any delay between a player’s actions and their avatar’s actions in real-time).

He explains how even the chairs are state-of-the-art — meaning they’re ergonomic and built to withstand a beating because gaming sessions can go on for hours, and the players are often quite physical as they manipulate their avatars on screen. He is pleased that Wilson has taken the sport so seriously and has been prepared to fund this new team and “do it the right way.”

The Berardinos knew nothing about esports when President Fugate mentioned that adding an esports team would benefit students. Always on the lookout for ways to support the College, the couple did some research. They learned about its popularity and got firsthand endorsements from family and friends who play. They agreed it would be an exciting addition and a driver of recruitment and retention.

Tom Berardino has been a fan of the College since witnessing the fight to save her from closure in the 70s. In particular, he has admired her scrappy spirit and her willingness to adapt while remaining true to her principles. He believes that by providing the inaugural funding of the team, he and Charlene are facilitating yet another forward-looking step by the College. Charlene adds they are very measured and thoughtful when it comes to giving. Instead of taking a scattershot approach and giving to all the causes they like, they focus on three or four close to their hearts and make contributions that will have significant impacts. Wilson, she says, will always be close to their hearts.

They were so proud of the Phoenix’s first semester accomplishments that they have made a second gift. This will help expand the team’s space, create a shout-casting room (where a “caster” streams live play-by-plays), and expand the number of console gaming systems.

When Dean of Students Mary Beth Williams approached Bound about coaching the Phoenix team, he asked, “Do you want a program that wins or a program that is a positive experience? You can have both, but that’s a rarity.” Williams said she wanted the latter, and Bound jumped onboard — provided the College hire a second coach — his longtime esports collaborator, Mike Pittenger. Again, Williams agreed.

Mike Pittenger is younger and quieter than Bound, wears his hair in a bun, and prefers to stay in the background, whereas Bound is out front. This complimentary dynamic has contributed to the early success of the team in competition and in creating the right “room culture.” Pittenger explains, “He’s like the stern dad, and I’m like the mom. I’ll have the real heart-to-heart, and he’ll be the one who tells them they’ve messed up.”

Bound, who has a long history of coaching “traditional” sports, including rugby, ice hockey, lacrosse, and wrestling, says coaching esports is not all that different. “It’s very much a sport in terms of teamwork; it’s just not traditional. We’re not going to blow out knees; we’re worried about carpal tunnel and too much screen time and balancing life.”

The biggest difference between coaching esports and the “traditional” sports is that he is not teaching techniques per se. A baseball coach may teach a pitcher how to throw a curveball. Esports coaches, on the other hand, don’t teach moves. They teach strategies and how to work with others. “The kids are more dexterous than I will ever be, so I can’t teach them the mechanics,” Bound says. “I manage them and teach them the nuances. It’s more like a general manager role because it’s more about timing and working with your teammates, and if you don’t stick together, you won’t win.”

When Pittenger arrives one Monday afternoon, the arena already has around 15 players there. Mondays and Tuesdays are practice days, and over the next hour, players come and go; some come to practice or review games; others are there just to hang out. The atmosphere is relaxed and fun. Pittenger gets everyone’s attention and asks for a show of hands if they’ve played a team sport before joining the Phoenix. Two players raise their hands. The rest have never played an organized sport before in their lives. He is making a point — one of the most important jobs he and Bound have is to teach teamwork and how to be part of a group.

Bound puts it more directly, “They don’t understand how to behave around their teammates, or the sort of accountability other sports teach you. But these kids grow up quickly when a guy like me tells them that they can’t quit in the middle of a game.” He explains how most of them not only don’t understand team mentality but often haven’t met their esports “friends” in person. “[Before joining the team], they acted all hard like they were keyboard warriors. But when they’re sitting in the same room as others, they have to learn what is acceptable and what is not because the kid is right next to you. That’s the team bonding aspect of it, and my job is all about the culture of the room and developing camaraderie.”

And the Phoenix esports team does feel and act like a traditional team. Bound says the players are doing, often for the first time in their lives, the sorts of things other teammates do — they eat together, hang out together, joke and banter, and are to all intents and purposes no different from any of the other teams on campus.

