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Paintings in Health Care Spaces: Good Medicine 

I have long believed that paintings in hospitals, health care, and healing facilities is a good thing.  Why?  Simply, because Art can be good medicine not only for the patients but also for families and staff.

Imagine if you are a patient and you are spending time in a hospital that has blank walls day after day.  No colour, just a stark, clinical and sterile space.  Imagine if you are parent with a chronically ill child, spending hours upon hours, with your child, having nothing to look at beside medical equipment and cold, sombre decor.   You are already worried, perhaps frightened.  Imagine if you work in an emotionally demanding role as health care providers often do, and your physical environment is monotonous, bland.  

Recent literature supports the notion that Art on walls in health care situations provides a positive impact on the  retention of staff,  the patient's healing progress and situation, and the family's and friends' supportive adaptation towards a patient during a time of uncertainty. 

There are a number of organizations throughout the world that believe art on health care facilities' walls support/ improve the health and member's wellbeing of people visiting health care spaces.  Paintings in Hospitals, a national  UK charity, began in 1959 when Sheridan Russell, one of the first male social workers in England, mounted paintings on blank walls in the neurology and neurosurgical wards plus waiting rooms in a London hospital.  He took note of people's reactions to the artworks and began to notice how important paintings could be to the patients and their support members wellbeing.  Russell then approached the Nuffield Foundation who helped establish a national art collection that supports people's physical and mental health.   Paintings in Hospitals has approximately 3,900 paintings which are lent out to health-care facilities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Scotland, once affiliated with Paintings in Hospitals later established an independent association, Art in Health Care. 

 In Montreal, Canada the non-profit Art for Healing Foundation, established in 2002, realized the power of art in Hospitals and wellness facilities and created a mandate to transform "public and patient areas into inspiring environments that encourage a sense of serenity and hope for patients, their families and health-care providers." 

In the US there are many health care spaces which line their walls with paintings.  As an example, the University of Iowa formed the University of  Iowa Hospital and Clinics Project Art.  Bruce Scherting, director of Project Art,  maintains that looking at artwork offers a "meaningful distraction" in health-care facilities in which patients are feeling anxious and uncertain and  "allows people to explore their environment, make discoveries, and spend time focusing on things that are not directly connected to their medical care."

Literature supports the notion that Art on walls in health-care situations provides a positive impact on the retention of staff, the patient's healing progress and situation, and the family's and friends' supportive care during a patient's time of uncertainly.  Here are eight links you might want to review: 

The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996524/ 

International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Health and Well-being: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5328392/

International Journal of Cultural Policy: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10286630701201962

The UK's Collections Trust Organization:https://collectionstrust.org.uk/blog/paintings-in-hospitals-using-art-to-inspire-better-health-and-wellbeing/

National Endowment for the Arts: https://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/Research-Art-Works-PennState2.pdf

CEConnection Research and Practice: Partners in Care Series: https://nursing.ceconnection.com/ovidfiles/00129191-201302000-00002.pdf

And the following two articles, one by Katie Heindl for Canadian Art: https://canadianart.ca/essays/hospitals-are-also-museums/

and Menachem Wecker's article for Artnet: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/how-hospitals-heal-with-art-1606699

I was first introduced to the concept of art in health care situations in the late 1990's when Dr. William Read, who was President of the Hospital Research and Educational Trust of the American Hospital Association in Chicago, visited my back-alley studio.   He brought two other leading proponents of art in health care facilities, Dr. Alice Kethley and Dr. Maureen Henderson, to the studio.  The conversation around the benefits of paintings in health care spaces continued and a number of my paintings were purchased for American health care institutions, one of which was the Benjamin Rose Institute in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Around the same time, two young Canadians, Dr. Warren Gage and his wife Anita, were moving to London, England to set up Back to Health chiropractic clinics.  In 2001, I loaned them the UP Close and Personal  series. The series were displayed for four years in the UK's Back to Health clinics before the Gages returned to Canada to begin a new practice.

Following Dr. Read's reasoning and many conversations about paintings in hospital, healing and palliative spaces, I have over the years donated a number of works to my community's health care facilities. 

