White walls are an inspiration, a blank canvas for
art curators. So visitors to the hospitals where Trudy Wiesenberger and
Joanne Cohen work—the former at University Hospitals of Cleveland (UH)
and the latter at the Cleveland Clinic—will have a hard time finding
any empty walls. But they will have no trouble finding lots of
impressive art collections of Greater Cleveland's largest health care
systems are the products of experienced eyes and committed
organizations willing to financially and philosophically support them.
But it was serendipity that lit the spark at UH.
evening in 1987 Trudy Wiesenberger found herself in a particularly
advantageous position—seated next to James A. Block,
M.D., the brand-new president of University Hospitals. She had
noticed the lack of art on the walls at UH, and she pointed it out to
him. “I was stunned that a place that cared so well for children was so
visually unfriendly,” she recalled.
agreed to create and fund an art program, and every president
thereafter has supported that decision, including current president and
CEO Thomas F. Zenty III. Without that support, the hospital's art
program could not have thrived.
who had previously worked as an instructor at the Cleveland Museum of
Art, joined the hospital system and put together a patient-friendly
collection that today includes roughly 2,000 pieces. The art supports
the hospital’s mission: “To Teach, To Heal, To Discover.”
designed the collection to provoke thought and curiosity, to encourage
reflection, to delight, uplift and comfort. Artwork is in
virtually all the patient and exam and consultation rooms.The
hospital’s collection includes not only paintings and prints, but
ceramics, textiles and metal, wood and glass sculptures. Sometimes
Wiesenberger commissions art for specific locations. In other
instances, "good posters” picturing fine art pieces suffice.
“The variety of media is intended to provide warmth, texture and depth
to the healing environment,” Wiesenberger explained. “We strive to make the
hospital a welcoming place. The art at University Hospitals is meant to
engage the head and the heart, the body and the brain.”
By 2006, when the Cleveland Clinic created an art program with the mission,
“Medicine may cure you, but art will heal your spirit," as part of
the hospital’s Art and Medicine Institute, there
was already a long tradition of placing art in the buildings of the
Cleveland Clinic, but the hospital had never had a curator. Retained to
fill that position, Joanne Cohen has since built a collection of
more than 4,000 pieces, including site-specific commissioned art.
credis Cleveland Clinic president and CEO Delos M. “Toby” Cosgrove, a
former Clinic heart surgeon, with understanding what a difference art
makes in people’s lives.
“We really wanted to enhance the patient experience,” Cohen explained. “Essentially, hospitals are a hard place to be in.”
cites one of her most unusual acquisitions, an animated video loop by
Jennifer Steinkamp that shows a tree changing seasons, to illustrate
the healing power of art.
“So often somebody walks by and captures
it on their cell phone,” she observed. “Kids will hug and want to
interact with it. The effect it has is palpable.”
scatters fine art and posters throughout the patient rooms and
hallways. One of the patient television stations provides a virtual
tour of the hospital's art collection set to soothing music.
say a single piece of art can take away some of the pressure of their
stay. Even those who are well can come to the hospital to take a
self-guided audio art tour.
“We want to give you a moment of levity, beauty, humor,” Cohen says, “anything that will in some way help you get through.”
—Susan Ruiz Patton