Unable to get involved with existing student art groups at Penn, Paige Golden (C '23) and Alexa Cornacchia (C '23) launched a mission to start something on their own. The two friends co–founded Penn Art and Wellness, an organization combining collaborative art, community service, and mindfulness.
“When we met our freshman year, Paige and I would sit in my room and do art together to relieve stress from busy days,” Alexa said about the beginning of their new student group. “The idea came from us painting on the same canvas when we were stressed. We wanted to share that with more people.”
Rejections from a few of Penn’s other visual art student groups planted the seed for this new group, but Paige and Alexa emphasize Penn Art and Wellness’ inclusivity. “We wanted to create and facilitate an environment where anyone that’s interested in any type of art is welcome,” said Alexa. Their club is stress–free and judgement–free, one of the few spaces on campus that has little expectations.
She went on to explain another goal: “We were hoping to work together with other organizations to spread teachings about art therapy to other communities, such as schools in West Philly and mental health facilities.”
Of course, the pandemic has slowed Paige and Alexa's ability to begin these outreach efforts, but they’re hopeful to begin working with communities outside Penn in the near future. For now, the two women have made adjustments to transition to Zoom.
Paige explained that at the beginning of last semester, in the few months before the pandemic, funding from Penn Wellness allowed her and Alexa to purchase large canvases on which members painted together cartoonish shapes. While she spoke, Paige tilted her screen to show one of the vibrant canvases which hung above her. They hope to donate the final pieces to local schools or hospitals.
Despite the obvious difficulties created by online meetings, Paige and Alexa have not been thwarted, managing to maintain the essential collaborative aspect of their student group. Penn Art and Wellness still hosts weekly meetings, which begin with a ten to 15 minute meditation session and encourage participants to work on individual freestyle art.
A collaborative Spotify playlist, which features a mix of members' songs, has been another pandemic–born solution for maintaining a synergistic feel. Alexa described the influence of music on the joint artwork created in past meetings, saying, “Last year, when we would all be painting on the same canvas, everyone would be in the same flow state. Despite different painting styles, it always [melded together] very well.”
Most interesting might be Paige and Alexa's solution to continuing to provide members with art supplies: care packages, sent to regularly attending members.
Penn Art and Wellness is also an excellent space for this year’s first years, who face unmatched difficulties meeting new people. “We’ve been able to direct our freshmen to other groups they might be interested in,” said Alexa.
Events like Paint with a Purpose, a politically–fueled art session which let members get election–related frustrations out on their canvases, have allowed Penn Art and Wellness to give space to timely issues in the name of “reducing mental pain at Penn.”
Looking ahead, Paige and Alexa plan on expanding their executive board in areas like marketing, finance, and community outreach.
They look forward to being "back on the same canvas” sometime soon.