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VCU graduate’s nonprofit provides a creative outlet for the community

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Jeanine Guidry is a graduate of the Department of Health Behavior and Policy and a member of the sexual and domestic violence research group at the Institute for Women’s Health.
Photos by DJ Glisson, Firefly Imageworks

By all measures, Jeanine Guidry is a miracle. Born three months premature, she was not supposed to have survived, not in today’s medical world and certainly not 50 years ago. It may be why she was destined for a great calling in life.

Guidry, Ph.D., was born and raised in the Netherlands. With two nurses as sisters and a physician as a brother, she naturally developed an affinity for medicine and health.

“My dream as a small child was to go to medical school, become a doctor, and work in humanitarian aid in Asia and Africa,” she said.

Her life didn’t exactly pan out that way but, through health care and other outlets, Guidry has fulfilled her goal to help people.

Guidry, a graduate of the Department of Health Behavior and Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University, is a member of the sexual and domestic violence research group at the Institute for Women’s Health, and an affiliate faculty member at VCU’s Media + Health Initiative. Guidry recently joined the faculty of the Robertson School of Media and Culture as an assistant professor of public relations. She conducts research on the effects of social media and mobile technology in health communications.

Now she is finding out the effects of her creativity and talents on the Richmond community. Through music and art, Guidry is connecting her community in ways that social media never could. She sings to speak to people and paints to break down walls.

Guidry runs a nonprofit, called Offering, that does work in music and murals. It began as a musical band, and plays a diverse range of instruments, from keyboards and drums to cajon and cellos. The band comprises 15 members, all volunteers, who play when they find the time.

Guidry describes her music as acoustic rock/alternative, an eclectic “mix between Adele, Mumford & Sons, Lumineers, Muse and jazz.” The band has played for numerous causes around Richmond, including at the city jail, the VCU Medical Center and the Carytown Watermelon Festival.

While the band has carried out her mission for eight years, Guidry wanted to do more.

“What else could we do that would make a tangible difference in people’s lives?” she asked. “We started thinking, what if we find places in Richmond, and other places, that could use some love and care visually, but that do not have the resources to hire muralists?”

Guidry decided she would fill this need by inviting volunteers for community art projects. Initially, a few artists volunteered. With no real marketing, she hosted an event and was able to attract 150 volunteers through a combination of word-of-mouth and bystanders walking up and participating. In all, 12 murals were painted.

“I think music and murals — art, really — can be so powerful to bring people together,” Guidry said. “It breaks down barriers, breaks down walls, and it transcends cultural and, often, language barriers.”

Guidry, center front, with volunteers at a recent Arts in the Alley event.
Guidry, center front, with volunteers at a recent Arts in the Alley event.

Offering’s art component, called Arts in the Alley, has an even more inclusive nature than the band. The whole community is invited to participate. Guidry and her team find a spot that could use some decoration and, of course, with the approval of the community, paint creative murals. Arts in the Alley has painted 100 murals to date.

“Jackson Ward, Church Hill, Fulton Hill, Petersburg and China — yes, the country,” Guidry said. “We work with the community to design murals, invite anyone to come clean and prep the wall and paint, and, over the course of the weekend, paint between one and four large outdoor — at times indoor — murals.”

No one is judged on talent, Guidry said. All that matters is the intention.

“I am not a painter at all, my only creative talent is singing, but I love bringing people together and seeing neighborhoods become more beautiful and kind and safer places,” she said. “People don’t have to be able to paint or have artistic talents, our artists create a kind of huge ‘paint by numbers.’ Our youngest volunteer was 24 months old.”

The Ph.D. Guidry just earned in social and behavioral sciences is indicative of her desire to identify and understand people’s deepest feelings. She focuses on how people use social media and mobile technology to communicate fears, experiences and thoughts on controversial topics.

“Health and social justice issues affect people at a profound level, and the connection with social and mobile technology allows for engagement that we have not seen in this manner before,” she said. “How do we address people’s habits, but also their fears and concerns which so often spread fast online? How do we help people live healthier lives?”

Guidry’s nonprofit helps people release creativity and pent-up energy in a socially responsible way. The same manner in which people express their thoughts on social media can be done through art and music, she said. Her research topics, her nonprofit cause, her work on campus, even her free time, all have one common thread, and that is to help people.

“RVA is a beautiful city with so much art and culture in all manners and ways, and with so much history,” she said. “Obviously, most of that history is complex and some of it is dark, which is why I believe all of this matters so much: music, art, science and community.”

 

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