Metropolis – RxART Transforms Hospitals Interiors with Colorful Artworks

Metropolis — November 20, 2020

The nonprofit has recently collaborated with three blue-chip artists to offer pediatric patients and families escape into their imaginations.
During a hospital visit over two decades ago, RxART founder and executive director Diane Brown realized the clinical environment only added to her anxiety. “I wanted to get out of that cold starkly white room, but my only possible escape was through my imagination,” she shares with Metropolis. To calm her nerves, she imagined an immersive Matthew Ritchie painting was covering the ceiling, and by the time her CT scan was over, she felt like she had been somewhere else.

It was then that Brown decided to do this for other people, whether or not they have similar knowledge of art. “I would have to [create] something more concrete,” she says about founding RxART, a nonprofit that commissions contemporary art installations for children’s hospitals. The organization has overseen the production of over 50 installations at more than 35 hospitals across the United States and Canada. Brown notes that each site has its own architectural character as well as the type of “medical and patient demographic” which helps inform her decision on which artist is right for which hospital. “[Each artist] understands our mission and commits to stimulating the imaginations of children and teenagers without comprising their work.”

After completing projects with artists such as Rob Pruitt, Nicolas Party, Ed Ruscha, Ann Craven, Laura Owens, and Jeff Koons, the organization has most recently tapped Takashi Murakami, Derrick Adams, and Jonas Wood. Each name is widely known for his signature visual and narrative language, which have been adapted to prioritize children’s comfort. Adams, who is accustomed to presenting work at unconventional venues, has brought his pool party to six treatment rooms in the Pediatric Emergency Department at NYC Health + Hospitals in Harlem. Custom-made wallpaper manufacturer Magic Murals translated his deep blue paintings of a poolside scene into a series of wallcoverings. The artist was surprised by his brushstrokes’ flattened tactility as they appear in the digital rendering—he hopes patients will be inspired to reach out and touch them.

Conceptualizing his whimsy installation for the CT/PET Scan Suite at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C, during the pandemic prompted Murakami to approach the project with even more empathy. “My staff and I felt very close to those who suffer from illness, which allowed us to see things from the patients’ points of view,” the artist says. In addition to Magic Murals, Comfort Health Solutions, a design company specialized in interiors and products for hospitals, stepped in to wrap the scanner and walls with Murakami’s smiling flowers and puffy clouds, turning the uncomfortable experience of a full-body scan into an otherworldly journey. The project left a deep impression on the artist who notes that he created it “with a prayer-like wish for the hardship in medical settings to be alleviated.”

Wood’s transformation of privacy curtains at the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., was a two-year project, due to the intricate process of aligning his images on two sides of the curtain both for patients and staff. Produced by global manufacturer Designtex, the curtains are adorned with the artist’s joyful illustrations. The depictions of flowers, animals, fruits, and dinosaurs have since been helpful for nurses with calming anxious patients by having them concentrate on the illustrations.

Brown finds the art, and the responses to it, uplifting: “A toddler who was afraid that the CT scanner would swallow her is now less afraid of the process,” she says. She adds that the organization’s mission is “Stealth education.” She hopes that the colorful environments encourage patients to continue to seek healing through art. “Ideally, they will be sufficiently interested enough to continue to explore visual art once they leave the hospital.”

CT/PET Scan Suite at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. by Takashi Murakami. Artwork ©Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. Photo by Kenson Noel.
A treatment room in the Pediatric Emergency Department at NYC Health + Hospitals in Harlem by Derrick Adams. Courtesy Kelly Marshall.


Privacy curtains at the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Children’s National Hospital in D.C. designed by Jonas Wood and produced by Designtex. Courtesy Sean Shanahan.