Community art at the community hospital

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Art galleries dot the neighborhoods of Homer, AK, a town of about 5,000 residents on the Kenai Peninsula, 250 miles south of Anchorage. So it’s not surprising that Alaskans regard the town as the state’s arts capital, and that it is included in author and art critic John Villani’s list of the “100 best small art towns in America.”

But what may be surprising is to find one of the town’s major art galleries in its community
hospital. South Peninsula Hospital opened its gallery in April 2012 “as a way of bringing the community into our hospital, while providing a free venue to showcase local art,” says Derotha Ferraro, the hospital’s public relations director.

The Hospital Gallery stretches about 100 feet through a long hallway between its
laboratory and pharmacy. The current exhibit opened Oct. 4, and features portraits of Homer residents by local artist Gayle Wolfe, who died last year.

The Hospital Gallery is a collaboration of the hospital and the Homer Council on the Arts (HCOA). The hospital’s foundation funded the installation of rails and hangers to display the art.

“Hanging art in the most travelled hallway in the hospital brings the experience of art to everyone,” says HCOA Director Gail Edgerly. “The art gallery program weaves together art, expression, beauty, health,
illness, institution and the individual. The art on the wall says, ‘the community is here with you.’” The hospital shows art previously displayed at HCOA. New art work is rotated into the gallery every one or two months. The focus is on local artists and on exhibits that “create a feeling of peace and comfort” for patients and their families, Ferraro says.

She says visitors enjoy the gallery. As a side benefit, it connects artists to potential buyers. Most important, it provides respite for patients.

“When the imaging technicians go to acute care or the emergency department to get patients and bring them back to have an MRI or X-ray, they slow down at [the gallery] to let patients look at art as a way to help relieve their anxiety,” Ferraro says.

She also says the program has spurred on the “closet artists” among the hospital’s 380 employees. Some staff want to display their own art and hold their own exhibit, which Ferraro says may be a possibility in the future.

Topic: Advocacy and Public Policy

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