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KCAD Students, GR Poet Laureate Partner for Powerful Message on Mental Health

Posted February 28, 2018 in StudentDigital Art and Design

Grand Rapids Poet Laureate Marcel Price, aka Fable the Poet, believes that art can reframe the conversation around mental health in America, and he isn’t alone.

Fable and students in the Digital Art and Design program at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) recently collaborated on a series of videos combining spoken-word poetry, digital animation, and music into a powerful statement on mental illness and the social and cultural stigmas that can suffocate constructive dialogue on the issue.

"Aim At Houdini" by Fable the Poet, animated by KCAD Digital Art and Design students

The project is part of EPIC, an initiative of the Digital Art and Design program that propels students into collaborative, service-oriented projects geared toward developing digital media that educates and inspires a wide variety of audiences. Professor Bill Fischer sees EPIC projects as a way to empower students to do more with their creativity.

“Science tells us that the more senses media engages, the more likely people are to internalize the information that media presents, so we were extremely interested to explore how digital animation could change the way people relate to Fable’s work,” Fischer says.

Diagnosed with anxiety, bi-polar disorder, and depression at age 14, Fable has since embraced poetry as a vehicle for unpacking his experiences with mental illness and sharing them with others. In addition to publishing and performing his work, he also travels around the country speaking to youth about mental health in partnership with Mental Health America.  

“Ever since publishing my first book of poems [Adrift in a Sea of M&Ms], I wanted to see them brought to life with animation,” Fable says. “The point of this entire project is to get people talking about what they have been through, and helping those with similar experiences through the process by showing them they are not alone.”

After hearing Fable describe the stories behind his poems and what they meant to him, the KCAD students were challenged to create animations that captured their own emotional response to the poems, and would elicit equally stirring emotional responses from viewers.

“I was floored; it turned out more raw and beautiful than I could have ever imagined,” Fable says of the finished videos. “The students put themselves into the work and were able to relate to it due to their own personal experiences.”  

"Don't Mind Me" by Fable the Poet, animated by KCAD Digital Art and Design students

Students also had the opportunity to interface with Danielle Fritze, Senior Director of Public Education and Digital Communication for Mental Health America, who helped them ensure the accuracy and effectiveness of their visual messaging.

“Working with students is a great opportunity for us to better understand how younger people are thinking and talking about mental health,” says Fritze. “In turn, I hope the experience has helped these students be more mindful when talking about people living with mental health conditions.”

As in all EPIC projects, working with Fable and Mental Health America exposed the students to a simulated professional environment that mirrored experiences and situations they’ll encounter in the real world.

“It was really eye-opening to learn how to work as a team and share ideas across multiple platforms,” explains Digital Art and Design student Piper Fields. “This project took us out of the usual classroom setting because there was a real need to create something that could be seen, used, and experienced outside of ‘my world.’”

So far, the results have been encouraging. The first video in the series, “Aim at Houdini,” already has over 10,000 views, and Fable has been flooded with stories and reactions from viewers who connected deeply with both the medium and the message.

“I would say that’s the most incredible part of this project, that people are hearing this poem more than ever before, because now they can see it as well,” he says.

"Did You Know" by Fable the Poet, animated by KCAD Digtial Art and Design students

It’s not just that the students’ work is gaining exposure; it’s making a difference as well. Going forward, Fable plans to screen the videos during future presentations to K-12 school groups. He’s also working with the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan to use the videos as a way to motivate people to take a free mental health screening assessment on the organization’s website.

For Fisher, it’s this kind of lasting impact that makes the Digital Art and Design program’s collaborative, community-focused projects memorable and valuable experiences for students.

“Our students were able to help create media experiences that Fable can use to fundamentally change the way people interact with those suffering from mental illness through an experience of profound empathy,” he says. “That’s powerful.”

Click here to learn more about KCAD’s Digital Art and Design program.