On one end of the building, there’s an original by Maynard Dixon. Nearby, a landscape by LeConte Stewart. A Gary Smith rural scene is down the hall, around the corner you’ll find a dramatic still life by David Dornan, and nearby a peaceful watercolor by Shirley Bailey. This who’s who of local and regional artists isn’t part of a gallery or museum. It’s the art collection that hangs throughout Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI).
It all started 10 years ago when Karen Huntsman, the wife of Jon M. Huntsman, HCI’s founder and principal benefactor, and her friend Martha Stockham toured the building still under construction. They discussed using fine art to decorate and de-institutionalize the space, but Mrs. Huntsman was adamant no funds be taken away from patient care or research. “That’s how HCI’s Art Committee started,” says Stockham. “We put together a group of people in the community who could gather donations. We started with nothing and a budget of zero. We now have more than 1,500 pieces in the collection, and still a budget of zero. People have been amazing with their generosity.”
“It warms up the space and gives it life,” says Mrs. Huntsman. “The people who come here are sick, or they wouldn’t be here. You want to embrace them with all the beauty you can, so they can take their minds off their troubles.”
The committee has gathered a wide range of art from artists, collectors, and patients. Many genres and mediums are on display—impressionism, still life, scenic, abstract, sculpture, photography, and textiles. “People view life differently, so it’s important to have variety,” says Mrs. Huntsman.
Hospital staff has witnessed different ways the art has benefited patients. “I often see patients stopping to view the art. It gives them a chance to escape and get out of their room and look at something beautiful,” says Melissa Banner, RN, an inpatient nurse. Gretchen Ratzlaff, RN, MSN, manager of the Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) unit at HCI, says art enhances recovery. “Patients on the BMT unit are hospitalized for weeks and often months at a time. A therapeutic environment is critical to their mental and physical healing. It’s such a nice thing for our patients to have lovely art during their extended stays.”
The Art Committee is working hard to collect art for 50 new inpatient rooms and various clinics that will be part of the expanded hospital, scheduled for completion in 2011. For the committee, it’s a labor of love. “If a patient is looking at a piece of art and not thinking about cancer, then we’ve done what we set out to do,” says Stockham. Mrs. Huntsman agrees. “We have wonderful doctors, procedures, everything here is first rate. Shouldn’t the art be as well?”