“I was like these kids when I was their age,” Pittenger said. “I wasn’t an outcast or anything, but I definitely ran with the nerdy crew. When I see what we’re doing here, I wish we had this when I was growing up.” He knows that things have changed a lot since his teen years. “No one’s really getting bullied or ostracized for playing video games, but it helps to have a cool, safe space where you can do what you want with other people like you. It’s huge. Everyone just made themselves right at home from day one, and I was blown away by it.”

Bound and Pittenger’s collaboration began at Chambersburg high school, where Bound teaches, and Pittenger is in the IT department. Students asked Bound if he could help them form a gaming club. He agreed but had to find another staff member because clubs at the school are required to have two staff advisers. Bound cornered Pittenger in the corridor one day and asked him to be the second adviser. And just like that, their partnership began. “Now I’m involved in the clubs at the school and at Wilson and running a nonprofit,” Pittenger says. “I sometimes wonder how I got so involved.”

Wilson’s road to adding an esports team began with Dean Williams asking undergraduate James Pasaribu, the vice president of the Wilson College Government Association, to research the costs and challenges of setting up an esports program. As an esports fan and player, he was an enthusiastic advocate and wrote a proposal that was accepted by the College leadership. The next challenge was finding coaches to run it.

Williams learned of Bound through a TED Talk he gave on gaming clubs and how they created safe spaces for all kids. His TED Talk drummed up a lot of interest in gaming clubs, and he was inundated with requests from like-minded people who wanted to set up clubs in their schools. This led him to found a nonprofit, Video Game Clubs of America (VGCUSA), to help make gaming clubs a reality in schools around the country. VGCUSA provides know-how and help in setting up high school gaming clubs and hopes to have affiliates in every state soon. It is a testament to the Phoenix coaches’ energy and dedication that both men continue to work at Chambersburg high school, run the gaming club there, run the national nonprofit, and now coach at Wilson most evenings during the semester.

Bound’s journey to esports coaching is a very personal one. His son, who is on the autism spectrum, struggled to communicate with his peers. Bound noticed that while he might struggle to communicate in the classroom, in the videogame sphere, he held his own. Bound created a gaming club where anyone interested could play. This was a safe place for his son to hang out and feel part of a community without the need for special interventions or help. And this has been one of Bound’s goals for his nonprofit, clubs, and now at Wilson — to foster a “culture” of acceptance and belonging. He doesn’t like labels and wants everyone to feel welcome.

And speaking of inclusion, the sport has a mixed reputation when it comes to the inclusion of women. Many girls and women play esports, but at the amateur and professional levels, it’s still dominated by males. Bound says this is changing, but not as fast as he would like. Currently, there are only three women involved with the Phoenix. Bound says a sort of screen machismo can put women off. His nine-year-old daughter experienced the toxic masculinity of gaming firsthand when a middle-schooler criticized her to the extent that she gave up playing for six months. Bound worked with her to convince her to return to playing and not let boys intimidate her. The Wilson Phoenix are clear in their messaging that toxicity in any form is not allowed, and women are welcome. Both coaches hope to recruit more over the coming semesters.

Pasaribu, a co-captain of the new team, described what Bound and Pittenger have done as amazing. “Our results speak for us: three out of our four contending teams made it to playoffs, and our program is close to doubling in size,” he said. “We owe a lot of this success to the hard work of our support and coaching staff. They’re the ones that take care of the things outside the game that help the players and the program to run smoothly, be it through administration, mediation, or just simple encouragement when the going gets tough.”

When Bound is recruiting new student-athletes, he doesn’t try to sell them on the equipment and facilities. Instead, he sells them on the camaraderie and spirit of the team — the culture of the room. With a number of new students already signed up and several of our incoming international students very interested in joining, the esports Phoenix are going from a solid foundation to building something lasting and meaningful as they go forward.

RELATED: Three Dancers – Three Very Different Dances All Action Artist Letter from the President

Three Dancers – Three Very Different Dances

Mary Walters Petricoin ’63, Phoebe Neville ’63, and Joan Morgan ’63 recall where their love of dance has led them.

