On a recent Saturday evening, after a week of bone-chilling temperatures and the stress of exams for many DMU students, it was time for a much-needed break. A group of approximately 60 students gathered via Zoom to unleash their inner Picassos in a painting session guided by three professional artists.
The event was the brainchild of Nimo Nour, D.O.’24, vice president of student affairs in the College of Osteopathic Medicine Student Government Association (COM SGA), who wanted to offer her classmates a safe yet social activity befitting pandemic prohibitions on large in-person gatherings.
“Medical school is tough, and sometimes it seems we just study on end. Something to help folks decompress and do an activity totally unrelated to school is much needed for our mental health,” she says. “My goals for the event were to have students walk away with a tangible product that reminds them it’s okay to take a break sometimes, and things will still be okay.”
COM SGA provided each of the participating students with an eight-by-ten-inch stretched canvas, 12 colors of acrylic paint and two small brushes. The event began with the three artists introducing themselves; then participants could choose which artist to join in a breakout room. One of the artists, Hannah Lentfer, has illustrated children’s books and painted a mural for the Northeast Iowa Food Bank in Waterloo and the sign welcoming people to her hometown of Hudson, IA, for the Hudson Lions Club. Now a first-year osteopathic medical student at DMU, she guided students in painting a desert scene.
“I participated as a volunteer facilitator because I thought it would be a fun opportunity to connect with fellow students,” she says. “Distanced learning makes it difficult for students – first-year students, especially – to get to know one another. The event went very well, and I’m glad to have had the chance to get to meet some classmates.”
The two other artists, both art teachers, were Paula Rotschafer, whose group painted a starry nightscape, and David Borzo, who guided students in creating a Picasso-style painting. A lifelong artist and Des Moines resident, he teaches at Edmunds Elementary School, has had his works published in many publications and has won dozens of top ribbons at art shows.
“There is no question in my mind that art and the process of creating art are as important as any discipline to the human experience. Art acts as a behavioral conduit to inner peace,” he says. “Art can be meditative, calming; it can be supportive of your mental and emotional health. And it is intellectually stimulating as well, challenging and comforting, all at the same time. There are no ends to the benefits.”
When she received the email message to students inviting them to participate in the painting session, Olivia Matz, a dual-degree student in DMU’s doctor of osteopathic medicine and master of science in anatomy programs, initially thought she would be too busy.
“But after thinking about it, I realized that a painting night was exactly what I needed,” she says. She joined David’s session. “He gave us wonderful step-by-step instructions and gave suggestions along the way to allow us to be as creative as we desired. As medical students, we are so used to following the rules and memorizing exactly how we are supposed to do things, but that night we were able to break free from those constraints.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the painting session and need one again very soon as I have recently discovered that I am a budding Picasso,” she adds.