Art with a Heart in Healthcare asks young patients about their other side
All artworks are acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 inches. Images courtesy of Art with a Heart in Healthcare and Laird.
Art with a Heart in Healthcare (AWAHIH) is well-known for their art outreach to children hospitalized at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, Nemours Children’s Specialty Care, and Brooks Rehabilitation. Summarizing what they do, Janice Foster, a child life specialist at Wolfson, says, “Art with a Heart helps kids stay connected to who they are in the midst of difficult circumstances.”
For a child experiencing a serious illness or injury, the act of staying connected to their identity — their selves outside of the hospital and in it, their personal stories, their likes and dislikes, and their dreams for the future — is incredibly important to the coping and healing process. Founded in 2001, AWAHIH’s emphasis on personal expression from a fine art perspective helps humanize the high-tech, clinical atmosphere of the hospital. Art can empower a child in an otherwise powerless situation.
Each year, AWAHIH partners with the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville (MOCA), a cultural institute of the University of North Florida, in an exhibition of their patient artists’ work that is displayed at MOCA. The annual exhibition serves to bolster and validate the kids’ personal expression as well as share this important work with the community.
For this year’s exhibition, Another Side Revealed, pieces grew from a question posed to the patients by the AWAHIH artists-in-residence: “If you could be anything, go anywhere, do anything … what would it be?” The AWAHIH staff artists, who, along with community volunteers and UNF interns, visit patients bedside or in groups to facilitate art sessions seven days a week, helped each youngster design a two-sided self-portrait in response. With a centered, vertically split figure surrounded by small icons, similar to emoji, the self-portrait painted on canvas tells an expanded personal story. On one side is a portrait representative of who they are in the present, illustrating their typical clothing and hair style, amidst floating
objects tied to their identity and current interests. On the other side is the visual answer to the question — it is a portrait of that self as envisioned ‘being anything, doing anything, and being anywhere.’ For some, the other self depicts a career goal; for others, it’s a more spiritual or fantasy-based reflection, with many painting their other half as an animal; and for some it is simply where they would rather be on any given day other than the hospital, like on the football field.
“The patients found this year’s art theme to be very creative,” says Lori Presto, program director of Art with a Heart in Healthcare. “There are so many ways they could interpret themselves and their ‘other’ side in this project, as you will see in this exhibit. Their imagination is amazing.”