By Coleen Dee Berry

This story is dedicated to the memory of Mary Walters Petricoin ’63 who passed away March 4, 2022. We send her family and friends our deepest sympathies and condolences.

In 1959, three young women arrived at Wilson with one driving desire – to pursue dance as a career. Mary Walters Petricoin ’63, Phoebe Neville ’63, and Joan Morgan ’63 may have listed their majors as English and fine arts, but to dance was their shared dream.

Joan Morgan and Mary Walters Petricoin

Many colleges at that time did not offer a degree in dance, and Wilson was no exception. But Wilson had Orchesis. Since the 1940s, the College’s extracurricular dance ensemble has encouraged students to learn about and participate in various dance forms.

“Even though Wilson was small, she still created an environment where dance flourished and inspired,” Petricoin said. “After all, the College hired Fran Bowden, a great teacher, and provided a lovely space where we were able to practice and dance. Wasn’t Wilson really ahead of her time?”

Orchesis gave students then, as now, a chance to work with visiting artists, attend national dance workshops, experiment with choreography, and gain experience in lighting, sound, and costume design.

Neville, Morgan, and Petricoin bonded over their enthusiasm for Orchesis. All three faced the same obstacle to their dreams — the traditional mid-20th century expectation that marriage and family must come first for women. A college degree was fine; work in an approved “feminine” role as a teacher or a nurse was acceptable. But the pursuit of an artistic career, especially in an experimental field such as modern dance, was not encouraged.

“I never felt as real or as free as when I was dancing. It clearly resonated with me and guided my life,” Morgan said. “Family restrictions and expectations tried desperately to steer me away from dance, but somewhere deep inside, there was a driving force that kept coming to the fore. I call it my pilot light, and I struggled to keep it lit!”

Through Orchesis, the three took classes at Wilson with visiting artists, such as José Limón and Daniel Nagrin, and attended out-of-state dance workshops. Inspired by these learning experiences, the three friends then made three very different decisions to follow their dreams. Only Petricoin graduated with her class in 1963.

In 2020, Neville, Morgan, and Petricoin reconnected to talk about their lives and where their love of dance led them. Due to COVID-19, most of their conversations took place via email or by phone.

“What we have accomplished is important to communicate — it just might give somebody the courage to take their own leap!” Neville wrote to Morgan. “What happened to us at Wilson was important and made a MAJOR difference in our lives, even though we ended up leaving the College… I’m fascinated that we did something so similar and yet so different.”

These are their stories:

Phoebe Neville the Professional

As a child growing up in Swarthmore, Pa., Neville played the cello until one summer she attended a music camp and discovered dance. “That was it for the poor cello!” she recalled. She later spent three weeks at Jacob’s Pillow, the internationally renowned dance school in the Massachusetts Berkshires, where she watched the modern dancer Daniel Nagrin perform. “What I wanted to do, without knowing it, was revealed to be possible,” she said.

As a child, she was also troubled by a subluxing patella and had her first knee operation before attending Wilson. But that did not stop her from dancing. And while she enrolled in Wilson as a fine arts major, her main interest quickly became Orchesis.

Phoebe Neville

“And then it happened,” Neville said. In 1960, Fran Bowden, the Orchesis instructor, engaged Nagrin to give a master class and performance at Wilson. “For me, it was beyond a dream come true — like God coming to campus!” Neville said. After Nagrin’s interactive class and performance, Neville went backstage “to gape at him as he hugged the stage crew,” she recalled, “but then he saw me, [with] a piercing gaze, and pointing at me, said, ‘You’re good!’ I nearly fell backwards down the stairs.” A week later, she received a letter from Nagrin inviting her (subject to an audition with his wife, Helen Tamiris) to apprentice with their new dance company in a Maine summer workshop.

