Now entering its seventh year, RxArt helps sick kids heal.
Mention a trip to the hospital, and words like dreary and gloomy come to mind. In 2000, Diane Brown, a former gallery wonder and curator, set out to change that connotation by founding RxArt, a nonprofit organization that brings original works by famous and emerging artists to hospitals around the city.
Using grants and donated funds, RxArt buys work directly from artists, then offers it on long-term loan to health care institutions. The organization’s collection includes renowned artists such as Frank Stella, Julie Mehretu, Fred Tomaselli and William Wegman.
The idea came to Brown when she had experienced some health problems and underwent a CT scan. “I was afraid,” she said. “I panicked and wanted to get out of that hospital. I had to protect myself. The only way I could do it was with my imagination.”
String at a blank white ceiling during the procedure, brown imagined that a favorite Matthew Ritchie painting stretched along the wall and onto the ceiling, “He has his won vocabulary, his own world,” she said. “It was the perfect vehicle for me to ‘leave’ the room.” she had an epiphany: “I realized that I had to do this for other people.”
Now the hospital staff and, above all, patients are enjoying the realization of brown’s dream. And when those patients are kids, the work of RxArt seems especially inspiring.
For the group’s most recent project which opened in may 2006 at NYU’s Child Study Center, art start Ryan McGinness was commissioned to create a site-specific installation. Bright pink, green, blue, gold and red circles, each bearing a stenciled image, enliven the first floor of the building and continue up a stairwell to the second floor. On the upper east side at a the children’s advocacy center, a nonprofit that offers counseling to young victims of child abuse. RxArt installed cheerful works by artists such as Ed Baynard and John Margolis. And the Elizabeth Seton Pediatrics Hospital downtown has a polar bear video installation by Dominik Lejman.
Aside from its institutional work, RxArt has produced two-volume coloring book, with contributions from artists such as R. Crumb, Gary Hume, Laura Owens, John Baldessari, and Sol LeWitt, among others. Thousands of copies have been distributed to sick children in hospitals.
Artist Jane Hammond, whose work is included in the book, feels a personal connection to RxArt’s mission. “My nephew died of a brain tumor when he was almost 13,” she says. “So I have seen this world up close, and it is a big world, of sick little ones. Its is so heartbreaking. It is what the word heartbreaking was invented for.”
Brown hopes someday to extend RxArt to other cities nationwide. She believes art provides healing that strengthens the minds as well as the body, bolstering the immune system and even altering a patient’s perception of pain. There are other benefits, she says: “We’re putting in excellent, high-quality contemporary art. And we’re education at he same time.”
- – Carmela Ciurara