In a world dominated by Web 2.0, user-generated content, and ever-increasing sources of information and reference, it is more important than ever to afford your clients and community the ability to generate their own content and context. That's exactly what JBA Art Solutions has done for the Clarian Health Network in Indiana through its Photos for Health project. The concept seems simple enough: Allow anyone in the local community to submit photos to be considered for placement in one of the Clarian Health Network hospitals. What Photos for Health received though was anything but simple-rather, a mass of images from all over the world to help create a vast and involving art installation that would span several buildings and supply countless pieces of appropriate, calming, and user-generated artwork.

Though the Photos for Health project was explicitly extended only to the Clarian and local communities, Jacqueline Anderson, president and CEO of JBA Art Solutions, explains that it quickly became much more than that. “It caught on by the way of a photography magazine that, unfortunately, is no longer in existence, called JPG Magazine,” says Anderson. “They championed the project unbeknownst to us. That's how those people were reached. Then it was one of those things that just caught on. People were really excited that their photos were chosen. We had people drive from Oklahoma and fly from New York to come to our opening in Lafayette, Indiana. It was just completely unexpected. They were bringing their entire families and taking their picture in front of their pictures.”

The project called for people to submit images fitting into a number of themes, most dealing with the natural environment. In the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, images of nature evoking a sense of peace, healing, and wellness were chosen, whereas in the Clarian Arnett hospital, themes centered on animals and ecosystems.

Anderson had the unenviable position of selecting images for each specific room in the various hospitals. With thousands of images to choose from-she estimates upwards of 20,000- Anderson painstakingly considered each room, the processes that takes place in them, and the appropriate image. “I do all of the selections,” says Anderson. “I go through the selections very carefully. I would look at an image for the infusion area at the cancer center differently than I would for, say, the lobby space, or for a staff sanctuary, patient room, or staff lounge. These hospitals have a million kinds of rooms. The spaces are so vast and can be pretty ‘clinical’ in a cold and sterile way. Doing something as simple as a beautifully framed image in a bathroom, for example, changes the whole space. It really humanizes the space.”

Fortunately, Anderson had a bevy of research to assist her in the selection of the images. Anderson explains that a research branch of the project investigated the healing power of art and the effect different forms of art have on the patient. Not only did this research uncover that photography is the most engaging form of artwork in hospitals because of its worldly grounding ability, but also the composition of the images is important. “When I was going through my selection, I would not put something that was more graphic in the infusion area or the private infusion area; nothing jagged like rocks or even something that would make you think of movement like a waterfall, because you're in a state of nausea when you're going through that treatment,” says Anderson. “We were very sensitive to that.”

Treating the buildings and installation holistically was a huge concern for the project. Rather than seeing the project in a front-of-house versus back-of-house dichotomy, Photos for Health treated the entire building as a united challenge. “There is not a single room that does not have artwork in it except for the cleaning/utility room and operating rooms,” says Anderson. “From operating corridors to nurses’ stations to every single bathroom in the space-I think there were 200 bathrooms in one of the buildings-I wanted to figure out a way that we could treat the building holistically and to really have an impact on your experience in the building as a whole. Most of us are not sitting in the lobby-the people who are giving their lives and dedicating their lives-who knows if they're an echocardiographer, a doctor, a nurse, or some other kind of a healthcare giver, this space is where they spend their days. I approach things by putting myself in their position. If I'm a nurse here, if I'm a doctor or patient here, what is going to put me at ease?”

Ultimately though, this project built a community and a sense of diversity far and above what was initially expected. Anderson describes that, with all of the contributions, the installation avoids any possibility of becoming stagnant and monotonous, continually creating fresh spaces throughout the entire facility. “There is a flow. It feels peaceful,” says Anderson. “It feels comforting and I think that's the whole thing about coming into these places. You're scared. When our health is compromised, you feel vulnerable. Who can help you? Not a machine, it's a person. Even having images that people took represents that we're kind of all in this together. It really is symbolic how, in the end, we have to help each other out, or we're kind of alone.” HD

Healthcare Design 2009 April;9(4):54-55