Cancer survivor adorns public spaces with butterflies


FRIDAY, Sept. 13 — Zahrah Resh has had a unique approach to her latest butterfly project. Rather than create it alone, she recruited the hands of community members to paint and fold the wings, which resulted in 6,500 butterflies made by cancer patients, their loved ones and hospital staff.

“I’m a cancer survivor and one thing I noticed is we don’t talk about our illness,” she said. “So, the idea for the butterfly was for patients to talk about their illness so they don’t feel alone.”

Resh is a mixed media artist from East Lansing who creates animated English gardens out of coffee filters to transform hospitals and building lobbies. Her latest commissioned work, “The Community Butterfly Garden” is in the lobby of the Hannah Community Center off Abbot Road.

The project was launched by AgeAlive, a pro-aging community based in Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, through a grant from the MSU Broad Art Lab.

One mission of AgeAlive’s butterfly project was to bring people of different generations together to spark conversations, Resh added.

During a butterfly making session at the Hannah Community Center, Resh heard a 7-year-old offer to help a senior citizen make their wings. Another time she heard an MSU student share details of an upcoming sailing trip with her boyfriend with an older woman, to which the elder woman responded, “Does your mother know where you are going?”

“When people get older, they tend to become invisible to the younger, so this is one way to get them together,” Resh said. “There are ways both groups can help each other, like through experience.”

Clare Luz, the director of AgeAlive, reached out to Resh to replicate a butterfly garden she had made in the Spectrum Health Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavillion in Grand Rapids for Art Prize in 2017.

Included with the grant from the Broad Art Lab was a week-long summer workshop at its facility, located on the corner of East Michigan Avenue and Bailey Street, where passersby could drop-in and make butterflies. Resh said about 300 people of all ages contributed through the workshop alone.

For Resh and Luz, watching community circles form for six months was just as rewarding as witnessing the final installation. Luz, who’s also a professor at MSU, said that Age Alive formed in response to the “rapidly” aging U.S. population. She added that Michigan is “one the fastest aging states,” due to the high emigration of younger people to other states.

“As a land grant university, we have a responsibility to respond to this huge demographic shift,” she said. “How do we engage our students, faculty in addressing this huge shift and all the consequences?”

More information about Age Alive’s mission and upcoming events are available at

“The Community Butterfly Garden”

Sept. 13-Oct.15

Hannah Community Center

819 Abbot Road, East Lansing

Mon-Fri, 6 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Closed Sunday


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