Art, Coffee, and Mindfulness: One Scholar’s Toolkit for Community Change

Art, Coffee, and Mindfulness: One Scholar’s Toolkit for Community Change

Jade Gutiérrez’s varied interests may, at first, seem contradictory to one another. She oversees a research project at CU Boulder yet is critical of the ivory tower of academia. Her impossibly busy schedule allots time for, of all things, mindfulness and pottery making. And her work in CU’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience was preceded by her work as an art curator.

These unexpected alignments may be puzzling on paper, but the common threads which unite and explain them are illuminated by the stories Jade tells of her personal and professional development.

A 2012 Boettcher Scholar from Bayfield, a small town outside of Durango, Jade pursued undergraduate degrees in studio art and art history from CU Boulder which helped prepare her to teach high school art history in Colorado Springs and later curate for the Peyton Wright Gallery in Santa Fe, NM.

Jade’s specialty as a curator was “decolonizing artworks and methodologies from First Nations and Latin America.” She explains that the work of decolonizing artworks varies by context. She believes that sometimes, indigenous artworks should be returned to the people from whom they were stolen or otherwise misappropriated. Other times, they may be displayed but require tasteful and culturally aware exhibitions. Such exhibitions can make culturally dominant audiences uncomfortable. In her view, “members of dominant cultures should reckon with their oppressive histories when they appreciate the fruits of that oppression in a museum.”

Beyond artwork, Jade is concerned with decolonizing methodologies as well. She focuses on auspicious approaches to art, wellness, and academic inquiry that have been largely discounted by western academia. Specifically, she has taken interest in mindfulness as a means of mental health care as well as community-based research (CBR) as a means of academic inquiry. CBR is a partnership approach to research that involves community members as equal partners in knowledge, discovery, and issue analysis.

Jade’s commitment to elevating alternative methodologies drew her to CU’s new Renée Crown Wellness Institute. With its emphasis on CBR, the transition from the art world to the research world seemed natural. She now manages the Mindful Campus Project, one of the institute’s 15 research endeavors.

The Mindful Campus Project is, in part, meant to accommodate ever-increasing student demand for CU’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services. In order to assess the degree to which mindfulness-based interventions can help address this demand, Jade is working with 12 undergraduate students who are part of the project’s target audience.

In accordance with CBR, these 12 students co-design the project’s research and will be co-authors on whatever is published as a result. This lies in contrast to more traditional western research paradigms, under which members of a target audience might be studied as a focus group rather than treated as equal-stake investigators.

The Mindful Campus Project keeps Jade busy, but it does not interfere with her work as an adjunct professor in MSU Denver’s Department of Art History, nor does it prevent her from pottery making or avid rock climbing. When asked how she manages all this, she responds: “Like most Boettcher Scholars, I have a pretty high threshold for multitasking.” She later reveals that coffee bears significant responsibility for this high threshold and that much of the pottery she makes is coffee-inspired.

Jade also says her involvement in the Boettcher Scholar community has provided the kind of mental support she hopes the Mindful Campus Project will one day help provide to CU students at large. She says her gratitude for the scholarship is hard to quantify: “Maybe this is a little melodramatic, but [the Boettcher Foundation] probably saved my life.” Jade is thankful for the range of college options afforded by the Boettcher Scholarship and the freedom from working full-time or taking out loans to pay her way through school. Likewise, her career choices were made more possible by the absence of student loan debt.

Jade Gutiérrez is a mosaic of a scholar; her successes show not only that one can have interdisciplinary and seemingly unrelated interests, but also that those interests can be quite complementary. Someone with such varied interests can never be too sure what their future holds, but one thing seems certain: Jade and her coffee-related pottery are just getting started changing the community for the better.

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