Nicole Massad has two major passions in life: art and science. While working as a Research Technologist in the Section of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at the University of Chicago Medicine fulfills her need for science, she regularly has to make time in her daily life to be able to create art. This is especially true when creating her hand-cut stencils as they are something that takes time and planning, not something that she can just create on a whim.
Nicole had always appreciated street art, but never thought it was something she could do until one day she gave making stencils a try. While her original stencils were rough, she kept at it, making a new stencil a day for almost a month. As her technique improved, Nicole started to view her stencils as these beautifully fragile forms of art stating that “the product of my hard work had to be the stencil itself.” This idea allowed her to turn her focus to the intricate details of the cutout of the stencil. Nicole started creating larger, more complex stencils that could take weeks to complete.
However, Nicole had never thought of her stencils of being worthy to be displayed as pieces of art. She originally started making them as a way to channel her artistic energy and relax. It wasn’t until she noticed an advertisement for the NAP Exhibit at the University of Chicago Medicine that she thought “what do I have to lose” by entering. Not sure how the unconventional work would be perceived among the tradition forms of art such as paintings, photographs and drawings, Nicole was shocked and elated to learn that her piece, “Dinner – Ventral Time” was awarded Best of Show by the judges. The judges not only found the piece exquisitely crafted, fresh and very unique, they also felt that the subject matter fit perfectly within the hospital setting.
Nicole’s stencil entitled “Dinner – Ventral Time” received 260 “likes” making it our first ever “Best of the Best” winner.
As the Best of Show winner, Nicole’s piece along with forty-four other Best of Show pieces from across the country were selected for the NAP’s first online art show and contest entitled “Best of the Best”. The NAP asked the public to choose their favorite piece by “liking” it on Facebook during the voting period. Nicole’s piece received an overwhelming number of votes – 260 to be exact – of the 956 total votes received leading it be named the “Best of the Best" 2014 winner. This only added to the emotions of shock and gratification she had experienced since participating in the NAP exhibit. “I never expected to create something that others would enjoy, let alone a piece that would win such a big award,” Nicole commented. In addition, she received tons of messages from total strangers telling her how much they loved her piece. Although she has never used Facebook to promote her art personally, Nicole mentioned that she loved the idea of using Facebook for the contest. This platform not only made the artwork more accessible, but elevated it to an international level.
While this entire experience has only encouraged her to continue creating new stencils, it’s Nicole’s belief that science makes her a better artist – “more curious, meticulous and persevering” – and that art makes her a better scientist – “more imaginative and open minded” – that truly allowed her to combine her two passions into a piece of art that not only resonates with her identity, but with the public at large.