That summer, according to Neville, was a baptism by fire, as she was surrounded by professionals and experienced apprentices. She attended another Tamiris-Nagrin workshop over the Christmas break in New York City and “subsequently found myself trailing to New York whenever possible. This wreaked havoc with my grades,” she said. By the summer of 1961, she decided to leave Wilson for an apprenticeship with the Tamiris-Nagrin Company in New York City.

With the guidance of Tamiris, Neville created a dance composed to “The Banshee” by Henr y Cowell. “It was about a night bird flying, and took place in one place and on one leg,” making it easier for her to perform with her bad knee, she said. The dance was accepted for the first Clark Center Young Choreographers concert in May 1962, and Orchesis invited Neville back to campus to perform the dance.

Her apprenticeship with Tamiris and Nagrin ended with her second knee operation. From there, she danced with groups such as Studio 9, the Judson Dance Workshops, and the Dance Theater Work-shops. While with Dance Theater, Neville’s choreography began to catch the eye of the New York City critics. By 1975, Neville had her own dance company, which performed for almost two decades.

One New York Times critic noted, “Phoebe Neville is almost a throwback to another, more quietly disciplined age. She works patiently and intensely, bringing forth her jewel-like dances in the fullness of their time, without hurry and hoopla.” Another wrote of a performance of her company in 1987, “Some choreographers crowd their dances with steps, yet fail to make an impact. Phoebe Neville, in contrast, measures her choreography. Each of her dances contains only a few carefully chosen movements. And each has its own distinct personality.”

In order to support her dancing, Neville worked for a time as an artists’ model and then taught dance, first at the Barlow School, a progressive school in upstate New York, in 1968, then at the New York University School of the Arts, Bennington College in Vermont, and UCLA.

Neville became interested in body-mind centering in the early 1970s after hearing a lecture by Andre Bernard on “The Kinesthetics of Anatomy.” Ten years later, after a third knee operation, she became a certified practitioner and teacher of body-mind centering and a registered somatic movement therapist.

As her dance company came to an end, Neville entered into another adventure. “In 1991, I began improvising with musician/composer Philip Corner, an old friend from the Judson Church days. After he retired and moved to Italy, he invited me over — and I learned how to dance after a full Italian lunch, with children, with dogs, and on hilltops,” she said. “We discovered that we travel well together, which took us around the world — so I married him!” The couple lives in Reggio Emilia, Italy.

Joan Morgan the Arts Administrator

Growing up in Westfield, N.J., enabled Morgan to take advantage of the close proximity of New York City’s artistic scene. After studying piano, she began dancing as physical therapy at age ten after fracturing seven vertebrae slipping on a bathroom rug. The dancing “changed my life… or perhaps allowed me to find it,” she said.

Like Neville, she enrolled at Wilson as a fine arts major, but her main interest was Orchesis. In her junior year, modern dance choreographer José Limón taught a master class at Wilson, and Morgan decided to follow his teaching. That led her to enroll in the 1962 summer program at the American Dance Festival, held at Connecticut College in New London.

“I got to work with Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, and José Limón — it was just heaven. I knew what my path had to be,” she said. “I had to leave Wilson, so I auditioned for Julliard.” She spent two successful years there before being sidetracked by a case of the mumps. “I was quite ill, which set me back a lot, and then I ran out of money and support, and I had to leave. Trying to stay with dance became a tremendous struggle, and I had no one to encourage me, no one to support me. I lost the energy to fight to try to stay, and I had to give dance up.”

But Morgan found an alternative outlet to dance when she took an administrative job at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City, exchanging dance for the visual arts. “The best thing about working there — I worked with extraordinary and incredible people. All the staff were interesting, and some were artists themselves.”

Morgan spent ten years at MOMA, first in membership and hospitality, then in the museum’s education department, preparing materials for school use and touring exhibits. She became the staff union president and then chief negotiator when the staff went on strike in 1973. “I was incensed about the way MOMA treated women on the staff. The pay was terrible; there were no benefits,” she said. “The pay issue was something that definitely was not right, and I wanted to fix it.”

