Six Secrets to Creating a Great Hospital Art Committee
A White Paper by
Founder of American Art Resources
Art committees fall into three categories: the great, the just ok and the totally disfunctional. Obviously, every hospital sets out to have not only a good but a really great committee that can produce an exceptional art program in a professional expeditious manner.
A senior project executive for one of the largest hospital systems in the country once said to me, “I can build a $400,000,000 project and the part that can drive me crazy is the art. Who would have ever thought that art could be so controversial!”
The goal of this paper is to offer insight that comes from 25+ years of working with all kinds of art committees on projects ranging from only a few thousand square feet to projects over three million square feet. Regardless of size or nature of a construction project, the same factors are critical to creating an art committee that functions well and delivers the best art program for the needs of the facility.
The following questions and answers are paramount to understanding what a great art committee is and how to structure that committee.
At what point in a project should an art committee be formed?
The earlier the better. When an art committee is formed early in a project (even as early as schematic design), there are numerous opportunities that are available at that point that may no longer be feasible later in the design and construction process.
One of the first tasks of the art committee is to hire an art consultant. While the consultant’s ability to build consensus and work for the greater good of the project is critical to its success, the chemistry also needs to be right between the committee and the consultant for the project to achieve its optimum outcome.
Another distinct advantage of having a functioning committee in place early in the design process is to participate in any evidence-based design opportunities that include art research. There is a body of rigorous evidence that suggests that certain types of art can improve outcomes including increased patient and staff satisfaction, reduced need for PRN medication, and earlier discharge. In economic times when money spent for art needs serious justification, the benefits resulting from such an art program will more than offset the initial costs, with the ROI beginning immediately.
Another reason to create a committee and begin the art program early is to take advantage of ways of fostering good will throughout the community. Local arts programs, if properly structured, can go a long way from a public relations standpoint.
When art committees are at work early in the design process, it is also easier to use the arts program as a fund-raising opportunity. Art committees often team with hospital foundations to use the art program as a donor recognition and/or gifting opportunity. Obviously the earlier this process can begin the greater the chance of its success.
Lastly, it goes without saying that art should be a part of the design process. When the committee is formed early, the art program can be coordinated with the architecture and interior design in a seamless fashion. This would include art placement, art in architecture, lighting, structural needs, wayfinding, etc.
What is the optimum number of people to make up an art committee?
A group of five to ten people is the most practical and manageable. This assures broad representation of a cross-section of the entire facility. This size committee is appropriate for projects that are larger than 100,000 square feet. Smaller projects often do not have formal art committees per se but have an informal group of 3-4 people who are responsible for selecting the art.
What disciplines should these people come from?
One of the secrets to creating a great art committee is including members from a number of hospital departments along with representatives of the outside community. If it is made up of individuals from a broad cross section of key stakeholders, the committee will likely be fair and balanced with respect to the needs of the project as a whole.
The following groups are typically represented in successful art committees:
Patient Focus Groups
Community Arts Groups
Do you ever include someone from a museum in the area?
This is an interesting question that I am frequently asked. Occasionally, there will be a committee member from an art museum who serves as the community art liaison. I always advise an owner that all committee members must be willing to put the interest of the project first over any personal art tastes or preferences. If a committee member is from a museum and is willing to participate with this understanding, then I would welcome that member. The goal is to serve the needs of patients and staff and not pay homage to the art. This has nothing to do with the quality of the art but its appropriateness in the healthcare setting.
What kind of person do you not want on the committee?
The person who is not willing to put the good of the patient and entire facility first. A hospital art committee member needs to be able to put aside his or her own personal art preferences in favor of the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Considering the fact that staff turnover in healthcare is traditionally high, no one individual’s personal preferences should be the decisive factor in what art is selected. This is also true of the art consultant’s own personal taste which should not dictate what the collection ultimately becomes. The art program needs to be the embodiment of the mission and vision of the project. It should be the visual proof that those goals have been accomplished. And it should project those goals clearly to patients, visitors and staff alike.
How do you handle varying opinions, likes and dislikes of the art committee?
In my firm, we have a very high success rate when it comes to creating consensus on the part of the art committee. We are able to do this because of a process used early on in a project whereby guiding principles, vision and mission statements, and selection criteria are created for the art program. By doing so, the art committee has a set of mutually agreed upon guidelines and common ground upon which to make decisions. The committee should include this requirement in the art consultant’s scope of work.
In conclusion, unlike many other components of the built environment, art is often the most controversial and challenging piece to “get right.” Ultimately, the art committee bears the responsibility for making sure that this happens. Without the right committee, it probably won’t happen; with the right committee, the art program will in all likelihood be one of the most successful efforts in any hospital building project.