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VG Corridor Project: The Power of Art in Wellness

Integrating art and craft within healthcare settings can have a positive impact on patients’ emotional and mental wellness. Passive and/or active artistic engagement can lead to improved health outcomes by lightening one’s mood, helping manage stress reactions, and reducing feelings of depression, among others. The staff at the Victoria General Hospital in Halifax (commonly known as “the VG”) regularly look for opportunities to brighten their building, and through the VG Corridor Project, are now collaborating with NSCAD University to reimagine the visual possibilities within their walls.

More than 500,000 patient visits are held every year at the VG. Alongside patients are their guests, aides, and hospital employees, who are all part of the broader hospital community who spend time in the building.  The VG Corridor Project, endorsed and supported by senior leadership at Nova Scotia Health, aims to make the corridor brighter, more engaging and cathartic for all those who walk the hospital’s halls.

The VG Corridor Project began with Sara Hartland-Rowe, NSCAD faculty in the Division of Fine Arts, Painting, inviting three students, Anna Halcrow, Ran Jacob, and Charlotte MacLean to participate. The group then visited their new blank canvas at the VG to get an understanding of the space, its limitations and offerings, as well as to find inspiration for their work. The group approached the project with care, meeting with VG staff to ensure their artworks would both complement the space and be respectful of the hospital setting.

Maquette by Charlotte MacLean. Photo as part of the VG Corridor Project presentation made to NS Health.

The artists have three main considerations: they want to make a piece that is beautiful, that makes the visual and sonic busyness of the hallway less obtrusive, and that reflects people’s experience at the hospital.

To address this latter goal, the artists are making a miniature 3D version of the hospital. Made of laser-cut, painted balsa wood, and constructed as a cutaway diorama, the miniature will show all aspects of hospital life: medical staff and patients as well as porters, cooks, someone repairing a burst pipe, and a quiet place for smudging.

The largest element of the project is a 34’ long painting that winds sinuously along the corridor. Consisting of interlocking variably-shaped panels, the painting is based on the motif of a journey. Each of the four artists will make one of the sentinel moments of the journey; the panels that connect these moments suggest the movement of clouds or of the wind.

“We see the collaboration between hospital and NSCAD as symbiotic,” said Sara. “All of us involved in the project have had direct experiences in hospitals, either as patients or with respect to a close family member. 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.”

Anna and Ran holding completed panels and off-cuts. Photo credit: Sara Hartland-Rowe

Programming at NSCAD encourages students to find opportunities for collaboration and community engagement. The Master of Arts in Art Education program, as one example, offers a community-based practice stream of learning, designed for students seeking advanced training in responsive art education pedagogy that is grounded in the needs and experiences of communities.

This approach helps NSCAD faculty and students identify opportunities to invoke compassion and humanity through art in healthcare. For example, Professor Kim Morgan’s Blood Group, 2016, is a permanent public art installation in the pedestrian concourse of the Collaborative Health Education Building at Dalhousie University. Visible from the street, Blood Group invites everyone who sees it to contemplate and engage with the magnified blood samples as works of art whose irregularities literally reflect the human substance they represent.

These partnerships help us recognize that while buildings like hospitals must be kept sterile and orderly, they need not be plain and stark. On the contrary, when given the opportunity to be enhanced by visual artists, the walls can reflect and enhance the possibilities of healing and connection experienced throughout one’s hospital journey.

You’ll often find NSCAD’s gifted and faculty and students shining a light on where it’s perhaps needed most – on our collective wellness.