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Healing art brightens Sechelt Hospital

Remember how the old ambulatory care ward at the Sechelt Hospital used to look? Dark with unadorned walls. Not anymore.
The art starts here: paintings by Leif Kristian Freed and Motoko share lobby space at Sechelt Hospital

Remember how the old ambulatory care ward at the Sechelt Hospital used to look? Dark with unadorned walls. Not anymore. The new, bright corridor and lobby is alive with colour because of donated artwork from local painters, thanks to a new program from the Sechelt Hospital Foundation.

Gerry Latham, vice chair of the Foundation, is the driving force behind the new art committee that founded the program. She explained that when she saw how Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) and Lion’s Gate Hospital used their artwork to good effect, she researched the positive impact of art for healing in the hospital setting. 

“It’s calming – the art has energy,” she told the Coast Reporter. “There’s an opportunity to pause (while viewing it) and leave behind whatever brought you to the hospital.” 

Studies have been done to determine the healing effects of art – there seems to be no downside. Making and viewing art can reduce cortisone levels that contribute to stress. It can sharpen the mind by improving focus and diverting anxious thoughts. 

Latham turned to the vice president of VGH to explore the idea of a similar program in Sechelt. “They shared everything,” she said, “and we customized for our own hospital.”

It took a year to pull the program together. Jane Macdonald, executive director for the Hospital Foundation, wanted to learn how to proceed in approaching artists for donations since they are often the first to be asked for gifts to worthy causes and their donated work is sometimes undervalued at fundraising auctions. 

“We wanted to be aware of the culture and the climate,” said Macdonald, “out of respect for the artists.” Many stepped up to help. The Foundation arranged with Linda Williams of the Coast Cultural Alliance to organize focus groups of local artists for consultation and discussion. Stewart Stinson of the Gibsons Public Art Gallery offered to give the artists a fair market value appraisal of their work. Ruth Rodgers, a Coast artist, brought her vision to the table as a member of the art committee. 

“Our artists are also our patients,” reminds Macdonald. “It’s their chance to say thank you.” 

Tentatively the Hospital Foundation joined in on 2017’s Sunshine Coast Art Crawl to show the work of Shain Jackson, whose carved mural is featured in the tower’s lobby, and the artwork of two staff members from the imaging department: Donna Stewart and Kasia Krolikowska. 

“The mural and the attention it gets, demonstrates the power of art,” said Latham. Stewart’s abstract piece titled Standing Strong now hangs in the board room. The Art Crawl was a soft opening for the art program. Following its success the invitation to other artists went out in early December while renovations to ambulatory care continued. 

“We received 40 donated pieces by our deadline in January,” said Macdonald, clearly delighted with the positive response. The art is not for sale – the Foundation now owns the work though artists will get a tax receipt and may gain some new fans when their work is displayed prominently. As soon as the ambulatory care renovation was finished (over $1 million of the $7-million construction cost was raised by the Foundation), the artwork was hung in the lobby and along the corridor close to the chemotherapy and dialysis areas. Reaction was swift and positive, not only from patients but from staff and physicians who also benefit. Macdonald is happy to show a gorgeous landscape by artist Carmelo Sortino that sits behind the admissions clerk visible to anxious visitors and staff. 

“One doctor said jokingly that her patients were always late for appointments now,” said Latham. “They linger, looking at the art.” 

Walking through the area today is enjoyable for the health and well-being of any visitor. Leif Kristian Freed’s work is the first a visitor sees on entering the lobby – a ship sailing through colourful seas. His art is next to Motoko’s painting, a colourful splash of sunrise. Suzy Naylor’s Birds painting is dedicated to the memory of Syd Valentine. Artist Ed Hill is a member of the Foundation’s art committee and his donated work, Sanctuary at Shelter Islets, is refreshing. Works by Fran Ovens are distinctive for their monoprint process and their themes – such as a canoe on a rocky island under a strong sun. 

There is more to come. A typical Greta Guzek piece, Bright Spirit, waits to be hung, while a Marlene Lowden large abstract titled Meditation might be the first to occupy the main admissions corridor. Some pieces have been donated by collectors or from an artist’s legacy such as the late Gordon Adaskin’s Tangled Edge. A few await reframing by Cindy Buis’s Sechelt shop. 

Though most of the art is upbeat, not all is flowers and blue sky. Some pieces inspire contemplation – essential to take one’s mind from the rigors of chemo or dialysis. Julia Dodge’s work called Quarry is dark and intense. “It just pulls me in,” said Latham. Nadina Tandy’s Waterborn invites meditation. Kasia Krolikowka’s Miracle of Not Remembering was painted in a complex mood that is also part of the healing process. 

“We’re not art experts,” said Latham, adding that they took care to have a cross section of the community involved in the art committee. “We wouldn’t exist without the community’s generous donations.” 

The Foundation is happy to accept art from donors and has developed a clear process for giving. For more information, email [email protected] or call 604-885-8637.