Youth record

Murals bring the youth research room to life

By Jeff Kelley

A long-standing partnership with a VCU researcher has allowed Brent Fagg, Senior Director of Licensing at Virginia Commonwealth University Innovation Gatewaythe opportunity to show his creative side.

Since November, the 43-year-old has taken on a project to create colorful and imaginative murals on the basement walls of VCU West Hospital inside a small youth research room at risk.

During construction of the high-tech virtual reality room last year, Nicholas D. Thomson, Ph.D., forensic psychologist and research director for the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health Trauma Center, needed a child friendly space. artwork for the walls. Fagg, a self-taught artist who learned to draw and paint three years ago, mentioned he had a few pieces he could help bring to life in the space.

“I had no idea Brent’s artistry, and when he showed me his style, it was exactly what I was looking for,” Thomson said. “His art is very close to this Banksy style, street-art. I jumped at the chance. »

Just like Fagg.

“He was like, ‘If you’re interested, you can just paint directly on the walls,'” Fagg said. “I had only done a few murals before that. It’s very different from painting on canvas or wood, which I normally do, where you have more control.

Fagg started the project the day after Thanksgiving. The centerpiece took two weeks to complete: a 14-foot section of wall that looks like a sheet of notebook paper from the left, but as the art flows to the right, fills with a colorful and – for Nintendo faithful – familiar scene of the Mario world. The mural also features a baby Yoda, the astronaut beings from the video game Among Us, and charcoal drawings of Spider-Man and Princess Peach.

On the adjacent walls, Fagg dropped two abstract paintings of him and his wife (a VCU research administrator), Lindsey Dougherty’s two children, covered in what appear to be splatters of paint. It is an effect obtained not by Jackson Pollock on the walls, but in stencil. All artwork was created using meticulously cut stencils, spray paint (charcoal for a few characters), and masking tape.

“Lots and lots of duct tape,” Fagg said. Stencils were cut by hand, usually at home, with one stencil for each layer of each character or object. “In fact, the painting took the least amount of time. It’s all the prep work.

Aware of the spray paint fumes, Fagg, a U.S. Navy veteran and nuclear-trained mechanical engineer who served on the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, installed ducts to vent the air out of the room. , down a hallway and through a door in the basement of the hospital.

Create a youth-friendly environment

Without the murals, the room’s walls would otherwise be a stagnant beige – and, for a child, perhaps a little intimidating.

Thomson’s research uses virtual reality to better understand conduct disorder in young people and to identify the different pathways by which children develop the disorder, which often leads to violent and criminal behavior. Thomson and his team hope to identify effective therapies to treat young people with this disorder. In addition to an award from the VCU Commercialization Fund, Thomson is supported by a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

“We didn’t want the room to feel like it was in a hospital basement or in a sterile environment,” he said. “We wanted it to be a cool place for young people to feel like they were hanging out and being part of something rather than being tested. This is essential because then you can get more authentic answers and young people really like to be part of the research.

Thomson said the art also created conversations with children, which helps researchers connect with them better.

Roles requiring creativity

In his role at VCU Innovation Gateway, Fagg and his colleagues are responsible for working with VCU researchers to protect intellectual property and commercialize their work. Many team members have an engineering background or a doctorate in the life sciences and pursue creative outlets ranging from cooking to tango and art. “In our work, having a creative mindset is very helpful,” Fagg said. “We have to be aware of a lot of different things and transition our minds and our work very quickly – so that lends itself to some creativity and someone who is open to exploration.”

Over the next few months, Fagg plans to paint murals on the remaining two walls of the room (he’s still looking for ideas). He does the pro bono work nights and weekends. “It’s just a lot of fun and it’s personally fulfilling work,” he said.

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