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Oishei Children's Hospital launches art collection to buoy kids

Buffalo philanthropist Paula Joy Reinhold choked back tears last week as she explained her vision for a new art collection at John R. Oishei Children's Hospital.

"I have pictured this little boy or girl sitting on a bench, and mom’s in tears and dad’s full of fear," Reinhold said to about 100 artists and cultural leaders who had gathered Thursday in the lobby of the Conventus Building on Main Street.

"We want that little boy to be sitting in front of a picture that an artist has made," she added, describing a scene that could distract a child from the harsh reality of his visit to the hospital. "All of a sudden, the boy knows that the day will have a happy ending, mom will stop crying and everything will be fine, because they’re at Children’s."

To turn that vision into a reality, Reinhold and her sister Marsha Joy Sullivan have committed $100,000 toward the launch of a new art collection for the hospital on behalf of the Joy Family Foundation.

The collection, which will feature work by Buffalo artists on all 12 floors of the $267 million building, will be an integral part of the new hospital when it opens next fall.

The project was initiated by Women & Children's Hospital President Allegra Jaros,  and it will be curated by Burchfield Penney Art Center Associate Director and Chief Curator Scott Propeack. It illustrates the growing relationship between Buffalo's arts community and its burgeoning medical economy.

"It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Buffalo," Jaros said. "Children’s Hospital has been and continues to be the community’s hospital. We want it to look and feel like Buffalo, not a sterile hospital. It certainly will feel and look state-of-the-art, but that’s not Buffalo. Buffalo is about our community and our culture. We really wanted that to be infused into the process."

For Propeack, who is volunteering his time for the project, the hospital's embrace of Buffalo's art community speaks to a growing appreciation for the link between visual art and patient care.

"There have been years and years of studies on how artwork in hospitals has had a positive effect on healing and therefore getting patients out of the hospital sooner," Propeack said. "It’s become difficult not to include art in the idea of running a hospital."

The Children's Hospital program follows the successful 2008 launch of the University at Buffalo's Arts in Healthcare program as well as the recent unveiling of an ambitious art program for Roswell Park Cancer Institute's new Scott Bieler Clinical Sciences Center. The Arts in Healthcare Program, which matches artists in residence with patients at Women & Children's and Roswell Park, will continue its relationship with the new hospital.

During Thursday's event in the Conventus Building, representatives from Buffalo cultural organizations and local artists sipped wine while looking at a series of posters showing the hospital's floor-by-floor plan for integrating the arts into its design.

The institution's plan goes far beyond putting paintings and photographs on the wall. Instead, it has formed dozens of relationships with cultural institutions, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Darwin Martin House and Shea's Performing Arts Center.

Body of Trade and Commerce Gallery owner Anna Kaplan, who is also part of the Buffalo art consultancy Resource Art, said the hospital's plan to incorporate local art on every floor even before the building is complete is gratifying for local artists and curators.

"It creates an ideal situation for experiencing the art in the space, instead of thinking of the art as an afterthought where it becomes merely decoration," Kaplan said. "It gives a greater opportunity for the artists to conceive of something integrated, completely appropriate for the viewers to appreciate."

Bethany Krull, a local sculptor whose work often appeals to children, said she would relish the opportunity to create artwork specifically for the new hospital.

"I had my first kid at Children’s Hospital," she said. "For a kid who’s going through some stuff,  you can actually impact that kid with something that you made."

That potential impact, Reinhold said, is what made her and Sullivan's decision to contribute $100,000 to the hospital's incipient art collection easy.

"We both passionately know the difference that art makes in people’s lives. It makes them feel better. It makes them hopeful and full of life and love and possibilities," Reinhold said. For kids who come to the hospital for treatment, she added, "it takes them out of where they are and transports them into the picture that they’re looking at."


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