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NSCAD students and faculty install artwork in the Victoria General Hospital

There are more than 500,000 patient visits annually at Halifax’s Victoria General Hospital (commonly known as ‘the VG’) and now, thanks to the VG Art Project, the hospital has an art corridor made by NSCAD faculty and students for its greater community to enjoy.

The VG Art Project is a collaboration between Nova Scotia Health (NSH), Partners for Care, and NSCAD University. In the spring of 2022, Kim Morgan, Professor of Sculpture and Maggie Marwah, Chair of NSCAD’s Board of Governors connected Partners for Care with Sara Hartland-Rowe, a part-time painting professor in the Division of Fine Arts at NSCAD.

Everyone involved in the project has had direct experiences in hospitals, either as patients or with a close family member, says Hartland-Rowe.

“These experiences run the full gamut of human feeling: fear, pain, grief and happiness. Our intention is to use our knowledge and skills as artists to make a piece that might offer solace, respite or enjoyment to the people who work in the hospital and the people who go there for healthcare.”

Inviting artists and artwork into the hospital is part of the VG’s overall goal to continually find ways to improve the patient, staff, and visitor experience, says Derek Spinney, Vice-President, Corporate Services, Infrastructure and Chief Financial Officer, NSH.

“This project is about recognizing and honouring the healthcare teams that are dedicated to delivering high quality services and creating an opportunity to bring a positive and engaging experience to patients, visitors, and staff,” Spinney says. 

Jane Davies (CEO, Partners for Care), Azza Mohamed (Site Lead, Victoria General Hospital), Sara Hartland-Rowe (Faculty), Derek Spinney (VP Corporate Services, Infrastructure and CFO, Nova Scotia Health)

Paying tribute to the people that work, undergo treatment, and offer support to one another

Hartland-Rowe spearheaded the project for NSCAD with three students, Ran Jacob (Fine Art), Charlotte MacLean (Interdisciplinary Arts), and Anna Halcrow (Fine Art).

They visited their new blank canvas at the hospital to understand the space and to find inspiration by touring the building and meeting many healthcare providers.

The artists worked on concepts and shared them with a focus group of VG staff members. The reaction to their concepts were positive and the art was completed throughout the last several months.

The first piece, Doll-house, is a model of the VG. Doll-house pays tribute to the experiences of people that work, undergo treatment, and offer support to one another here. Made of laser-cut, painted masonite, and constructed as a cutaway diorama, the miniature shows all aspects of hospital life: medical staff and patients as well as porters, cooks, and a quiet place for smudging.

The second piece, Journey, is a 34-foot-long painting that winds along the corridor. It proposes a landscape where figures pass through a garden peopled by giant statues/gods, a Halifax Street on a rainy evening, a sun-drenched field, and a paradisical coastline. These moments within the journey are connected by a series of panels that begin as an abstracted version of sun and water and which increasingly become more descriptive of nature, animals, and a city.

In each piece of artwork small stories are being told. Certain figures show up more than once in different settings, like Easter eggs for viewers to discover.

“There are a lot of different people with different stories coming through this hallway,” says student Anna Halcrow. “Those who are making weekly or daily visits to the hospital who may not think much about the work at first, but they will revisit it and discover something new each time. They are able to invent the story and place themselves in the cycles of life we are representing.”

“This work will provide those who come through it an opportunity to slow down, reflect, and heal”

Through the VG Art Project, the hospital was able to work with artists to leverage the therapeutic benefits of experiencing art, something that has been a research interest of Dr. Peggy Shannon, President of NSCAD University, for many years.

“Integrating art within healthcare settings can have a positive impact on patients’ and staff emotional and mental wellness. In Toronto, for example, I worked with the Hospital for Sick Children on a live theatre project that investigated how active artistic engagement can lead to improved health outcomes. I am thrilled with the work that Sara and our students have made, and I hope to see more collaborations like this in the future,” says Shannon.

Jane Davies, CEO of Partners for Care (PFC), a non-profit partner of Nova Scotia Health (NSH), whose goal is to continually find ways to improve the patient, staff, and visitor experience, says that based on this partnership they will seek out future opportunities like this one.

“We think this work is a breath of fresh air and will provide those who come through it an opportunity to slow down, reflect, and heal,” says Davies.