BY ELISABETH ANDREWS
Ever since she visited the “CowParade” exhibit in Chicago in 1999, Jill Bolte Taylor has been dreaming of organizing a public display of fiberglass sculptures decorated by Bloomington artists. She didn’t want cows, though—nor pigs, bears, dolphins, rhinos, or any of the other animals that have since adorned cities worldwide. Of all the 300-some sculpture exhibits that have built on the CowParade format, Taylor’s project is the first to depict a bodily organ. Make way, Bloomington, for 22 five-foot-tall, anatomically correct human brains.
The Brain Extravaganza! is the first project of Taylor’s newly formed nonprofit Jill Bolte Taylor BRAINS, Inc., which aims to raise awareness about brain health. A Harvard-trained neuroanatomist and IU adjunct lecturer, Taylor vaulted to celebrity when she gave a presentation at the 2008 Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference about her stroke and subsequent recovery. The video of her talk has since been viewed more than 10 million times online, lending Taylor sufficient recognition to manifest her giant-brain fantasy. (She was also named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine, and her book My Stroke of Insight became a New York Times best seller.)
“I’ve had a long time to percolate on this possibility, and now I have the time, the energy, and the resources,” she says. “More importantly, Bloomington is willing to play with me.”
Taylor has found dozens of playmates for the Brain Extravaganza, including 22 local sponsors such as Bloomingfoods, WTIU, and the IU Health Proton Therapy Center. Each sponsor supplied $3,200 for a sculpture, its transportation and storage, and an artist’s stipend. The brains reflect themes of significance to their sponsors, such as “brain food” for Bloomingfoods, decorated by children’s book illustrator Bonnie Gordon-Lucas; Cook’s “medical innovation” brain cocooned in a “brain cozy” knitted by Yara Clüver and Althea Crome; and a “healing brain” sponsored by Carol R. Nicholas in honor of Middle Way House, which sculptural artist Merridee LaMantia has designed to portray the strength of recovery.
The brains will converge in the Bloomington High School South gymnasium on April 28 from noon to 2 pm. Following the free kickoff event, they’ll disperse to nine IU campus locations and 13 city sites including the B-line Trail, College Mall, and Fountain Square Mall. Visit jbtbrains.org for updates and more photos online.