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Double dip: Dentistry meets visual artistry in Georgia Regents University dental school gallery

January 20, 2014

By Jean Williams, ADA News staff

.—In treating oral conditions and diseases, dentists deal in millimeters of space, aesthetics, proportion, shape and other similar considerations. Sounds a lot like artistry.

Woodworking: Dr. L. Travis Smith carved this linden and cherry wood sailboat named "Tu Es le Vent Dans Mes Voiles," which can be found on level four of the GRU College of Dental Medicine.


Artistic dentists: Dr. Nathan Dallas created this blown glass vase called "J's Peace" that he donated to the GRU College of Dental Medicine art gallery. It is displayed on level three of the building.

Augusta, Ga

Georgia Regents University College of Dental Medicine pays homage to the correlation between the visual arts and dentistry with an unusual art gallery—perhaps the only one of its kind in America—housed in its new facilities in Augusta, Ga. The 175-plus works curated for the collection Transcendental: Works of Impression include pieces that dentists created and many that non-artist dentists donated from personal collections. The rest came from other individuals wanting to support the dental school.

"They often call dentistry an art and science, and so the art part of dentistry can transcend beyond the mouth, basically," said Dr. Connie Drisko, former dean of GRU College of Dental Medicine. "If you think about it, most of the artistic work that dentists do has to do with shape and color and function and a variety of different materials—ceramics and gold and silver amalgam and all kinds of different materials."

Dr. Drisko oversaw the installation of the art gallery, including a grand opening in March 2013, after the new building opened and before she left the dental school last summer.

The inkling for incorporating art first came to Dr. Drisko after a trip abroad visiting another dental school. "About 15 years ago, I visited a new dental school at Eastman in England," Dr. Drisko said.

"The dean there told me that they had set aside a certain percent of the cost of the building for art. I was admiring all of the unusual art that he had in the building. And then our cancer center here purchased art for the cancer clinical center, and I thought, "'Ooh, that's really cool for patients to come in and have something to look at other than just the walls with some printed pictures from some magazine.'"

Patients, though, are the main inspiration for adorning the facility with art, Dr. Drisko said. "We're a patient- and family-centered care university and health science center, and we have about 20 patient- and family-centered care advisers who are patients here at the dental school or on the campus at the hospital. They're the ones, when we were designing our new building, who kept saying, 'Don't make it look like an institution. Make it soft. Make it nice. Make it friendly. Make it warm and inviting.' "

The patient advisers weighed in on everything from dental chairs to wayfinding in the building, Dr. Drisko said. "They're the ones who said, 'Don't give us a scary looking box. We want something pleasant and nice to walk into and to not feel like we're walking into a hospital or dental school,'" she said.

For their efforts, those advisers and all other GRU dental school patients get to experience an assortment of paintings, sculpture, wood carvings, memorabilia and other art dispersed throughout the 270,000 square-foot dental school facility.

"It took us about 18 months to collect 175 items," Dr. Drisko said. "We had a committee that I invited to help, which was made up of our president, who is an artist himself—a very talented artist. He was one of our very first donors. He has a spot of great importance on the first floor at the first registration desk area."

GRU President Ricardo Azziz, M.D., M.P.H and M.B.A, contributed "Missing Orange Series: Cure," a linocut collage in pen and ink, colored pencil and acrylic to the collection.

The curating of art for the gallery is ongoing, Dr. Drisko said. "We would still be happy to receive more pieces," she said.