Today's hospitals are not just for patients. When someone becomes sick, the whole family is affected and the entire family unit should be embraced. Also, a key component for today's healthcare systems is the creation of a strong caregiving staff that is also happy with their environment.

In line with these trends, the survey Cultures of Care: A Study of Arts Programs in U.S. Hospitals shows more than 2,500 hospitals use arts programming to create healing environments, support patient mental and emotional recovery, communicate health information, and foster positive working conditions.1

“The survey results underscore the profound value of the arts. They enhance recovery by lifting patients' spirits and, subsequently, easing their pain,” says Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. “The survey demonstrates that hospitals and local arts organizations are working together and drawing upon community resources to personalize care and create a more welcoming hospital environment”.

As an art consultant, interior designer and member of the Society for the Arts in Healthcare, I help organizations plan, budget, commission and procure artwork for their healthcare facilities. One of my initial steps is to meet with the key decision makers of the organization to extract their vision for their facility, as well as its market and demographics. As we work together, an exciting, customized artwork plan can be developed and implemented to its fullest potential.

This process proved very successful for a recent project we completed for the St. John's Heart Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. We utilized artwork as a sensory way to promote health and well-being based on the facility's vision to provide a total healing environment for patients, families, and staff.

In an optimal artwork master planning project, Spellman Brady & Co. is brought in early in the design process–usually during the design development phase before the construction documents are finalized–to help locate focal points and opportunities for the artwork. This time frame usually allows us 24 to 30 months to develop an artwork master plan for a project of this size. However, in the case of the St. John's Heart Hospital, they learned of our services and resources during the final phase of their project.

The $140 million, 340,000-square-foot Heart Hospital facility located on the campus of St. John's Mercy Medical Center is the first hospital in the region exclusively dedicated to cardiovascular medicine. It features 96 private patient rooms with accommodations for family members, nine procedure laboratories, five operating rooms, integrated emergency department facilities for both adult and pediatric care, and on-site physician offices. For this project, we designed the artwork master plan and carefully selected and installed over 600 pieces of artwork in less than four months prior to their move-in date.

St. John's CEO Denny DeNarvaez's vision and passion for providing a total “healing environment” was critical to creating the overall artwork master plan. We worked very closely with St. John's administration to build on their vision, and selected artwork that supported that vision throughout the hospital. All of the artwork selected conveys a feeling of hope and light, greatly enhancing the interior environment. In particular, DeNarvaez's belief in Feng Shui elements gave me the creative license to push the envelope on her behalf to bring her vision to reality. The bold use of artist mediums and color was deliberate, and has evoked a positive response throughout the facility from patients, families, and caregivers.

As a first time patient or visitor to the hospital, you can rely on the vibrant imagery to guide you around every corner–the artwork becomes a wayfinding tool to help navigate you and your family's journey through whatever health obstacles lie ahead. Immediately upon stepping out of your car and looking across the parking lot at the two-story atrium of the St. John's Heart Hospital, you feel a sense of welcome. The quilted colorful metal collage sculpture, “Nature's Song,” located above the fireplace on the first floor, and the “Tree of Life” sculpture on the second floor work together with the architecture to create a beacon of lightness and sense of “welcome,” utilizing symbols of nature in the artwork. Artist Jon Michael Route created “Nature's Song,” while Cindy Wrobel created “Tree of Life”.

As you continue on your journey to a patient floor, and exit the elevator, you are greeted with a beautiful detailed image of nature that says, “Hello, come in”. Artist Larry Kanfer created the “Hello” fine art photography, “Autumn Beauty”. The waiting area on each patient floor is highlighted with a panoramic image of nature that has been divided into three parts to create a sense of balance in the Feng Shui environment and to create focus. As you proceed through the patient floor, you are surprised and delighted with artwork niches that have not only two-dimensional works, but three-dimensional works, such as 24”-diameter handmade pottery platters glazed in bright cheerful colorways. Each of these artwork niches has scripture quotes that lead you down the “Path of Recovery”.

