When I think of adjectives to describe the atmosphere created by successful art programs in children’s hospitals, these words come to mind: engaging, endearing, and nurturing.
To me, the connotation of engaging is the opposite of that of “entertaining.” An over-stimulating environment can be stressful not only to the child, but also to family members and especially to pediatric staff whose burn out rate is statistically higher than among other healthcare workers.
Artwork that adds elements of chaos such as popular action or comic figures or wildly kinetic images may seem at first blush a distraction for pediatric patients. In reality, if these elements do entertain, their diversion is probably momentary, leaving kids bored and restless in the frightening confines of a hospital. Needless to say, adults are subjected to art that fails them on every level.
Artwork that is engaging evokes the magical curiosity of childhood that never leaves us as adults. Phoenix Children’s Hospital is one of the largest children’s hospitals in the United States with Six Centers of Excellence and a Level One trauma center seeing patients from all over the state of Arizona. The metaphor for the design throughout all of their spaces is ‘An Oasis in the Desert’, the vision of each project being to create a space that is emotionally supportive to a patient population with a very high acuity level and age range. Art that is engaging plays a major role in positive distraction.
Artwork that has an endearing quality has the greatest ability to reach audiences of all ages, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. Without exception, the art program at Phoenix Children’s Hospital accomplishes this goal. From the moment you enter the facility, you are aware that this is a special place with special young people as patients. There is a pervasive gentleness in all of the art that evokes memories of childhood pleasures in adults, while at the same time appealing to even the youngest children. There is an overwhelming message of human dignity and respect for life itself running throughout the art program.
Phoenix Children’s art program also features artwork that is nurturing. This is especially true in their long-term care units such as ICU, cancer and blood disorder, cardiac, and orthopedic units. Being away from one’s family for extended periods of time is lonely and frightening for a sick child. Artwork that is nurturing might comfort a child once mom and dad have gone home for the night.