During her time at MOMA, Morgan worked closely with Dr. Josephine Harris at Wilson and received an undergraduate degree in art education in 1974 . Like Neville, she became interested in integrative mind-body somatic therapy and spent seven years working on a master’s degree from NYU. “I had to take one course at a time as I was raising my daughter,” she said. As part of her project thesis, she formed the Life Alliance and Psychotherapy Center for codependent women in New York City, which she operated for several years.

In 2000, Morgan became director of records and registration at Mannes College, The New School for Music, and after 15 years at Mannes, worked as The New School’s associate university registrar. She retired in 2016 and moved to Redmond, Wash., to be close to her daughter.

Living in New York City for most of her life meant Morgan could take dance classes and attend performances — including some by Neville — to keep in touch with her first passion. “If it weren’t for Orchesis and Wilson, I would have never gone to the dance festival, and I would have never applied to Julliard. I would have never had those experiences, which have stayed with me my whole life,” she said. “Wilson is where it all started — where I found that dance is my pilot light.”

Mary Petricoin the Teacher

A self-described Army brat, Petricoin said participating in folk dances in the Philippines at the age of five triggered her love of dancing. She went from folk dancing to ballet, with a short detour into Flamenco dancing when her father was stationed in Texas. “It would be at Wilson that I first began modern dance,” she said. “I went from toe shoes to no shoes and loved everything about it.”

Petricoin wanted to pursue dance as a career but was limited by finances. After her father died while she was a teenager, she was on assistance through the Veterans Administration, and the program would not cover dance classes. Through Orchesis, “Wilson gave me the chance to dance and still get my degree,” she said.

In the summer of 1962, Petricoin joined Morgan at the American Dance Festival in Connecticut. “I actually did not have the money to go and was despairing,” Petricoin said. “But the father-daughter organization that was at Wilson fostered me and raised the money for me to go. It turned out to be the highlight of my dance life!”

Every morning at the festival, “I woke up and first thing went to a class where I learned how to teach children to dance,” she said, something that she made use of in later years. She audited an advanced class in choreography by Louis Horst. “It was a turning point for me — I learned how to construct an effective piece… And I took a class in Jazz under Alvin Ailey but was taught mostly by Donald McKayle. What an experience that was!”

Back at Wilson, Petricoin was able to submit dances she had choreographed in place of required papers in several of her English literature courses. One piece was based on Shaw’s “St. Joan,” which she was invited back to Wilson to perform with Orchesis in 1965.

After graduation, she married and raised a family — but dance remained in her life. Besides taking classes for herself, Petricoin began teaching dance, including creative dance for children through the Maryland parks and recreation system. This reconnected her with her Wilson Big Sister — Janice “Jay” Johnson ’61. “Jay was working with the Northwest Settlement House in Washington D.C., and her son was about two at the time. She was looking for someone to do creative dancing with preschoolers in her program,” Petricoin said. “I loved working with the kids. I wanted to stay and teach, but the program lost funding, and it came to an end.”

After the sudden death of her husband in 1985, Petricoin went to work in a federal credit union, and it became her career for 27 years. “Often, I reflect on my years at Wilson in dance and theater and wonder how I became an IRA expert… Completely unexpected, I had become a banker,” she reflected in her Wilson 50th reunion biography. But she adds, “My love of dance will always be a part of me. I was still taking ‘ballet for those over 40’ classes until just a few years ago.”

Coda

In the fall of 2019, Petricoin found herself scrolling through Wilson’s website in anticipation of her sister Sallie’s 60th reunion. Photos of Orchesis dancers in the Hankey Center for Women’s History’s archive sparked her curiosity about her two classmates. And so she reached out to Neville and Morgan.

At first, the three planned to meet, but COVID intervened. The three then began a lengthy email conversation. Morgan transcribed the emails and condensed 90 pages of conversation into a 20-page document, which she gave to the Hankey Center.

Amy Ensley, director of Wilson’s Hankey Center, said the conversation will be added to the center’s digital exhibits section on “Alumnae in Dance.”

 

RELATED: The Phoenix Spread Fledgling Wings All Action Artist Letter from the President

All Action Artist

Wilson professor uses his art to give meaning to tragedy and a voice to victims.

