Art provides escape for patients

When you hear the word “hospital,” you may be inclined to think of a sterile building with uncomfortable chairs, sterile white walls, linoleum floors and old, cheap art. While some hospitals and cancer treatment centers are less attractive than others, one thing is for sure: a hospital that looks and feels more like a home allows patients and their families to feel at ease and be much more comfortable. And, a cheerful environment translates to more cheerful patients, who are more likely to benefit from their treatment.

Diane Brown knows this to be true. Brown is the founder of RX Art, a non-profit organization that is devoted to livening up hospital hallways and walls with art. Brown was inspired to start the group after undergoing a CT scan about ten years ago.

“I was on a gurney, strapped in with an IV in my arm,” she remembers. To take her mind off the CT scan, Brown used her imagination. “I just spontaneously imagined a painting going up the side wall and across the ceiling…then the scan was over, and I felt like I hadn’t even been there. I thought, ‘I want to do that for other people.’”

Brown’s background as an art curator and private art dealer inspired her to start RX Art. She raised more than $100,000, bought a lot of art, and began approaching hospitals, offering them the artwork for free in an effort to provide a better patient experience.

Despite the fact that the art was free, some hospitals were hesitant to accept Brown’s offer at first. “It was really good art, but I couldn’t get a hospital to take a chance,” she remembers.

Finally, the first hospital accepted RX Art’s offering. Rockefeller University Hospital in New York City was followed by many other hospitals. Mark Swanson, an artist that works with Brown, says that managing RX Art is “an incredible amount of work.”

“Diane gets approached by hospitals, talks with them about their needs, pitches an artist to them,” he says. Her hard work is paying off: RX Art has collaborated with close to twenty hospitals, and currently has several projects lined up in major cities across the nation.

Some of RX Art’s work includes a project by artist Jeff Koons, who covered a CT scanner at Advocate Hope Children’s Hospital in Illinois with monkey faces on a bright blue background. At another children’s hospital in Boston, an artist painted 3-D floral patterns on the walls. And in New York, the halls of the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at Mount Sinai Hospital is covered in seeds and flowers that appear to be floating along the hallway walls and blowing in the breeze. Artist Jason Middlebrook entitled the project “Traveling Seeds.”

Dr. Luis Isola, who works in the unit, says that the art provided by RX Art is “just amazing.” He says that, due to worries about keeping a bone marrow transplant patient’s environment as sterile as possible, traditional art hanging on the walls was prohibited. For that reason, the unit used to be a “stark” environment.

“This is real art,” says Dr. Isola, of Middlebrook’s work. “This is beautiful stuff. This is like bringing nature into the ward.” Brown agrees, saying that “Traveling Seeds” reminds her of “little wishes blowing” in the wind.

“Heaven knows everybody here is wishing to be well,” Brown says. Joan Sorich, Nurse Manager at the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, says that the nurses say the art makes them happy. She also says that the art commissioned by Brown’s group is an important part of the patient’s healing process.

“I think having the paintings here really represents our mission: life giving,” says Sorich. “I think the paintings touch on so many parts for people. We try to help people heal and recover, but also [recover] emotionally, spiritually.”

Middlebrook says that he was inspired to create “Traveling Seeds” because it represents the process of undergoing a bone marrow transplant giving a new life to the patient. In nature, he believes, seeds are airborne for a reason.

“They are airborne to go make more life,” says Middlebrook. “Those hospitals need an injection of life.”

To learn more about the work RX Art is doing across the country, visit their website.



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