For most, visiting the hospital isn’t always a sunny affair. For our local PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, however, large colorful works of art have been slowly added to brighten the windowless hallways and waiting areas.

The Healing Through Art program began seven years ago, overseen by a committee of volunteers who were close with the hospital and had a passion for art. Linda Gardner, as a well-connected local curator, has led the charge of communicating with regional artists, assisting with the allocation of works for the permanent collection and overseeing the installation of rotating shows in the hospital.

PeaceHealth caregivers share their appreciation for the Healing Through Art program and stand be a piece by artist Diane Culhane. Photo credit: Linda Gardner.

“It’s not necessarily about creating an art scene like in a gallery. It’s more about those quiet moments when people are walking at night, or for the staff who walk up and down the halls thirty times a day with nothing to really look at except for some posters,” explains Gardner. “To put something handmade into an institution is really wonderful and it brings a lot to people’s inner happiness and wellbeing as they go about their days in these halls where sometimes there’s not even windows.”

The mission of the Healing Through Art program is to bring in work by diverse, professional Northwest artists to the patients, families and caregivers of the PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center. Gardner is focused on showing pieces that are visually interesting, without being political or figurative. “We look for work that is uplifting, nothing that causes angst or irritation,” she says. “We want the art to be friendly and to help people feel better. Hospital staff work in these very drab, dark spaces a lot of the time, so anything with a lot of color is going to help.”

With a commitment to showing and supporting local and regional artists, Gardner has involved such Bellingham notables as Tom WoodFishboy – Randy Clark, and Lorna Libert.

The Janet Laurel exhibition introduction appears inside the main entrance of PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical center. Photo credit: Hannah Zoe.

“I look for artists whose work matches our mission, whose work I believe would be worth owning. Then we purchase a piece from their show for the collection,” says Gardner. She adds that the unique, natural beauty of our Pacific Northwest is also a consideration when seeking out local, nature based art. “I’m trying to find pieces that relate to our place, this place. It can be abstracted, it can be flora or fauna. It doesn’t have to be just landscape.”

Patients and their families, as well as staff, spend a good deal of time walking the halls of the medical center. Those spaces they walk through can become an opportunity to experience something more. “There are those who go to museums and galleries to take in art, but many don’t have the time. We’re giving people an opportunity, kind of by osmosis, to take in art which is something a lot of people don’t do in their normal lives,” Gardner says.

Because of the nature of a hospital setting, where every space’s function can change as the institution grows, the art doesn’t necessarily have the luxury of a permanent home. All of the temporary and collected pieces are hung to accommodate the function of the space. Paintings and prints rise high on the wall, above the traffic of carts, gurneys and elbows. The murals are modular, painted on panels so they can be relocated if necessary. The recessed lighting of the halls bathe the pieces in a uniform fluorescence.

Artist Janet Laurel, seated, with a Healing Through Art program intern. Laurel’s work is currently on exhibition through January 2018. Photo credit: Linda Gardner.

For Gardner, “My vision is that one day there will be a beautiful art collection for the hospital, with a gallery space that can be open to the visitors where they can see the art in a properly lit and hung space. Somewhere with four walls, good lighting, proper seating, good quality materials and flooring. That way, with a space, people will know exactly where to go to see our rotating shows. I hope that someday, there might be a donor who comes forward who’d support that.”

Unlike public hospitals, which allocate a share of their building costs to art acquisition through Washington’s Art in Public Places Program, St. Joseph is funded privately through donors and the PeaceHealth St. Joseph medical Center Foundation. To support the Healing Through Art program, all of the art in the rotating shows is for sale to the public, and half of the proceeds go back into their budget. They also accept private donations on behalf of the art program and come together as a committee to consider any donations from private collections.

The currently installed exhibition is of works made by Seattle-based artist, Janet Laurel. Her pieces are large, yet light-handed, with soft brush work akin to sumi ink drawings. Full of floral motifs and animals, one can see how this artist’s work dovetails with the mission of uplifting, nature based work. Linda Gardner is currently accepting submissions for the program’s upcoming show in January, a collection of works made by caregivers and those who work at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center.

For more information on the Healing through Art program, visit the Healing Through Art program website or visit the campus itself to view current work.

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