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Since last month, students, faculty and staff have been watching the massive painting emerge as artist Julia Bottoms works her painterly magic. (Photo provided by the University at Buffalo)
Since last month, students, faculty and staff have been watching the massive painting emerge as artist Julia Bottoms works her painterly magic. (Photo provided by the University at Buffalo)

Art of diversity: A (much) larger-than-life mural takes shape in University at Buffalo medical school


Tue, Jan 16th 2024 01:10 pm

By the University at Buffalo

Something bright, beautiful and extraordinary is taking shape in the atrium of the University at Buffalo medical school.

See photos: https://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2024/01/Jacobs-School-diversity-mural-underway.html

On most days this month, artist Julia Bottoms can be found standing on the scissor lift, applying to the plain white walls of the second-floor atrium a vivid explosion of color. The purpose of the massive 50-foot-wide by 16-foot-tall floor-to-ceiling mural is to convey and celebrate the diversity of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB and to demonstrate that the school is a partner with the community.

Need for Color

The idea to create a mural in the Jacobs School first emerged back in 2019.

Raul Vazquez, M.D., a 1989 Jacobs School graduate; his wife, Toni Gaiter-Vazquez, Ed.D., a 1991 UB graduate; and the late Jonathan D. Daniels, M.D., a 1998 Jacobs School graduate and formerly associate director of admissions, saw the need to literally bring some color into the school. Vazquez is president of CINQCARE New York; he and his wife are the founders of Urban Family Practice and the Greater Buffalo United Accountable Healthcare Network (GBUAHN) in Buffalo.

“What’s been important to the Vazquez family and to everyone involved is to show how important diversity, inclusion and belonging are to the medical school and to tell that story in a bigger way,” said Jen Seth-Cimini, senior director of advancement in the Jacobs School, who is administering the project.

For Vazquez, that message is personal. He remembers that, when he arrived at the UB medical school in 1985, nobody looked like him. Today, the Jacobs School is a far more diverse place but, he said, there needs to be a way to communicate that to people, especially to visitors as they enter the building.

‘You Gotta See It to Be It.’

“Once the mural is done, we hope that our students and especially visitors will get a sense of our diversity and equity, which can make up a bit for the inequities they see in life,” Vazquez said. “We hear this cliché from high school and middle school students, ‘You gotta see it to be it.’ ”

That, in essence, is the point of the mural, and it’s central to the kind of art that Julia Bottoms has focused her career around.

“The Jacobs School is already a beautiful space and it’s a great environment to add that extra element to,” she said. “The idea of breaking new ground and representing a history or a community is always really exciting to me as an artist, and my larger body of work is in line with that.”

The mural shows UB students and alumni, some in scrubs, another in a white coat, chatting, walking, jogging; it shows a streetscape just outside the school, as well as students relaxing or jogging in a park.

“The mural reflects how much the Jacobs School community is an integral part of downtown Buffalo and how our students, faculty, staff and trainees all live and experience the campus as part of the city,” said Maria Wilson, inclusive excellence workforce specialist in the school’s office of inclusion and cultural enhancement.

Bottoms initially assumed the project would include the hiring of models; that changed once she met with the Jacobs School art committee.

“They wanted the mural to truly represent the school from start to finish, so we said, ‘What if we use Jacobs School students and alumni as our models and make the mural truly focused on UB?’ ” Bottoms said.

Wilson sent out a casting call to faculty, students, staff and trainees; more than twice as many individuals as needed responded.

“Our models were wonderful,” Bottoms said. “They were all good; it was so hard to choose.”

Up-Close and Personal

The opportunity to physically be in the school, working to create this important piece while physicians, scientists and students are walking by, taking it in, is also an experience Bottoms said she will never forget. She said she has felt privileged to experience the Jacobs School community up-close and personal and to see firsthand the dedication of its students, who are often studying into the wee hours of the morning.

“I see what a vibrant and diverse community the Jacobs School is,” Bottoms said. “I hope the mural helps people recognize that diversity.”

Vazquez and his wife, Toni, are funding the project, and their family has additional Jacobs School connections: Their daughter, Nina, graduated with an M.D. in 2023, while another daughter, Nadia, is in her second year.

The medical alumni association, the office of inclusion and cultural enhancement, the office of medical admissions and the office of the dean, as well as the art committees of UB and the Jacobs School, have been critical in making the mural a reality.

The mural is expected to be completed in the next few weeks; a public unveiling will be scheduled soon after.

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