Today, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund and NYC Health + Hospitals celebrated the publication of Healing Walls at NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem.
Healing Walls commemorates the three-year Community Mural Project, a flagship of the NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine program.
From 2019 through 2021, artists selected from hundreds of applicants collaborated with staff and the surrounding communities to create 26 murals— one in all eleven of the system’s hospitals, all five rehab and long-term care facilities, nine neighborhood clinics that are a part of NYC Health + Hospitals/Gotham Health community health centers and the health system’s new headquarters at 50 Water Street in Manhattan.
All 26 murals are documented in Healing Walls. The book is published by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund as a gift to the healthcare system in thanks for their bravery and dedication to the health of all New Yorkers, regardless of their circumstances. Healing Walls is being offered free to NYC Health + Hospitals staff and more than 1,500 employees and community members who participated in the project. It will be available for purchase on Amazon later this year, with all proceeds going to the NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine program.
The event will include the artists, NYC Health + Hospitals President and CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz, Illumination Fund President Laurie M. Tisch, and hospital CEOs and members of the Community Advisory Boards from across the city.
“We are proud to have underwritten this extraordinary program and to present this book to all of the people who work tirelessly every day and night to ensure the health of all New Yorkers,” said Laurie Tisch, founder, and president of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. “Our mission is to increase access and opportunity for all New Yorkers and to foster healthy and vibrant communities. This program epitomizes our values and illustrates how art can improve lives and promote healing. Creating Healing Walls was a labor of love.”
“I am particularly proud of the courage, competence, and resilience of the staff at NYC Health + Hospitals,” said Mitchell Katz, MD, President, and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals. “Under the best circumstances healthcare work is demanding and stressful, so finding ways to heal ourselves as we heal others is vital. Our Arts in Medicine program serves as a model for hospitals across the country. The Community Murals bring joy and beauty into our facilities and serve as a reminder that we are stronger when we come together across all sectors of the system.”
The Community Mural Project, launched in 2019, was designed to encourage creativity, lower stress, build trust, and increase engagement between hospital staff and members of their surrounding communities. Although the project was created with several hospitals before the COVID pandemic, the hospital system saw the impact of the program on frontline staff and affected communities and decided to expand it to reach every facility throughout the entire system. Each mural is the result of a collaboration between an artist, the hospital community, patients, and staff, who come together multiple times to design and paint their mural. The murals also create spaces for joy as well as healing for patients and frontline medical workers who are always under enormous stress and were hit especially hard during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Healing Walls, the culmination of three years of community participation, illustrates the collaborative spirit and values embraced by NYC Health + Hospitals,” said Larissa Trinder, Senior Director of Arts in Medicine at NYC Health + Hospitals. “The participating artists offer a diverse and dynamic perspective on what is means to be a part of the largest municipal health system in the country. Created especially for our patients, families and caregivers these murals reveal the humanity involved in healthcare and express the importance of togetherness during a time of great isolation. We are grateful to Laurie M. Tisch and the Tisch Illumination Fund for recognizing the tremendous impact this project has on our communities.”
The book includes full photo spreads and documentation of the murals’ creation; a foreword by Laurie Tisch; an essay on the history of hospital murals in New York by art historian and Whitney Museum curator Barbara Haskell; an essay by an emergency physician and journalist Abigail Zuger on the stress of hospital work and how the arts can help address anxiety, trauma, burnout and compassion fatigue; an outline of the collaboration process and its impact by Linh Dang, former head of NYC Health + Hospitals’ Arts in Medicine program; as well as an essay on the power of philanthropic partnerships by Illumination Fund executive director, Rick Luftglass. The book also lists more than 1,500 participants in the program, including hospital staff, patients, and community members who helped design the murals and then painted them.
“There is, of course, far more to art than just admiring the finished product, and the experience of creating the art confers health benefits that may be even greater. Especially for people with ‘difficult or complex problems for which there are no current adequate solutions’ as World Health Organization scholars put it in a 2019 review, the making of art is a huge therapeutic resource,” said Abigail Zuger, infectious disease physician and journalist. “And if there was ever a difficult, complex problem with no adequate solution on the books, surely it is the solitary exhaustion of the burnt-out healthcare worker. Working in a visually beautiful setting can help, but helping to make the setting beautiful can help even more.”
“The mission of the New Deal arts programs was not merely to employ out-of-work artists. Indeed, underlying the programs was the goal of reestablishing art as a meaningful agent of democracy through its unique capacity to engender collective experience and unite people around their common humanity,” said Barbara Haskell, Senior Curator, the Whitney Museum of American Art. “This was particularly evident in the Depression-era hospital murals. In combining aesthetic beauty with visual celebrations of the rituals and activities that give vitality to ‘our ability to experience the common world in its fullness,’ they demonstrated the meaningful role art can have in forging a shared vision of hope and renewal. Hospitals have changed dramatically since the 1930s, but the fundamental issues of life and death that are at their core have not, a reality that has only been underscored by the recent global pandemic. As we reflect upon the singular role hospitals play in our communities, it is time to reaffirm our understanding of art as an important part of the healing experience by strengthening our resolve to integrate it into hospitals. There are few places more deserving of great art.”
