For art curators like Trudy Wiesenberger and Joanne Cohen, white walls are an inspiration, a blank canvas.So visitors to the hospitals where these women work — Wiesenberger at University Hospitals and Cohen at the Cleveland Clinic — will have a hard time finding any white walls. But they will have no trouble finding lots of intriguing art.
The art collections at the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals take an experienced eye and a committed organization willing to financially and philosophically support it. The Cleveland Arts Prize is proud to celebrate these art programs and the people who make it possible.
Trudy Wiesenberger found herself in a particularly advantageous position one evening in 1987 — seated next to Dr. James A. Block, the brand new president of University Hospitals.She had noticed the lack of art on the walls at University Hospitals, and she pointed it out to him.
“I was stunned that a place that cared so well for children was so visually unfriendly,” she says.
Block agreed to create a program and fund it and every president thereafter has supported that decision, including current President and CEO Thomas F. Zenty III. Without that support, the program would not exist.
Wiesenberger, who 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. “We’ve done this, in many cases, with good posters,” of fine art, Wiesenberger says.
The hospital’s collection includes not only paintings and prints, but ceramics, textiles, metal, wood and glass sculptures. Sometimes she commissions art for specific locations.
“The variety of media is intended to provide warmth, texture and depth to the healing environment,” says Wiesenberger. “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.”
There was already a long tradition of using art in the buildings of the Cleveland Clinic, but until 2006, the hospital never had a curator. That year, the Clinic created an art program with the mission, “Medicine may cure you, but art will heal your spirit.” It is part of the hospital’s Art and Medicine Institute.
Under Cohen’s direction as art curator, the collection today includes more than 4,000 pieces, including site-specific commissioned art.
Cleveland Clinic President and CEO Delos M. “Toby” Cosgrove understands what a difference art makes in people’s lives, which makes this program possible, Cohen says.
“We really wanted to enhance the patient experience,” says Cohen. “Essentially, hospitals are a hard place to be in.”
An animated film by Jennifer Steinkamp that shows a tree changing seasons in a video loop is a good illustration of the healing power of art.
“So often somebody walks by and captures it on their cell phone,” Cohen says. “Kids will hug and want to interact with it. The effect it has is palpable.”
Cohen uses fine art and posters throughout the patient rooms and hallways. One of the patient television stations shows a tour of hospital art set to soothing music.
Patients say a single piece of art can take away some of the pressure of their stay. Some come to the hospital when they are well, 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 that.”
— Susan Ruiz Patton