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Children's Hospital turns to families, staff to choose artwork

Posted by Emily Files  November 1, 2012 01:14 PM

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Mary Poyner Reed (foreground) and Deb Shiers of Children's Hospital, looking at artist proposal boards.

In an unique effort to involve patients and their families, Boston Children’s Hospital is holding a contest to choose $100,000 in artwork that will hang in its newest wing.

The hospital will select one artist to create a large-scale art installation for its 116,000-square-foot addition, set to open in the summer. This month, the hospital will announce the winner, who will receive $100,000 to produce two-dimensional wall art that will adorn corridors of patient rooms on floors six through 10. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows will enable people to see the art from an inner courtyard.

As the contest has progressed, the hospital has sought the opinions of patients, families and hospital workers, as well as an expert panel.

Jessica Finch, the hospital's art program manager, said artwork is important in a hospital environment.

“It’s a positive distraction for distressed families,” she said. “There are also a growing number of clinical studies on the role arts can play in lowering stress and increasing white blood cells.” The studies point to physiological changes that happen “when you’re looking at art.”

A panel of judges selected three finalists from among 100 artists who responded to a request for a proposal. The finalists -- Cynthia Fisher, Amanda Edwards and Lisa Houck -- all presented proposals for mosaics.

Two of the judges, Betty Bothereau, owner and lead consultant at L’Attitudes Gallery on Newbury Street, and Rhea Wharton, an art consultant at the gallery, then went room-to-room asking people to “vote” for their favorite proposal. They showed patients, family members and staff each artist’s 20x30-inch proposal boards with sketches of each floor.

The winning artist will receive $20,000 per floor to design mosaics based on each floor’s pre-conceived theme: space, sky, earth, ocean and seashore.

Fisher, of the town of Charlemont in far northwestern Massachusetts, plans to use snowflakes designed by children in the hospital in the sky-themed 9th floor’s mosaic. Children would be given paper and pencils and asked to draw "something six-sided, like a snowflake,” Fisher said. “They’d choose the glass and make the actual mosaic.”

Fisher also would have patients and their families design mosaic fish for the 7th floor, and owls for floors 8 and 9.

Debbie and Kaitlyn Williams, a mother and daughter from Woonsocket, RI, both voted for Fisher’s design, with 16-year-old Kaitlyn saying Fisher “ties all the elements in nicely. Each floor has a different theme, but they’re all still connected.”

The Gormley family of Sudbury preferred Edwards’ concept, which is based on tree houses. “We picked it based on the theme and the colors,” said Lisa Gormley, whose 15-year-old daughter is a patient. The two liked “the ‘tree of life' symbolism, and its symbolism of growth and community.”

Edwards, from Cape Elizabeth, Maine, said her own children inspired the tree house concept. “I thought about what would be the most soothing for my own children if they were in a hospital setting,” she said.

Edwards said her adopted daughter had been malnourished and suffering from rickets and other medical problems, and was in and out of doctors’ offices and hospitals for the first year after the adoption.

“Just knowing that you can give a child or a parent going through something so difficult a moment of distraction, it means a lot as an artist, a mom, and as a person,” Edwards said.

Houck, of Dedham, also has personal reasons for participating in the contest. Four years ago, her son spent three nights at Children’s Hospital recovering from surgery for a broken femur. “When he came out of anesthesia, the first thing he commented on was the art in his room,” Houck said. The maritime scene reminded him of a sailing trip the family had taken to the Greek Isles the summer before, she recalled.

Houck’s art pieces, called "The Curve of the Earth is so Gentle," would be tied together by the theme of the planet's curve. A curve runs through each of the five pieces. "When you walk down the hallway, colors change as you follow along the curved line," she explained. "Each of those curved lines becomes kind of a blue planet.”

Deb Shiers, nurse manager of inpatient neuroscience, said she liked the color contrast and construction of Houck’s work.

“The tiles look more symmetrical, more calming,” Shiers said. “For me, that brings more calmness and peace. And when you’re in this environment, that’s important.”

The hospital is investing $100,000 in the art installation and devoting five months to the contest. The Urban Arts Institute at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) helped to recruit artists, sending an e-mail that drew more than 100 responses.

A panel of judges that includes art experts, nursing staff and project managers reviewed the applicant portfolios, which consisted of a resume and six slides. The panel narrowed the contestants to 20 and then to five, giving each a stipend of $1,500 to create a mock-up of their proposed work. In September, the panel interviewed the five artists, asking technical questions about the artwork’s construction.

Finch said the hospital has purchased works from all three of the finalists in the past.
A small glass mosaic by Edwards was recently installed on the 9th floor inpatient corridor. Houck has a lighthouse mosaic hanging in the oncology department, and Fisher has a large mosaic in the emergency department waiting room.

Bothereau, the art consultant, said art provides needed "opportunities for escape" in a hospital environment.

"Even though people at the hospital try to make it as comfortable as possible," she said, "sometimes, you just need to get away.”

This article was reported and written by Northeastern University journalism student Jordan Griffin, under the supervision of journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of a collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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