How I Became an Artist Ambassador for Regenerative Medicine

I have been collaborating with the Regenerative Medicine Foundation (RMF) since 2010, and I’m often asked how I became involved with them. As we prepare to gather for the RMF’s annual conference in Berkeley, CA next week, I thought this would be a good time to tell you my story, and how my art fits in with the big picture mission of RMF to translate, communicate, educate, and advocate for regenerative medicine.

For me this all began with a simple visit from a friend. She pulled out a small book and began sharing a medical project with which she was involved. She told me about the RMF and the work of Dr. Tony Atala and his team at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, as well as the stories of so many more scientists, and institutes around the world. 

I, like the average person, was aware of some of these scientific accomplishments, but only on the periphery, and mostly based on what the media had communicated. After 10 passionate minutes, my friend had my ears pricked and my mind open. She explained the RMF’s wish to have art created that would help educate, communicate, and make accessible, the beautiful and hope-filled story of regenerative medicine.

The simple framework she gave me to work with was to visually interpret the story of regenerative medicine with the broad subjects of keys, locks and industries. I told her “I can get someone for you”, but she paused and said, ”No, we’d like you to do this.”

Kelly at work

Set back by the enormous compliment, yet faced with a far greater fear of the unknown, I took some time to consider this collaboration. But in the end, I embraced the gift of the challenge.

I saw the opportunity to become a part of our future, a part of helping to make supportive social statements with art. 
I realized this could be the start of a very special artistic and scientific collaboration for this scientific work.

Once I was in, the personal motivation and goal was not to fail. 
I needed to be fearless. I dove into learning and teaching myself about what regenerative medicine scientists do. I started with Stem Cells for Dummies 101, and graduated into big thick books on biogenetics and stem cell work. 
Once I was comfortable, (relatively), I took my scientific research cap off and I put my art cap back on.

I never left the house without locks and keys in my pockets and bags. They came with me on trains, planes, hikes, and daily drives. 
Anywhere inspiration struck, I stopped and captured the thought on film, and it would start the next chapter in this healing journey of images and written words.

Out in the field, choreographing my keys to capture images, I would encounter many inquisitive men women and children wondering, “what is she doing with these locks and keys”. 
I would often explain my special project to interpret the keys that unlock the body’s ability to heal itself through imagery of locks, keys, and mysteries.

With passion and hope I explained the science and the healing possibilities. The wonderful exchanges with passersby, and the opportunity to talk about why I was working with the keys and locks, helped shape the path for my visual interpretation of the science. 
Working with these symbols, tapping into seeing and asking “what if ?” … was necessary to convey not just art works with expectations for their usefulness, but also the magic, mystery, creativity, and paths with uncertain ends.

In my journey, I continue to discover that I have a well deep enough within my spirit and compassion to visually harness this extraordinary scientific revolution, to wear it like a badge, and become one of its proud ambassadors, doing all I can to advance the pace of medical change.

This is the world I want to live in. 
One that embraces this beautiful hope filled science. I have everyone’s color within me. Walk bravely beside me. We all hold the keys to the cure.

I continue to be asked; “What is it with these locks and keys?” “Do you get healed in anyway?” “How does this affect you personally?” 
- this is what I’d like to share Monday, May 5th at 6.30pm at the RMF conference free public event at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, California. The presentation, part of a panel discussion, is called “The Art of Science: Under the Surface”.

I hope our scientific community, our patient community, our artists, students, and anyone with a curiosity, will come out to join us on Monday, to celebrate our science artistically, visually, learn, and exchange stories of progress.

My hope is we will all leave aligned with more tools, greater passion, and renewed strength to inform and inspire. 

Kelly Milukas

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