Mary Beth Heffernan, MFA

Professor of Art, Art and Art History Department, Occidental College

Professor Heffernan earned a BFA at Boston University, Magna Cum Laude, an MFA from California Institute of the Arts, and was a fellow of the Whitney Independent Study Program. Professor Heffernan brings a research-based art practice to bear on human needs in health and medicine. Her interdisciplinary work is animated by questions of corporeality, representation, social history, ethics, and science. Professor Heffernan is the founding creator of the PPE Portrait project, a social practice art project addressing the “epidemic of facelessness” engendered by the Ebola epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professor Heffernan’s art is in the permanent collections of The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens; the Hammer Museum’s Grunwald Center Collection; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Light Work, the New York Public Library, and the Nevada Museum of Art and the Royal College of Nursing.

Professor Heffernan was awarded the City of Los Angeles Master Artist Fellowship, the PAC/LA Contemporary Artist Grant at The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens, the Arnold P. Gold Foundation President’s Grant, and the Esther B. and Albert S. Kahn Award for Career Entry in the Arts. In May 2021, she was awarded Occidental College’s Graham L. Sterling Memorial Award for distinguished professional achievement, teaching and service.

The PPE Portrait Project serves as a model of social practice art-as-social medicine, with invited talks and keynotes at Harvard Medical School, Brown University, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Mayo Clinic, the Science and Social Justice Think Tank at the Arcus Center for Social Justice, and the Royal College of Nursing, London. The project is historicized in the 10-year exhibit Being Human at the Wellcome Collection in London. The PPE Portrait Project was cited as an exemplary integration of art and science in the 2018 National Academies of Sciences-Engineering-Medicine Consensus Report, The Integration of the Humanities and Arts with Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in Higher Education: Branches from the Same Tree (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press).

In 2015, the PPE Portrait Project garnered international recognition on NPR, PRI, the BBC, CSNBC and many other publications. Professor Heffernan’s art-medicine COVID collaborations are reviewed in Art Journal Open, Smithsonian Magazine, featured The Rachel Maddow Show, and named “an inspiring force” in Los Angeles art in 2020 by Hyperallergic.