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Art project puts a face on hospital’s future

Can an art project build a bridge between a beloved but outdated hospital and its shiny new replacement?

And, along the way, raise $1 million?

Kaleida Health will find out in 2017 when it opens the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital with a signature piece that the community, including its young patients, helped create.

Here’s the idea:

• Get more than 10,000 people to draw self-portraits. Up close, viewers will see individual colorful faces in the finished product. But from a distance, the thousands of drawings will form a larger image to create a centerpiece in the hospital that will greet patients, families and visitors.

• Use the mosaic project as a fundraiser for the $270 million facility under construction on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

• And, make the piece more than a colorful background to the medical care. It’s well-documented that art can serve as an important piece of the health care experience, encouraging a child-friendly atmosphere and positive frame of mind.

Organizers and advocates hope the mosaic fulfills that role.

“Art has a soothing effect on children. But another part of this is kids drawing art for other kids,” said Joanne Lana, director of Stone’s Buddies.

Stone’s Buddies is a program for chronically ill children at Women & Children’s Hospital created in memory of former patient Stone Filipovich. It provides resources, support, friendship and fun for the children who are regular patients.

The mosaic project got started this winter at a Stone’s Buddies event with the Buffalo Bandits lacrosse team.

“It’s a great opportunity to be part of a new hospital, a part of history. I mean we’re not likely to see another hospital built here for a very long time,” Lana said.

Kaleida Health’s new 12-floor, 183-bed pediatric hospital at 818 Ellicott St. will replace Women & Children’s Hospital on Bryant Street.

The facility is being built between the Buffalo General Medical Center and Conventus, a $110 million medical office building project at 1001 Main St. under development by Ciminelli Real Estate Corp., which will house the Children’s Hospital outpatient services.

Other children’s hospitals have embraced art projects based on the same concept of many individual drawings combined to form a larger image. The work of the Michigan-based nonprofit group Project S.N.A.P. is often cited as a model.

In this case, Kaleida Health turned to local artist Brian Nesline, well known for his Faces of Buffalo community art mosaics. Examples of his work can be found at the website.

This project is definitely his largest, but the mechanics of creating it are the same as works he has done on a smaller scale over the years.

“This is going to be a fun way to bring everyone over to the new hospital and double as a fundraiser,” he said.

It’s also a personal milestone for Nesline, who came up with the Faces of Buffalo idea in 2002, when he was a student at SUNY Buffalo State. His first piece combined thousands of pictures to form the image of a buffalo, the idea being to create a bridge between artists, non-artists and art itself that reflected the community, according to Nesline.

“Fourteen years later, to see this come together for the project in the hospital is a beautiful story for Faces of Buffalo,” he said.

The plan for the new hospital is to obtain the first 5,000 self-portraits from patients, young and old. Organizers of the project also may seek drawings from others, such as at schools, employers and pediatricians’ offices, said James Finnerty, senior director of campaigns at the Foundations of Kaleida Health.

So far, individual and corporate sponsors of the portraits have committed $300,000 toward a $1 million fundraising goal for the mosaic, he said. The overall capital campaign for the new hospital has raised $45 million to date.

The unanswered question is what image will Nesline create from all the self-portraits.

It’s not clear yet.

The project is seeking suggestions from its thousands of participants, asking them what the children’s hospital means to them. After an idea is chosen and the artist goes to work arranging the pictures to create that image, the public won’t see anything until the work is officially uncovered about 18 months from now.

“We’re going to have a lot of fun waiting to reveal it,” Nesline said.

Visit for more information about the project.