Citizen Artist Fellow Justus Harris fuses art & diabetes research

Citizen Artist Fellow Justus Harris with Illinois Institute of Technology researchers.

As we reach the end of November and Diabetes Awareness Month, we’re taking a closer look at the work of one of our 2018/2019 Citizen Artist Fellows, Justus Harris, whose artistic endeavors have a profound impact on the medical industry and beyond.

Justus Harris is a patient, artist, and educator based in Chicago. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and depression as a teenager, he has since combined his artistic training and patient experiences to found MedSculpt, an organization that designs art-based, 3-D visual educational tools for people with diabetes and chronic conditions.

“My developments with health data visualization and art aim to make research and health understandable to people regardless of age or education level.” — Justus Harris

Hear from Justus as he discusses the role of an artist and patient during medical studies:

After the trial, we stood at a table and talked about all the variables involved, myself — the expert patient — the doctor, researchers, and nurses. I asked everyone why they choose to do this with their life, spending their days by a computer and a bedside, going through halls on rounds non-stop, sacrificing their own sleep to monitor others sleeping. The answer was that they wanted to make the lives of other people better. Our collaboration was proof of this shared goal. We used our different skills to create tools which give people back the freedom of health while maintaining a sense of control. My developments with health data visualization and art aim to make research and health understandable to people regardless of age or education level.

The image above shows Harris during his participation in artificial pancreas research at the University of Chicago to develop an automated insulin pump. His Diabetes Data Sculptures featured on the right were inspired by his experiences trying to understand the massive amounts of personal health data during these studies. Each sculpture is a summary of a month of health where color, form, and shape describe health without the need for charts graphs and numbers.

Four individuals with Type 1 & Type 2 diabetes wearing Justus’s MedSculp Diabetes Awareness pendants at the 2018 American Diabetes Association Health & Wellness Expo.
“More than 100 million people in the U.S. are living with diabetes or prediabetes. For me, one of the roles of art is making this often invisible epidemic visible.” — Citizen Artist Fellow Justus Harris.

Do you know an artist who uses their talents to effect social change? Nominate them to be a Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow today.