My firm, Aesthetics Inc., has been involved with various aspects of the design of children’s hospitals for more than 20 years. When we recently were privileged to work with Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota on a major expansion project, we had the opportunity to participate with—and learn from—visionary leaders during a project I believe has much to teach us all.
Originally hired to implement the hospital’s expansive arts program, my firm and I were also asked to assist the organization in a design leadership capacity.
With 332 patient beds, Children’s of Minnesota is one of the 10 largest pediatric organizations in the United States. Its expansion project includes two campuses, Minneapolis and St Paul. Minneapolis was largely completed in 2010, with new surgery and cardiovascular centers, renovated neonatal and pediatric intensive care units, and a new emergency department. The St. Paul renovation, completed this year, includes a new five-story patient tower, new operating rooms, an expanded emergency department, and a new epilepsy unit.
The culture of possibility
Hospitals are—as they should be—bastions of practical, pragmatic thinking. Because virtually every major decision can have profound consequences for patient health, fiscal soundness, staff engagement, and institutional identity, those decisions are generally weighed with great care and analytical rigor.
And at the same time, hospitals also represent some of the highest and most idealistic human aspirations: the healing of not just the body but also of the mind and the spirit; the renewal of hope; and service to others.
It is difficult for a healthcare organization’s leadership to stand in both of those modes of thinking at the same time, and to generate an organizational culture that honors the full expression of the idealistic impulse while remaining grounded in responsible operational practicalities.
When a healthcare organization successfully engages both of those aspects of its responsibilities, it creates what I call a “culture of possibility,” because it entertains breakthrough thinking about possibilities while harnessing that thinking to the practical constraints of what is actually possible. Such a culture carries an organization beyond the limitations of existing models and industry benchmarks to breakthroughs that shift the sense of what’s possible, creating new models and new benchmarks, setting new standards for everyone within its industry.
Children’s of Minnesota has created such a culture, and its new physical environment and the incorporation of the arts are a result of that culture at the same time as they are expressions of it. Its renovations have incorporated a major commitment to using the arts as an active participant in healing, and in communicating vital messages of empowerment, opportunity, generosity, and delight.
Arts, healing, and urban renewal
You don’t have to look far to see the combination of vision and pragmatism in the hospital’s recent makeover of its Minneapolis campus—you can start with the full title of the arts component: the Arts & Healing and Urban Renewal Project. Dr. Alan Goldbloom, the hospital’s president and CEO, explains, “Our healing mission includes not only patients and their families, but our community, too, and so we decided to launch an urban renewal effort unlike any other in the country through a unique collaboration with the local arts community.”
The original vision was particularly inspired by the former board chairman of Children’s of Minnesota, the late James Ryan, who had been a long-term supporter of the arts in the Twin Cities as well as a visionary leader at the hospital. He saw that the exceptionally robust arts institutions there offered a great opportunity for practical yet novel collaboration to serve the hospital’s young patients and their families, and he began inviting them into a process of co-creation to develop programming for the hospital.