By Darrach Dolan

“Stages of Overdose” digital projection on warehouse, Lebanon, Pa.

Adam DelMarcelle, Wilson’s visiting associate professor of graphic design, sports a full beard greying around the edges, wears a baseball cap and a camo sweat-shirt, and greets visitors with a boyish smile. Yet this friendly and easy-going man has “hacked” the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) in New York City, made national news when he plastered his hometown of Lebanon, Pa., with posters depicting scenes from the drug epidemic, projected images onto Amish barns and corporate headquarters, and has his work collected by the Library of Congress. Despite his laidback appearance, DelMarcelle is driven and passionate. Not only does he produce his own art at quite a clip, exhibit it across the country, and collaborate with other artists, he teaches graphic design, art history, and photography and works with practicing artists in our Master of Fine Arts program.

DelMarcelle protesting at Purdue Pharma headquarters, Stamford, Ct.

As a teacher, he provides his students with the technical skills to succeed as graphic designers, photographers, communicators, and artists. He sees his role as more than helping them find meaningful careers; he wants to help them grow as people. “My aim is to mentor ethical artists and designers,” he said. He encourages them “to use their knowledge as visual communicators to construct a more just world. [And I try to show them] that they can challenge the status quo and be the change they seek in the world … to not have hope but to be a hope. I am honored to work with the students at Wilson College.

”Not surprisingly, his artistic and teaching philosophies overlap. “I’m a social artist,” he explained. “I don’t like to use the word activist. I see myself as an activated member of my community. You try to have a lasting impact on your community.” He makes it clear that he does not have the answers or solutions to the issues on which he shines his artistic spotlight. Art, he believes, seeks to pose the right questions rather than dictate the answers. As he put it, “If you get a person to ask a question about the world, that’s a win. If you get a person to ask a question about themselves, that’s a home run. That allows them to take something back to the world with them.”

“Stigma (war on drugs)” screenprint on handmade paper.

However, DelMarcelle’s journey to tremendous artistic output and giving back to his community is the result of great loss and personal tragedy.

After high school, he went to art school but dropped out after a couple of years. He then worked for 15 years as a crisis counselor at a hospital working with individuals and families with mental health, drug, and other issues. While there, he went back to art school and completed a bachelor’s and a master’s in visual art. But he wasn’t producing much of his own work. Instead, he satisfied his artistic needs by running a screen-printing press on the side that made prints for other local artists.

Then, in 2013, he noticed a dramatic uptick in the number of people arriving at the hospital having overdosed on opioids. Overdoses had been rare, deaths even rarer, but suddenly, on any given weekend in his small-town hospital, four or five people were dying of overdoses. Yet no one was talking about it, and it wasn’t making the news. It was as if no one cared enough about the deaths of “drug addicts” to even ask what was happening.

“Welcome to Lebanon” screenprint on paper.

As it turns out, DelMarcelle was witnessing the first wave of the “opioid epidemic” hitting his hometown. The same tragedy was playing out across America and often in small or medium-sized towns rather than the large metropolitan areas associated with past drug epidemics. According to the CDC, opioid overdoses killed more than 400,000 Americans between 1999 and 2017. Little did he realize that the epidemic was about to affect him even more personally.

On Sept. 19, 2014, DelMarcelle went home and found his brother Joey dead of a heroin overdose.

He and his family were devastated. They had no idea Joey was doing heroin, let alone may have been addicted to the drug. “If you saw him, you’d never guess,” DelMarcelle said. “He was the epitome of fitness, a social worker, the sort of person you would call if you were in trouble, the very sort of person you wouldn’t associate with substance use.”

If Joey’s death was searingly painful, the family’s treatment by the police and authorities made things worse. They regarded his death as just one more junkie dying and, according to DelMarcelle, didn’t see much point in investigating it. They spoke of Joey as an “addict” and his death as predictable. DelMarcelle had overheard this type of disregard for overdose many times at the hospital and was dismayed to be on the receiving end of such callousness. He was enraged.

