People with mental health challenges, and those living with HIV are frequently marginalized and discriminated against.

University of Rochester Medical Center artist-in-residence, Charmaine Wheatley, believes that de-stigmatizing happens through humanizing.  As a result, each of her portraits involves an open hearted discussion with people affected by mental illness or by HIV.  Watercolored likenesses and words of individuals - in aggregate - a portrait of a community.

Creating portraits in this manner has become a regular part of Charmaine’s artistic practice.  During her ongoing residency at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, she sat in the “Living Room” with museum patrons and employees; an installation of 104 of these portraits is presently on view at the museum.

Recent related portrait work includes two residencies at senior centers in Brooklyn in 2016: Krakus in Greenpoint, which serves the Polish community, and Hope Gardens in Bushwick, serving the Hispanic population.

Nobody sees a flower — really — it is so small it takes time — we haven’t time — and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time. 

- Georgia O’Keeffe

Artist Biography

Charmaine Wheatley is a performance artist who records by watercolor drawing, typically housing works in pocket-sized tin boxes. She has published books: Beau Fleuve: The Heart of North America (2006), 30% of Buffalo (2009), and Brett's Ball (2014). In addition, her drawings have appeared in publications such as Border Crossings, FUKT, and C Magazine. Her art is held in international and library collections, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York.


Since graduating from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Wheatley has received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts; Arts Nova Scotia; and Arts Newfoundland Labrador. In 2012 Charmaine became an artist in residence for life at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, where she has had 2 long term exhibitions. Recent related portrait work includes two SU-CASA artist residencies with senior centers in 2016 through the Brooklyn Arts Council.

Wheatley is the artist in residence at the University of Rochester in New York since January 2017. Half the time working intimately with the mental health community creating portraits from life and the other half sitting with members of the HIV community in both Rochester and Buffalo.

Partners and Support

Individuals come from both Rochester and Buffalo, NY.  Locations for the sittings include the University of Rochester, Trillium Health, Evergreen Health (Buffalo, NY), Equal Grounds, Creative Wellness Opportunities, Strong Ties, Strong Recovery, and St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center.  We gratefully acknowledge the support of all of these organizations.  We would also like to especially thank those who have stood up to stigma by participating in this project.


Wheatley’s Artist-In-Residency and initiatives at the University of Rochester Medical Center have several sponsors.  They include the Center for AIDS Research, the Department of Psychiatry, the Division of Medical Humanities and Bioethics, URBEST, the Office of the SMD Vice Dean for Research, the Neuroscience Program and the School of Nursing - as well as programmatic support from the Department of Art and Art History.

How you can help!

  • Make a Gift to Support People Living with Mental Illness
  • Make a Gift to Support HIV Research
  • Become Involved in HIV Research: Volunteer
  • Learn to Use Language That Respects Persons Living With Mental Illness
  • Creative Wellness Opportunities in the Village Gate is one of Rochester’s most effective organisations. People who identify with having some level of mental health concerns can go there and make art for free and not have to worry about buying art supplies. No questions are asked about their diagnosis or if they have one. It’s a much cherished “judgment-free zone”.
    • Art supplies can be dropped off at CWO @ 320 Goodman St N #202, Rochester, NY 14607 (Please call ahead at (585) 325-3145 ext. 144, to schedule your donation: art paper, brushes, picture frames, stretched canvases, etc.)
    • Beyond donation, participants in CWO create artwork that can be purchased for a very affordable price. Available for an audience of all budgets, artwork purchased there will make a big difference to the careers and lives of individuals living with mental illness.