A well-known Native American artist found herself flat on her back on a gurney several years ago, being wheeled down the hallways at UNM Hospital. She remembers the experience with a smile.
“I looked on the walls and there was all this artwork by my friends,” she said. “It was a great comfort.”
Fritz Schroeder, John Boomer, Howard Terpning and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith are just a few of the American Indian artists represented on the walls of the hospital as part of the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center (HSC) Art collection.
“Our collection is for our patients, their families, and our staff to look at, and we want the collection to be a reflection our community,” said Christina Fenton, director of the HSC Art Program.
The program began in 1991 by Dr. Jonathan Abrams, who wanted to fill the blank walls of the then new Ambulatory Care Center (ACC) with art. The building houses outpatient clinics and therapy programs, as well as faculty offices for a number of clinical departments. From the start, the collection has relied primarily on donations of work from local collectors and artists.
Today the collection numbers more than 2,000 pieces valued at over $2.5 million and is placed throughout the HSC.
And, there is growing evidence that art helps to heal.
There are a number of hospital studies showing arts programs can lead to shorter hospital stays and influence the need for medication while boosting job satisfaction and employee retention, said UNM Hospitals Chief Executive Officer Steve McKernan.
“We know hospital stays can be fraught with anxiety and tension. Patients constantly tell our hospital staff that the time they spend viewing our artwork provide moments of calm and reflection," he said.
Many patients have talked about how the members of their family look forward to being in the art galleries each time they come for tests and treatments, said Fenton. There are also revolving art exhibitions on the fifth floor hallway of the ACC. Local media calendars keep tabs on receptions and shows.
“We’ve had significant gifts from patients, their families and the artists themselves,” said Fenton. “They often tell stories of being patients or sitting in our waiting rooms. They say they hope their gifts will ease the way for others. As a result, we believe we have a collection that truly reflects the uniqueness of New Mexico and New Mexicans.”