In 2004, when the Marjorie Willoughby Snowden Memorial Hospice opened a number of my paintings graced the walls and then over the years further paintings were donated by patrons and clients.  I constantly hear comments such as the most recent three: "Hello my friend.   Just wanted to say how your pictures in the halls of Hospice made me feel like a big hug from you." (Terri) "Your paintings at Hospice are so beautiful and calming." (Dodie) and "Seeing your Art hanging on the walls at Hospice was very comforting to us, Trish." (Petrina)

In February of 2006, Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, BC, opened a 44 bed tertiary psychiatric care facility, Hillside Centre.  I was approached by the administration for some paintings for the new centre's lobby.  I donated six, 48" x 60" paintings from the Healing Gardens series.  The comments I received from the administration, staff and team of  health care providers for the centre is always positive.   Three weeks ago I received a call from a psychiatrist representing a group of  physicians who wanted to buy a painting for a colleague who was moving to another community.   They wanted a painting to "represent the paintings' cheerfulness and colour in the centre." (Dr. T.  A)  And within the last week this comment crossed my desk "The art is needed as much for staff as it is for those that are ill and recovering.  It's so important that we find ways to humanize the experience for everyone.  Both being a patient and working in these environments can be dehumanizing.  So grateful for art as a way to remember who we are." (Marcia) 

In 2018, in order to complete my husband's documented intentions of a large financial donation to our community's local hospital, I donated 60 of my paintings and 11 paintings by other artists to the Royal Inland Hospital FoundationThese paintings were spread throughout the community by the Interior Health staff.  The feedback I continuously receive is again positive with the most recent comments being: "Thank you Tricia, I saw your paintings in the Rae Fawcett Breast Clinic and I immediately felt you giving me a warm hug."(Deb) "Whenever I see your paintings in IH Tricia Sellmer, I feel beauty and happiness all around." (Francy) "I was waiting in the clinic's waiting room and your paintings made me feel less stressful.   I concentrated on your colours."(Penny) and "I just love your paintings in the North Shore clinic.  I can escape in them." (Mike)


Within the last month I completed a donation to the Thompson Rivers University Foundation with 30 paintings.  Twelve of these paintings were placed by the foundation staff in the Chappell Family Building for Nursing and Population Health, a fine state of the art building which will house innovation and excellence in health care education that the Thompson Rivers University's nursing faculty delivers.  

Further Notes from Dr. William Read:

Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, Cleveland, Ohio, United States

The Benjamin Rose institute is a multi service aging program serving the aged and families in Cleveland, Ohio, area.  The institute is over 110 years.  It supports the frail elderly and their care givers and families and supports all people to age well through research, consumer-responsive services and client advocacy.  It serves annually over 10,000 older adults and caregivers.  It is nationally known for its innovative programming, as well as research on issues older adults and their caregivers are facing, as well as working to develop public policies at the local and national level that are affective in dealing with the multiple issues older adults and their caregivers face.  It has an all-female board, one of the first in the nation to organize and develop and lead a major organization in the US.

Kethely House at Benjamin Rose Institute opened in the late 1980's as the planned anchor for one of the first continuing care retirement communities within the City of Cleveland.  The project was led by DR. Alice Kethley, the President of Benjamin Rose, and a dear friend of Dr. Bill Read, an avid collector of Tricia Sellmer's paintings, who was then President of the Hospital Research and Educational Trust of the American Hospital Association in Chicago.   When the Benjamin Rose Institute announced it was naming the new long term care program after Dr. Kethley, Dr. Read donated over 12 paintings by Tricia Sellmer to the institute as a surprise gift to honor the Board and Dr. Kethley.  These wonderful paintings have brought continued joy and beauty to the caregivers and residents of Kethley House.  The gift also help rededfine the role of fine art in helping support the caregiving mission of institutional long term care, and Benjamin Rose's culture of honoring and respecting the accomplishments of its treasured seniors, as well as supporting its fund raising program to support its mission.

The translational Genomics Institute, Phoenix, Az, partnered with the City of hope, California

Launched in June, 2002, the Translational Genomics Institute was conceived to translate the promises of the human genome to achieve cures, treatments and prevention for cancer and other genetic related diseases.  Private philanthropy in Arizona and public funding provided the start up funds for this exciting statewide effort to develop this world-class research center on a 15 acre campus in downtown Phoenix.  As both a center for research and translation as well as economic development, it was housed for several years in temporary downtown high rise space while the central research campus was being built.  The temporary setting brought together researchers from Arizona's three universities, primary teaching hospitals and medical laboratories with public and private funders, and political leaders. 


One of the founders loaned ten major large Tricia Sellmer oil paintings that filled the public spaces and board room with exiting, colorful art that helped signal to founders, visitors and reearchers the exciting promise of TGen's activities and investments in this new enterprise.   Inspirational art was brought together with inspirational research in this setting, with many visitors and funders mentioning that the art fit the scientific excitement of the institution.   To these scientists and investors and public leaders, these paintings underlined the spirit of discovery and the mission of advancing science for human good, bringing themselves added inspiration and satisfaction to those working in the institute and those investing in its future promise.