The family subwaiting area on each floor has a different oil pastel depicting nature and sunlight to create the sense of calm and hope needed for the family as they support the patient during this trying time. We have enhanced the patient, family, and staff experiences with a variety of fine art combined with beautiful vibrant prints to balance the artwork master planning budget. Each patient room has an uplifting print with a unique scripture as a focal point to reinforce the comfort and support of the patient and family during their stay. As you exit each patient floor at the elevator you are gently nodded goodbye, with an up close and personal nature image “Goodbye” gicleé print of an oil pastel. Jane Sterritt created the “Goodbye” gicleé painting on the third floor, “Candle Weed”.

The emergency areas of hospitals are typically the most stressful and chaotic of spaces. At St. John's, I worked closely with Grace Corbin of Christner, Inc., to implement her creativity. Visitors to the adult side of the emergency room are beckoned into the space with a recessed ceiling niche painted with a fine art mural to depict a blue tranquil sky. Anywhere you walk in the waiting area the sky's perspective is accurate, as in nature when you are peering into the clouds and gazing up into the sky. Surrounding the waiting area on the walls are oversized prints of nature's seasons to create an introspective mood, taking your mind off the reason for your visit and reassuring you as you wait for the doctor.

Across the lobby, you enter the pediatric emergency section of the waiting area. You are greeted by another recessed, hand-painted ceiling mural showing all the constellations, highlighted with fiber optic lights. Meanwhile, the focal wall comes alive with the “Fish and Friends to the Rescue” mural, painted by the same talented artist that created the recessed ceiling murals, Andrea Gallagher. Throughout the pediatric exam rooms are hand painted fish and sea horses embossed on the acoustical ceiling tiles to occupy the attention of the littlest of patients.

Ofcourse, this trend in “Healing Environments” isn't totally focused on the patients. In all areas of healthcare today hospital staffs are doing more and are being stretched further than they have been in the past. Creating environments that support them is important not only for maintaining and recruiting valuable staff, but to help them provide better care. In each nursing station of the St. John's Heart Hospital, members of the caregiving team can view delightful images from three different viewing points, providing them relief from the stresses of caring for the very ill. As caregivers visit patients in their rooms and walk the floors, they are also surrounded by inspirational words of scripture and artwork, uplifting their spirits with hope and renewal.

One of the planning tools we used to complete this comprehensive project in the four-month timeframe was the blend of original and custom artwork, gicleé, and open edition prints to make the hospital facility feel unique and special, yet on budget. Gicleé prints connote an elevation in printmaking technology. Images are generated from high resolution digital scans and printed with archival quality inks onto various substrates, including canvas, fine art, and photo-base paper. The gicleé printing process provides better color accuracy than other means of reproduction. I believe in utilizing graphic images in a larger-than-life size to draw the person into the image. The quality of the gicleé print rivals traditional silver-halide and gelatin printing processes and is commonly found in museums, art galleries, and photographic galleries.

The tremendous task of creating an artwork master plan of this size must appear cohesive and integrated with the architecture and interiors designed by Christner, Inc. I believe that the systematic approach to combine 60 pieces of fine art from 11 different artists for the key wayfinding focal points of the interior give the spaces the sensory “wow” factor. The fine art commissioned pieces are more expensive to place and it is unrealistic to expect to fill an entire facility with this caliber of work. A total of 629 pieces were needed for the entire facility, and I selecte d and placed 569 open-edition prints to support the “stars” of the spaces. Also, the numerous resources I work with are talented artists with whom I discuss the feeling I want to convey within the space. By working with these fine artists, we were able to create a unified movement that all adds up to something transcendent.

From patient rooms to surprise niche spaces within corridors, to brilliant recessed ceiling-mounted original artwork, it is my hope that everyone who experiences St. John's Heart Hospital will view healthcare in an inspirational, more truly health-gifting, way. HD

St. John's Heart Hospital, St. Louis, Missouri


  1. Cultures of Care Monograph: A Study of Arts and Humanities in U.S. Hospitals. Naj Wikoff, president emeritus of the Society for the Arts in Healthcare and director of the Dartmouth Medical School C. Everett Koop Institute's Healing & the Arts Program.