By Alexandra Yearly
As University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro staff and patients settle in at the hospital’s new location, they’ll quickly adjust to the upgraded technology and specially designed facilities.
But among the new medical machines and strategically built patient rooms is another contribution to the purpose of making people feel better.
It’s called the Art for Healing initiative, and it’s visible in the form of 200 paintings, sculptures, photographs and other pieces of art created by almost 70 different artists, most of whom are local.
But the art isn’t just there for decoration.
“There’s a significant body of research that demonstrates that the right art is very effective in reducing stress for everyone,” said Barry Rabner, CEO and president of UMCPP.
Pieces in the collection were selected by a committee made up of hospital employees, physicians, public volunteers, a former hospital patient, the Princeton University Art Museum curator of modern and contemporary art, an architect and community college professor.
The committee used two main criteria for selecting the artwork, Rabner said. They didn’t want to select art that could evoke negative reactions, and they wanted to choose work that would resonate with a diverse population.
Artist Charles McVicker has recently focused on painting landscapes for just that reason.
“Lately I’ve been doing a lot of landscapes because I know that people relate to them very well, and I enjoy doing them because of my own love of nature,” the Princeton resident said.
McVicker has two paintings on display in the hospital as part of the initiative. His Princeton Chapel watercolor hangs just outside the hospital’s own chapel, and his oil landscape painting “Sandy Road” hangs in the lounge area in the main entrance.
Health care designer Rosalyn Cama, of Cama Inc., was consulted by the hospital’s art committee when it came time to select the pieces.
It was no accident that mostly nature scenes were chosen. Cama said research has shown a strong correlation between a connection to nature and reduction of anxiety in patients.
“What’s interesting to us … is that nature for nature’s sake also isn’t necessarily the most healing,” Cama said.
Cama cited other research that has shown when patients see a nature scene representing their surroundings, it often evokes a memory. That memory, if a happy one, therefore triggers the release of endorphins that make individuals feel better, Cama said, so there is a proven reaction to that type of art.
Though artwork of a colorful dessert or Caribbean island might be pleasant to view, it doesn’t necessarily trigger a memory or connection, she said.
Monetary donations allowed the purchase many of the works of art from local artists, while physical art donations were evaluated and accepted by the committee.
Hetty Baiz, whose mixed media work in the hospital exclusively features animals, said the artwork allows people to escape the pain or sickness that confines them to the hospital.
“When people see a work of art, they pause, they forget about themselves. They go outside of themselves,” Baiz said. “And if the piece is successful, it allows them to see beauty, to think, to try and figure things out, to perhaps become calm and peaceful, to be uplifted in spirit.”
But art affects more than just patients. Rabner said art also helps to relieve the stress of hospital staff, and studies have documented improved performance and reduced errors in workplaces with art.
“It’s not simply creating a better work environment, it actually improves clinical outcomes,” he said.
The former hospital location contained artwork from an exhibit called Art First!, which featured works by individuals with disabilities. Those pieces will be displayed in the new hospital building and its other locations.
Eve Ingalls, another Princeton artist, will have three 16-foot long oil and acrylic landscape paintings on display as part of the initiative. She said she tries create a strong experience with her paintings. Ingalls said she wants viewers to feel as if they’re not just looking at the painting, but are on the verge of being in it.
“It makes you feel like you’re moving or standing or looking at things in a new way,” Ingalls said. “It’s like a glorious window in some ways.”
McVicker’s wife, Lucy, also has several paintings on display at hospital. One vertical piece features a vase of flowers, and hangs in the ER. The painting, called “Window Treatment,” is constructed of all water media: a semi-abstract combination of collage, watercolor and acrylic on paper.
“I kind of like that idea of treatment. You think of medical treatment, but I had this title before I knew anything about the hospital,” Lucy McVicker said.
“Hopefully a patient can lose themselves, forget about their problem, and maybe even engender a feeling of hope,” she said. “Who knows? You just hope that will be a pleasant experience for them looking at the picture.”