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The Art of Science

How one researcher's work with people with spinal cord injury inspired his passion for painting

RHI Network Member and spinal cord injury researcher, Frédéric Dumont is passionate about two things in life – his research and his art.

Force of nature

La force de la nature
Oil on Canvas
12x12 inches

"I have always been attracted by science as well as by art." says Dumont. "If my publications help someone else to push their research forward, or if someone is inspired by one of my paintings, it will be mission accomplished."

But Dumont wasn't always passionate about his research. After completing his Bachelor's degree in Microbiology, Dumont switched to Neurobiology for his Master's and PhD programs at Laval University.

"Looking back at the period after my Bachelor's degree, I think I changed the research focus for neurobiology because I wanted my research to have an impact on those living with long lasting disabilities."

Hear Frederic tell his story in this video.

His education eventually led him to the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Rehabilitation and Social Integration (CIRRIS) in Quebec City, an organization committed to the development and transfer of new knowledge in the field of rehabilitation and support for social integration of individuals living with physical disabilities. It is at CIRRIS, where he would work closely with Dr. Luc Noreau. Noreau's research focuses on understanding the barriers and facilitators that exist for people with a spinal cord injury and how these factors affect social participation and quality of life. Noreau is also the principal investigator on the Spinal Cord Injury Community Survey – a RHI-supported survey that was the largest study of its kind to ever be done in Canada among people with SCI.

"I found myself lucky because I started from the beginning the coordination of an important project [the SCI Survey]. This survey was aimed at identifying the real needs and major aspects of the life of people with a SCI across Canada."

The Survey recruited over 1,500 survey participants and analyses from the survey resulted in nine international scientific papers and 15 scientific presentations.

In addition, crucial partnerships were created between the research study team, funders Rick Hansen Institute and Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation and community partners SCI Canada and MEMO-Qc. The study team is also working with the Rick Hansen Institute to look into ways their research data can be shared so that others can pursue their own research questions using data from the survey.

Ultimately, the goal of their research is to "have an impact on the life of people with a SCI."

IMG 3456 IMG 3457 IMG 3458 IMG 3459 IMG 3460
Oil on Canvas
8 x 8 inches


Dumont poses next to his painting, Amazing Shock, inspired by competitive fencing at the Paralympic Games.

Outside of his work in research, Dumont is an accomplished artist, taking inspiration from his work, his life and those around him. He also counts artist and Rick Hansen Foundation Ambassador Robb Dunfield among his many inspirations.

"Every day, I see people with a SCI, because the CIRRIS is located in our regional rehab center. I am truly inspired by their strength of character and their ability to adapt to new situations."

This inspiration led to a series of abstract oil paintings including The Force of Nature which depicts the contrast between the feeling of speed from the character (and the strength needed to adapt to his situation) and the immobility of the landscape; and a piece depicting two people fencing under a stormy sky, inspired by the variety of adapted sports and the athletes' determination Dumont witnessed while watching the Paralympic Games.

In 2013, Dumont held a formal exhibition at CIRRIS showcasing 18 of his paintings. The exhibit lasted for more than a year and was met with positive reception from his peers and colleagues.

What's next for Dumont? Inspired by Saskatoon artist, Jeff Nachtigall, Dumont is looking into bringing art classes to people with spinal cord injury at his local rehab center.

"I can talk for my colleagues at the CIRRIS when I say that we do not do research to do research, we do research to improve the world we are living in. And art, by its very nature also serves to improve the world we are living in."

Hear Frederic tell his story in this video (available in French)