“After he died, I stopped making prints for other artists and started staying up at night reading about overdoses and what happens to people and about the drug war. I needed answers to the questions [Joey] couldn’t answer anymore,” he said. When he wasn’t researching the subject, he began making his own prints depicting scenes of overdose deaths, the victims, and the authorities’ indifference. He cranked them out by the dozens on his manual press. “[Printing is] a physical act, and I’d do it until my arm was too tired to keep going. I would have stacks and stacks of them, and that’s how I dealt with my grief. On the second anniversary of his death, I hung a thousand prints around my town to commemorate.”

His act of remembrance for his brother had a surprising effect: People started talking about the overdoses. On the third day, the mayor ordered the police to tear the prints down, citing an ordinance against hanging anything from utility poles (they didn’t tear down the posters that other people had put up). DelMarcelle put another thousand up. They were torn down too. He then plastered prints over the entire front of a building owned by a relative. Even though this was private property and the prints were put up with the permission of the owner, they were torn down as well.

“Macey” screenprint on handmade paper.

His prints may have disappeared, but his campaign had already reached a lot of people. The media took notice, and the subject of overdoses, opioids, and the authorities’ response was in the spotlight in a way it hadn’t been before. Even more surprising to DelMarcelle, the Library of Congress asked for copies of his prints for their collection. He realized his art had the power to reach others and, he hoped might even foster change.

DelMarcelle knew he had found his subject, or his subject had found him, and has dedicated himself to using art to tell the stories of the lives affected by the opioid epidemic. He got funding to buy a theater projector and can now project his images onto buildings without fear of the police tearing them down. As his fame grew, so did the demand to exhibit his work. Unlike many artists, he doesn’t charge institutions and galleries to show his work. Instead, he requires them to include education or outreach about the drug epidemic to accompany the show. For example, local groups who support safe needle exchanges or harm reduction strategies could have stands or information booths alongside his work.

“Mariah” augmented reality (AR) application, screenshots of app operation.

More recently, he worked with collaborators to “virtually hack” the Met. The Sackler Wing of the museum was, as the name suggests, funded by the Sackler family. The family owns Purdue Pharma, which created OxyContin — an opioid many consider the drug that started today’s opioid crisis. DelMarcelle and his collaborators wanted a way to expose how institutions like the Met were more than willing to take money from individuals or companies responsible for great harm and turn a blind eye to how the money was made.

They used augmented reality (AR) to superimpose the story of the opioid crisis through the life and death of one of its young victims on Met exhibits. It works like this: you download the Mariah App onto your smartphone, then, when you visit the Sackler Wing of the Met and point your phone at the exhibits, you see and hear an alternative narrative. Instead of learning about the mummies and artifacts from ancient Egypt, you learn about Mariah Lotti, who was addicted to opioids and died of an overdose at the age of 19. As you tour the wing and point your phone at different artifacts, you learn about other victims of the epidemic as well as the connections between the crisis and the Sacklers.

Interestingly, the Met recently decided to remove the Sackler name from the wing and other spaces in response to the public outrage at the role Purdue Pharma played in the crisis.

When he first began making art about the opioid crisis and those affected by it, he was angry. He wanted and expected the police to kick down doors and pursue the dealer who had sold Joey the drugs that killed him. He wanted revenge. He wanted action against dealers and suppliers. He was a brother who had lost a brother and wanted heads to roll. Today his attitude is more nuanced. He sees the opioid crisis as part of a bigger and more complicated picture of drugs and society. “If you asked me seven years ago about safe injection sites, I would have said it would be the downfall of society,” he said. “Now I’m a big advocate for them.” He believes harm reduction is more effective than long prison sentences and the criminalization of drug users. If you provide safe environments for people to take drugs, clean needles, outreach, information, you can help keep people alive until such time as they are ready to try treatment options.

In the years since his brother’s death, he has produced many images of people who have died of overdoses. These images are important as memorials to the victims, but they are also ways of humanizing them. He wants his audiences to see the victims as real people just like his brother or Mariah, people with potential and families that loved them, people who could have contributed to society and lived long, productive lives. These positive images are in direct contrast to the images in mainstream media of disease-ravaged criminals who will do anything for their drugs. He points out that both Joey and Mariah are more typical faces of substance use disorder — young, apparently healthy, and not criminal. He argues that it’s easy for legislators to dismiss funding for drug rehabilitation and other interventions if the victims are depicted as depraved, criminal, or marginalized.

