Architectural Digest — September 1, 2015

CREATIVE THERAPY | The nonprofit group RxArt partners with some of today’s leading artists to make children’s hospital stays a little bit brighter

At St. Mary’s Hospital for Children, in Queens, New York, the young patients are invited to color in a panorama of zebra stripes and pandas created by artist Rob Pruitt. The cheerfully psychedelic jungle scene, executed on a dry-erase wall, is one of the latest projects realized by RxArt, a nonprofit whose mission is to enliven pediatric hospitals with installations by some of today’s most celebrated artists, tapping into the therapeutic value of visual delight. “We see the art starting conversations about something other than illness,” says the group’s founder, Diane Brown, a curator and former contemporary gallerist.

Brown started RxArt in 2000 after her own experience during a CAT scan, when she diverted her anxiety by imagining Matthew Ritchie’s kaleidoscopic paintings. “I was so immersed in the imagery that when the procedure ended I felt like I hadn’t even been there.”

While many hospitals were initially wary of her idea, Brown has now placed more than 30 projects in over 25 institutions, among them an animal-filled mural by Trenton Doyle Hanock at a Houston medical center, a CAT scanner bedecked in Jeff Koons monkey faces at a pediatric facility in Oak Lawn, Illinois, and a Keith Haring work produced with the late artist’s foundation for a Chicago hospital.

This autumn artist Dan Colen will transform an activity room at St. Mary’s with colorful wallpaper based on photographs of falling confetti. Colen plans to extend the pattern so that it wraps the entire space—creating what he calls “a frozen scene kids can walk into”—by hand-painting the confetti on the ceiling, floor, and baseboards.

Also on the horizon, Brown has tasked artists Urs Fischer, Laura Owens, and Sam Falls wth developing ceiling murals for Cedars-Sinai Children’s Health Center in Los Angeles. Falls, who was laid up in a hospital as a teen and recalls counting the holes in perforated ceiling tiles, says he hopes his vibrant pencil rubbings of plant leaves “will take kids’ thoughts outside the rooms they’re in. I want to remind them that there’s a vast, wonderful world waiting for them.” —HANNAH MARTIN