“When we launched the NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine program, we understood that our work, if successful, would have an important role to play in the lives of the people we serve—not just patients, but our own clinicians, hospital staff, and the people living around our facilities,” said Linh Dang, former director of Arts in Medicine at NYC Health + Hospitals. “Among our many arts programs, the Community Murals Project is one that brings people together to create a lasting tribute to our communities as well as to the unsung heroes of the hospitals. It celebrates the courage and resilience shown every day by the people who come through our doors.”
“We created this book to bring all of the murals together in one place—not only to document them and tell a little more of their history, but also to thank the thousands of hospital employees, community members, healthcare workers, artists, and others who gave their time and offered their creative energy to bring the murals to fruition,” said Laurie M. Tisch, founder, and president of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. “NYC Health + Hospitals is a truly visionary institution and a leader in community-based healthcare open to all. The Arts in Medicine program is exemplary of this innovative approach to care, not just for patients, but for staff and community alike. We are proud of the role that the Illumination Fund has played in the creation of the murals, and we hope that this book will be a source of pride and a reminder of the ways that art can enliven and improve hospital settings.”
“Because of the Illumination Fund’s mission of ‘increasing access and opportunity for all New Yorkers,’ we felt a particular affinity for the city’s public hospitals, NYC Health + Hospitals, the system that disproportionately serves low-income, uninsured and working-class patients in communities throughout New York,” said Rick Luftglass, Executive Director, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. “Public hospitals exist within an ecosystem of public, private, and nonprofit hospitals and academic medical centers. While all hospitals provide care to patients in need, public hospitals provide the safety net for millions of patients who do not have other options. There’s a compelling case for philanthropic support for public hospitals. They are essential in serving people in need, they are generally under-resourced, and they have ample opportunities for donors to have an impact.”
“I feel fortunate to have participated in the community mural project from conception to inception,” said Karen Dixon, Chair of the NYC Health + Hospitals Council of CABs and NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem CAB Chair. “Focus groups across our system sought buy-in from patients, community, and staff alike. The focus group that I participated in inspired our muralist to highlight legacy through the lens of a child – simply put, to reflect wonderment through the exploration of historic locations and figures. The community murals give voice and agency to often-marginalized communities.”
The Community Mural Project, a program of NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine, builds upon a mural tradition that started in the 1930s when the depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) supported the creation of murals in virtually every New York City public hospital. The tradition continued decades later with murals by world-famous artists such as Romare Bearden, Keith Haring, and Kenny Scharf. The NYC Health + Hospitals Community Mural Project is the country’s largest public hospital murals project since the WPA.
The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund
The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund is a New York City-based foundation that strives to improve access and opportunity for all New Yorkers and foster healthy and vibrant communities. The Illumination Fund plays an active role in supporting innovative approaches across a range of issues – ensuring that arts and arts education is accessible to all, promoting civic service, and promoting economic opportunity. In 2018, the Illumination Fund launched Arts in Health, a multi-year initiative to support organizations working on health issues that impact New York communities and that emphasize the arts as a tool for healing and building understanding. The initiative’s areas of focus include the role of the arts in addressing mental illness stigma, trauma, and aging-related diseases. In 2019 the Illumination Fund supported the creation of the NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine Program, expanding programs serving healthcare staff, patients, and communities in sites across the City. The grant also enabled NYC Health + Hospitals to launch new programs that use the arts as a resource to promote employee wellness and resilience and to combat compassion fatigue. In 2021, in part due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the Illumination Fund expanded its focus areas to include the arts in mental health. For more information, visit www.lmtif.org or follow @LMTischFund on Twitter.
NYC Health + Hospitals
NYC Health + Hospitals is the largest municipal healthcare system in the nation serving more than a million New Yorkers annually in more than 70 patient care locations across the city’s five boroughs. A robust network of outpatient, neighborhood-based primary and specialty care centers anchors care coordination with the system’s trauma centers, nursing homes, post-acute care centers, home care agency, and MetroPlus health plan—all supported by 11 essential hospitals. Its diverse workforce of more than 43,000 employees is uniquely focused on empowering New Yorkers, without exception, to live the healthiest life possible.
NYC Health + Hospitals’ Arts in Medicine Program
The Arts in Medicine department at NYC Health + Hospitals seeks to foster emotional well-being and promote healing and wellness for all patients and their families, employees, and the greater community by utilizing the arts, including literary, visual, and performing arts throughout the healthcare system. In addition to managing the system’s significant visual arts collection, the Arts in Medicine department encourages evidenced-based practices and provides technical assistance to all of the system’s healthcare facilities and clinics. This is accomplished by combining artistic innovation and education into a comprehensive healthcare continuum that supports the healing benefits of the arts.
Photo credit: 1) Healing Walls book. 2) Through Healing We Unite (2020) by Imani Shanklin Roberts on the exterior of NYC Health + Hospitals/Woodhull. 3) The Shoulders of Legacy (2021) by Angel Garcia at NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem.