Assumption Professor and Alumna Shine Light on Engaging and Historic Mental Health Exhibit that Puts a Face on Mental Illness

Nov. 18, 2020
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The global pandemic has brought the importance of individual mental health to the forefront of the national public health conversation. Meanwhile, Paul Piwko, MBA, professor of practice of accounting, and Alexandra Orlandi ’19 continue their efforts to keep the issue in the forefront of Americans’ minds with their recent op-ed piece in the Coloradoan, reinforcing opportunities available for educating oneself on mental health issues. 

The op-ed lauds the Mental Health: Mind Matters exhibit on display at Fort Collins Museum of Discovery (FCMOD) in Colorado. According to Prof. Piwko and Orlandi, exhibitions such as Mental Health: Mind Matters stand as national examples of modern community health education where people are engaged in profound learning and understanding about mental health issues. Uniquely, the exhibition in Fort Collins was funded as a result of a ballot initiative to increase taxes in order to provide more mental health treatment and education. Through this exhibit, the citizens of Larimer County in Colorado have the opportunity to come together to understand and support mental health in their community.

Prof. Piwko and Orlandi write that visitors to the exhibit “are greeted by a wall of digital photographs of real people who have mental illness. Consistent with the demographic reality of mental illness, this wall looks like America.” They add that the “the courage of real people with mental illness to put their faces forward is historic,” allowing individuals to not only see, but feel the emotions of and put a real face to the unspoken diseases of mental illness. 

Prof. Piwko and Orlandi, who was a psychology major and human services and rehabilitation studies minor at Assumption, have spent the last few years  bringing awareness to how mental health exhibitions can help serve the needs of the country, and developing a business model to establish a museum dedicated to mental health. Together, they published a similar column in the Des Moines Register and spoke at the opening of a new exhibit at Logan International Airport in Boston. Prof. Piwko and Orlandi are co-developers of the National Museum of Mental Health Project, which shares research about mental health exhibitions.

An excerpt from the article was distributed to museums nationally by the American Alliance of Museums as part of their "Dispatches from the Future of Museums" e-newsletter.