Brain power: A Zionsville doctor promotes neurological health through the arts


Dr. Cynthia McGarvey, a Zionsville neurologist, uses art to inspire others to learn about brain health through painting, playing the cello and creating framed wall art.

McGarvey’s passion for the brain and its function is evident in her work as a neurologist at Josephson, Wallack, and Munshower Neurology of Indianapolis. She has dedicated her life to understanding the complexities of the human brain and helping her patients achieve optimal brain health.

But her interest in the brain doesn’t stop there. She has combined her passion for neuroscience and art to create what she calls “brain art.”

“I love taking care of my neurology patients, and I love having things that I do outside of that to fulfill me, so combining the two has helped me relieve stress and inspire awareness of the brain,” McGarvey said.

McGarvey, 52, explores artistic creativity by representing the human brain through colors and patterns.

In one of her latest pieces, “The Art of the Brain,” McGarvey used pages from a neurology book to create texture and used old twine and a wine cork to resemble the brain stem.

“I had no plan for this piece going in,” McGarvey said. “I used an X-Acto knife to carve out what the brain would look like, then used different materials to add texture and depth. I had an old neurology book sitting around that I hadn’t read in forever and decided to repurpose it.”

McGarvey said her inspiration for brain art came from years of working with patients with neurological disorders.

“I try to be deliberate and purposeful about what I do,” she said. “I have the privilege and opportunity to take care of so many patients with diverse neurologic conditions that are very impactful, and I see how much they affect people’s lives, and I am so grateful for all I have been able to experience.”

As a self-taught artist, McGarvey said she saw an opportunity to bridge the gap in understanding the brain by creating art that would inspire others to learn about the brain.

“Everyone likely has been touched, either by themselves or by a loved one, by a neurologic problem,” she said. “It’s so diverse from carpal tunnel to dementia to migraines to multiple sclerosis, so many people have something going on.”

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Dr. Cynthia McGarvey plays the cello for the Zionsville String it On ensemble. From left are String It On members Kathleen Swayze, Susan Lyons, Nancy Johnston, and Cynthia McGarvey. (Photo courtesy of Cynthia McGarvey)

But it’s not just the brain McGarvey is passionate about. She also plays the cello and is a member of a Zionsville chamber ensemble called String it On, which she created nearly 10 years ago.

The Zionsville musicians play at a mix of events, including the Zionsville Lions Club, the Zionsville Farmers Market and private events, among others. The ensemble comprises local professionals in the Zionsville area, ranging from teachers and lawyers to veterinarians and small business owners.

“Cindi McGarvey is the reason String It On exists,” retired Zionsville Middle School Orchestra Director Kathleen Swayze said. “She approached me one day and asked if there was a string group in Zionsville, and at that time, there was not. So, with her encouragement, we started one.”

McGarvey also started a brain health series at Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Public Library in Zionsville. She regularly shares insights on how a better understanding of the brain can lead to improved mental health and overall well-being. The series aims to promote awareness and understanding of brain health and focuses on various topics, including memory and the latest advances in cognitive therapy.

“The library’s brain health series evolved out of a conversation Dr. Cindi McGarvey and I had while she was working on a project in our maker studio,” said Laura Gangstad, maker studio specialist at Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Public Library.  “She loves to teach and wanted to share information on brain health with the community and provide a time when people could ask questions from a practicing neurologist.”

Through talks and discussions, McGarvey said she can educate and empower people in the community with knowledge.

“I love that the series can improve the community’s awareness about brain health, because a lot of people are very interested in neuroscience, but patients have such limited time with their doctors,” she said. “So, this series gives that opportunity for discussions and to make healthy choices with brain health prior to neurological problems,” she said.

Despite her busy schedule, the mother of three said she loves life to the fullest.

“I want to always approach each day with passion,” she said.

McGarvey wants to continue raising awareness about neuroscience and brain health through her art and lectures.

“Stress is not caused by doing too much, but by doing too little of what fills my bucket and makes me feel alive,” McGarvey said. “That’s why I do the brain art and all the other things I do.”

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”Six brains,” a painting by Dr. Cynthia McGarvey using watercolors.

Brain Health Series

The brain health series at Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Public Library in Zionsville is led by Dr. Cynthia McGarvey, a neurologist from Josephson, Wallack, and Munshower Neurology of Indianapolis.

The series is presented every other month in the Lora Hussey Room at 6:30 p.m. The next lecture will be May 2, and McGarvey will speak on memory and advances in cognitive science.

The series features the newest information about neurological topics, helping Zionsville residents learn how to lead a healthy lifestyle and understand common neurological disorders.

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