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Jill Bolte Taylor Uses Art To Teach Others About The Brain

Jill Bolte Taylor says the twenty-two brains placed around Bloomington will teach people more about how their own brains work.

  • Brain

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    Photo: Mia Partlow/Indiana Public Media

    A brain stuck with lightning bolts sits outside of the Indiana University Fine Arts building.

  • colorful Brain

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    Photo: Mia Partlow/Indiana Public Media

    A colorful brain in the IU Arboretum is one of twenty-two placed throughout Bloomington

  • brain

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    Photo: Mia Partlow/Indiana Public Media

    A brain decorated green and black and butterflies is in the Herman B Wells library.

  • Jill Bolte Taylor and a fiberglass brain

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    Photo: Mia Partlow/WFIU

    Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor poses with the brain sculpture she designed.

Brain Extravaganza!

Jill Bolte Taylor is a brain scientist who studied her own brain while she was having a stroke. She works now to raise awareness about brain health. Her latest project is a public arts display in Bloomington Indiana featuring, of course, brains.

It’s similar to the cows in Chicago, Dolphins in Atlanta and pigs in Cincinnati, but this may be the first time an anatomically correct organ has ever been on parade.

“We’re blooming brains, tons of brains in Bloomington. It’s beautiful!” Bolte Taylor says in a gymnasium crowded with hundreds of people.

She is standing on the bleachers in the gymnasium, looking over a sea of colorful fiberglass brains and a crowd gathered to see them unveiled. 

I feel like a mother getting ready to send her babies out into the world.” -Jill Bolte Taylor

“It’s really about me going out on a limb and saying how could I bring brains into the world in a fun and interesting way where people can say brains are cool- so today we all say it together – brains are cool,” she says.

Bolte Taylor has been involved in the whole process- you can call it her brainchild.  She came up with the idea, worked to develop the prototype, selected the artists, and even designed one of the brains herself. Her creation is the teaching brain.

She has to get down on the floor and underneath the brain to show off its features.

“And down here are all the 12 pairs of cranial nerves so up in here cranial nerve #1 goes to cranial nerve #1 – this is the olfactory and this is how we smell.  We smell because of that.  So this way people can learn their 12 optical nerves and can realize I can smell because I have a group of cells in my brain that does that,” she explains.

No Two Brains Are Alike

“When Jill Bolte Taylor calls and says I’ve got an idea for you then you want to hear it,” Bloomington’s arts director Miah Michaelsen says. “You know, there’s just no telling and when she first showed it, it was like oh my gosh, this could really be something.”

Each of the 22 brains is as unique as the artist who designed it. There’s a fiber optic brain, a spray foam brain with lights, a chalk board brain and even a brain that appears to be sporting a Mohawk and wearing a knitted sweater.

Bloomington resident Megan Niese brought her family which was visiting from out of town.

“We wanted to bring them to something different and something uniquely Bloomington,” Niese says. “In a lot of ways and this is just one of those great examples of something that happens here.”

The city’s mayor, Mark Kruzan thinks the exhibit will be another reason to put Bloomington on the map.

“It’s something Bloomington does well,” he says. “Take an important topic but approach it from a whimsical perspective.”

Each brain has an accompanying sign that has facts about the brain and a QR code so you can download an app and play a brain game as you visit all the sculptures.

As the crowd filtered out, the brains were loaded into trucks and taken to their locations around Bloomington.

“I feel like a mother getting ready to send her babies out into the world,” Bolte Taylor says.

The brains will be on display through the fall. And when people visit Bolte Taylor hopes they’re inspired to learn more about what’s going on inside their own heads.

“This is part of the blessing of me having that stroke is that it got me on a separate path – a parallel path,” she says. “I still became fascinated with the brain, but I have a certain level of freedom now to do it differently. So instead of being in a lab doing the work, now I’m more how do we make this fun and interesting.”

Bolte Taylor is in talks to bring similar exhibits to other cities and possibly create some permanent installations as well.

Sara Wittmeyer

Sara Wittmeyer is the News Bureau Chief for WFIU and WTIU. Sara has more than a decade of experience as a news reporter and previously served with KBIA at the University of Missouri, WNKU at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, KY, and at WCPO News in Cincinnati.

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