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Jennifer Steinkamp, Mike Kelley 1, 2007, Computer video installation, Credit: Steve Travarca, Cleveland Clinic Center for Medical Art & Photography.

30.03.21 | Art Pharmacy,

An Argument For Art in Hospitals

Ideas

Hospitals are more than just medical care. Through art we can further extend hospitals ability to care, comfort, welcome and offer places of contemplation and distraction for patients, visitors and staff alike.

While many still associate hospitals with wide white empty hallways that smell of disinfectant we are beginning to see a long term art movement, that has set to work on humanising the hospital site and elevating it to a space where patients, visitors and faculty can be put at ease and made to feel welcome.

Countless studies have shown that art aids the healing process; bringing down the heart rate, provoking a ‘joy response’, lowering stress and providing a much-needed opportunity for contemplation and distraction for staff and patients. This is by no means a new idea. In the early nineteenth century, the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, was a strong advocate for art in hospitals and its positive effects on the healing process.

So the question is not if it works, the question is how can we make it work to the best effect? We always advocate that art should be integrated into a building from the beginning, allowing for seamless implementation. A hospital is no different. By incorporating art into the design of the building what could be seen as sterile and scary places such as the operating theatre, the waiting room or the ward can instead be transformed into spaces that incorporate elements of fun, offer a solace and create a welcoming and warm space.

From culturally informed placemaking to art-based wayfinding, here are some artistically inspired hospital creative strategies Art Pharmacy have been mulling over.

From passive, calming art experiences, to more learning-based, interactive and distracting installations - here’s how you can think differently about getting arts and culture into hospitals.

AN OPPORTUNITY FOR COMMUNITY AND CONNECTION
As scholars, the medical profession and the wider general public increasingly view health through a holistic lens, more research is being done into the benefits of art on the healing process. Apart from staff, mostly people do not choose to come to the hospital. This unwanted experience can be addressed by creating a sense of community though art helping to make an unwanted visit a more welcoming one.

As hospitals are in the public realm - an eye towards the patients and staff and consideration of the multicultural aspect of this is important too. The art strategy must centre on artists and art that speak to a diversity of cultures and backgrounds. This in turn means art in hospitals can have a beneficial impact beyond just the walls of the hospital, extending into local communities.

In an environment where healing and caring is paramount a sense of community and connection being reflected back at you while you use the hospital is of key importance.

PLACES OF DISCOVERY
Sometimes - particularly when you're in hospital - you don't need reflection as much as a distraction.

In terms of this type of placemaking, the Cleveland Clinic’s approach is a great example. This forward thinking US health institution established its arts program back in 2006, and now has a collection of over 6,500 artworks. This includes site specific works, such as a Rothschild sculpture on the lawns, a Yayoi Kusama pumpkin sculpture and an Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle aluminum tubing installation, as well as a rotating exhibition area.

But what really sets this program apart is the integration of Art Tours. Marketed specifically for patients suffering memory loss, but open to other patients, visitors and staff, these tours offer a chance for discovery and to engage in debates on contemporary art - a sense of discovery that is heightened for regular patients by rotating exhibitions.

It would be amazing to interweave way-finding methods in this manner. Hidden artworks, art trails, or art podcasts the patients can listen to if a tour guide isn’t available. It changes the way people see and move through the space, as well as offering escapes for patients. It provides a sense of progress, a way of keeping active and means they have something to look forward to in what can usually become an aesthetically static space.

Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin, 2014, Fiberglass-reinforced plastic and urethane paint. Credit: Steve Travarca, Cleveland Clinic Center for Medical Art & Photography)

Nature Trail, Jason Bruges Studio. Credit: Jason Bruges Studio

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Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin, 2014, Fiberglass-reinforced plastic and urethane paint. Credit: Steve Travarca, Cleveland Clinic Center for Medical Art & Photography)

Nature Trail, Jason Bruges Studio. Credit: Jason Bruges Studio

PLACES OF INTERACTION (BEYOND WORKSHOPS)
Much research has been done into what art strategy works best in hospitals. It is shown that by providing treatment spaces with a less of a clinical feel, social inclusion and perceptions of care quality have been shown to increase among patients.

There definitely should be a space in health institutions for workshops, which aim to engage patients, distracting them and lowering stress levels. But there’s also something to be said for other - out of this world - interactive experiences, where patients are able to use their own creativity to add to the work.

London based artist and designer, Jason Bruges, designed a gorgeous interactive piece for children's hospital, Great Ormond Street Hospital in London (the children’s hospital associated with literary greats, Roald Dahl and J.M. Barrie) in 2012.

‘Nature Trail’, was created to engage and calm young patients on their way to the anaesthetic room. Created from hospital grade wallpaper, sensors, bespoke integrated LED panels, custom control electronics, “interactive animated patterns of light” revealed “forest creatures” at eye level of the little patients, as they walked past.

We love this for so many reasons. It interacts directly with the patients, providing a welcome distraction.

Hospitals can provide healing at all levels. An effective art strategy can create a hospital that offers an experience for patients, visitors and staff alike that is creative and interactive and in turn relaxes, uplifts, inspires and is akin to the healing journey.

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