New GRAD Art Break wellness series supports graduate student mental health
“It was therapeutic to just be. We painted, we laughed, we ate,” reflected Farheen Raaj, rock painting participant and Ted Rogers MBA student.
On a sunny Tuesday afternoon this June, graduate students from various disciplines made their way to Kerr Hall quad for “GRAD Art Break: Rock painting in the quad! (external link) ” The rock painting session, hosted by the Yeates School of Graduate Studies, is part of a new wellness event series acknowledging the holistic needs of graduate students. In response to the enduring effects of the pandemic on student mental health, the series invites students to take a break from their daily activities, engage with their creativity and build community with others from different programs who they may not otherwise have the chance to meet along their graduate journeys.
Exercising creativity fosters personal wellbeing
In alignment with the university’s new systems-level approach to well-being on campus, the GRAD Art Break series creates collective spaces for artmaking as a pathway to healing, learning and community building. GRAD Art Break welcomes everyone as an artist, considering creativity and the creative process as a human behaviour. Finally, GRAD Art Break honours different ways of knowing and being.
“At YSGS, we recognize the very complex challenges our graduate students and postdocs face, while they're navigating graduate school and starting out on their careers,” comments Dr. Nancy Walton, Associate Dean, Student Affairs. “For students and postdocs who are deeply immersed in their programs and work, and the multiple demands of their roles, GRAD Art Break helps open up space not only for them to reflect and express themselves, but also to build supportive community, work together without demands or time-sensitive goals, and to take time out of their day to be present, in the moment.”
“Personal well-being and community are vital components of our grad school journey,” said Omar Nusrat, Medical Physics PhD student. “Events like GRAD Art Break have great value; painting rocks with all sorts of different designs was a simple reminder for us to balance our intense academic work with outdoor activities and social interaction.”
“The rock painting was a much-appreciated moment of Zen,” said Raaj. “Balancing my MA thesis prep and MBA tests and quizzes, I felt the need to do something silly and quiet that would allow me to get out of my head, and rock painting was exactly the kind of grounding activity I needed… The sun, the grass and the rocks were soothing”.
“I really loved the experience of sitting in the quad under the sun beneath the shadows of the trees with breezes coming along with chirping sounds of birds,” commented Vivek Agrawal, Master of Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship student.
Relaxed atmosphere encourages meaningful social connection
The open-studio format allows students to express themselves and exercise their creativity at their own pace. This type of non-directed space in which students can come as they are, supports organic community-based interaction, helping to reduce feelings of isolation.
“All the conversations happened naturally, and no one was forced to engage any more or less than they wanted to. There wasn't any pressure to connect or do any icebreaking,” said Raaj. “I really wish more people would take advantage of opportunities like this. There are such few chances to meet people beyond your own class. Even if you don't make long-lasting connections, it's nice to share a moment together in the chaos of grad life.”
While the warmer months are quieter for many, we know the demands of graduate studies carry on throughout the summer. At GRAD Art Break, we invite you to give yourself space to recharge, rest and reflect with your peers through creative activities! Join us on Tuesday, July 18 on the 7th floor of the DCC, noon-2 p.m., for our next GRAD Art Break: Acrylic pour painting. Make some groovy fluid art and great memories with your grad community! No artistic experience is required, and the event is open to all grad students and postdocs. All materials will be provided and a light lunch will be served, we hope to see you then!