Trudy Wiesenberger and Joanne Cohen, Corporate Art Curators


Trudy Wiesenberger and Thomas F. Zenty III
of University Hospitals
Joanne Cohen and Delos M. “Toby” Cosgrove
of theCleveland Clinic

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 intriguing art.

The 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.

One 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.

Block 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.

Wiesenberger, 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.”

Wiesenberger 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.

She 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.”

Cohen 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.”

Cohen 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.

Patients 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

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 •

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