Similarly, he believes the language we use to describe the drug crisis is important. “I was talking about addicts and addiction when I first started this,” he said. But he now uses different words, again to humanize the victims and to remove some of the stigma. Instead of being addicts or drug abusers, they are people who suffer from a substance use disorder. And he points out that they are often regular members of society holding down jobs, rearing children, contributing to their communities. They are siblings, friends, and neighbors, not criminal drug fiends. “If you can do one thing, don’t use addict in your vocabulary,” he said. “Small changes can lead to bigger changes.”

DelMarcelle continues to produce work and advocate for the victims of the crisis. He is collaborating with an art icon from an earlier epidemic — the AIDS epidemic. Eric Avery is a doctor, psychiatrist, and artist who worked on the frontlines of that crisis and produced woodcuts depicting the suffering and strength of his contemporaries in the face of AIDS. Together, Avery and DelMarcelle have put together an exhibition entitled “Epidemic” that is touring the country and features works juxtaposing scenes from both epidemics.

DelMarcelle’s success and growing reputation are bittersweet. He is happy his work reaches others and helps foster understanding of the drugs crisis, but the motivation and original impetus has not lost any of its associated pain. “I work nonstop because I’m scared of stopping and having to face the fact my family has lost some-one to opioids,” he said.

 

RELATED: The Phoenix Spread Fledgling Wings Three Dancers – Three Very Different Dances Letter from the President

Letter from the President

Two years ago, I arrived at a college that was the 25th fastest growing institution in the country, according to “Business Journals.” And shortly thereafter, Covid-19 became one of the most frequently used words in our lexicon. It is hard to imagine that we are now in our third academic year facing a pandemic and its impacts. Wilson’s students and their families have been greatly affected, and as a result, in the last two years, we have seen decreased enrollment, and thus, revenue. Our faculty and staff have been stretched in unimaginable ways. It has been one of the most difficult periods in Wilson’s 153-year history.

And yet, the Wilson spirit thrives. Having students return to campus last fall for what might be described as a “new normal” has been exhilarating. They fuel me and others who serve Wilson. Our alums and supporters have given generously. As I tour the country speaking about our new strategic plan, “Future Wilson: The Phoenix Rises,” as well as about the challenges we face as a result of the pandemic, I have been greeted with open arms and support. We had a most remarkable Giving Tuesday when approximately 150 donors contributed nearly $100,000 to the College, and we met two generous challenges by three alumnae from the class of 1964. Thank you to each of you who has been so generous.

The Wilson spirit also burns brightly through the work of those in our campus community. This issue of “Wilson Magazine” highlights how our faculty, students, and alums bring voice to issues about which they are passionate. Since our founding as a place to give women an education when it was not readily available to them, Wilson has always been engaged in advancing causes that align with our values.

This work is important to me personally. Over the last year, I have advocated locally for more inclusive policies in the Chambersburg community and joined a national effort urging Congress to double the Pell Grant, a program that serves financially needy students and between 36-40% of Wilson students in a given year.

Wilson has always been a place that is committed to giving voice to important issues. I am proud of how we continue to model that today. I hope that you enjoy learning about how this work continues at the College.

I would be remiss if I did not note that I hope to meet many more of you in the days and weeks to come as I complete my introductory tour. Additionally, I hope to see many of you in June for One Grand Reunion, a unique moment of having three different years of reunions at one time. I hope it will be one of the largest gatherings of the Wilson family in our history and a unique time to celebrate being together with one another.

While we all continue to face challenges resulting from the pandemic, I know that with your help, as #oneWilson, the College will continue to make a transformative impact on the lives of our students. For all you do, I am most grateful.

Wesley R. Fugate

RELATED: The Phoenix Spread Fledgling Wings Three Dancers – Three Very Different Dances All Action Artist