March 19, 2008

Art Against AIDS

Hench-DADA Students Help To Prevent HIV/AIDS Among Youth

By James Tella

Hench-DADA students premiered their work during The Feminization of an Epidemic event, which was held on National Women and Girl HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
Working in partnership with doctors from the Keck School of Medicine, students from the John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts (Hench-DADA) have put their creative powers to use by generating a series of public service announcements to fight against the incidence of HIV/AIDS in youth.

The group, composed of 10 M.F.A. students, premiered their works in Bovard Auditorium during The Feminization of an Epidemic event, which was held on National Women and Girl HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, March 10.

With running times under 20 seconds, the P.S.A.s covered subjects such as HIV testing, condom use, safe sex and more. The students were free to cover the topics as they saw fit, with the caveat that each animated short had to reflect a particular prevention area.

The clips came from a collaboration between Hench Chair Kathy Smith and Dr. Andrea Kovacs, Keck professor of Pediatrics and Pathology and division head of Pediatric Infectious Diseases.

“I felt that this was an important social and community issue for our program to be involved in,” said Smith, who was introduced to Kovacs last fall by USC Vice Provost for Research Peter Mancall. “Peter felt we could form a productive collaboration around the research and awareness that Dr. Kovacs is trying to bring to the feminization of HIV/AIDs through her clinics and I was excited about the possibilities in front of us.”

The Hench-DADA students crafted their spots under a tight deadline. “I didn’t think we had any hope that the PSAs would be created in time,” said Keck Program Manager Molly Moran who attended Adjunct Faculty Lisa Mann’s CTAN 522 seminar class to present the issues to the students just two weeks prior to the event. “We weren’t really sure what would happen, but the Hench Division’s involvement became such a fundamental part of the process.”

“Animation is such a great way to reach the target audience of young girls,” said Mann who was thrilled at how much her students threw themselves into the assignment. “It really evolved as we were going through it. Everyone was so inspired and came up with some amazing ideas.”

“I wanted to relate to children, and thought ‘what better way then video games?’” said second-year M.F.A. student Dave Horowitz,
“I wanted to relate to children," said second-year Dave Horowitz about his P.S.A.
who created Don’t Play Games With Your Health based on Tetris, one of his all-time favorite pastimes. “It was great to help with something that creates awareness of HIV for youth, especially since it’s being taught less and less in school.”

According to the statistics provided at the evening’s talk, the USC neighborhoods are the hardest hit by the disease in Los Angeles County. Globally, the HIV/AIDS epidemic disproportionately impacts women, youth and people of color. More than 50 percent of new infections occur in young women of child bearing age, and in the United States one in every four persons infected with HIV this year is likely to be younger than 21. With 87 percent of American youth saying that they do not believe that they are at risk for HIV infection, prevention is the only method available to stop the spread of this disease.

“This collaboration has the impact to make an enormous difference for at-risk populations,” added Smith noting that the P.S.A.s are currently airing on USC’s Trojan Vision Television Service, as well as available on the Internet. The shorts will also be utilized to broadcast and recruit for future youth-oriented events.

With the assistance of Mancall and Moran, Kovacs and Smith authored a $25,000 Humanities & Social Sciences grant proposal to support two directed research students from animation to create P.S.A.s and relevant digital media in collaboration with the Keck professor’s clinic. The outcome of the proposal will be known at the end of the month.

“What an amazing feeling to know that the talent we have in the division can offer a leadership role in the fight against AIDS that could save so many lives,” Smith said.