Think about the way we most commonly view art. We may go to a museum, gallery, or show. We might pay an admission fee, have a membership card, or gather in a crowded room, sipping wine out of plastic cups. Doesn’t it seem more logical to bring art to where the people are or where they most need it? Doesn’t it make sense to bring it to a place where there’s a captive audience who would benefit from diversion, calming imagery, and creativity?

But while an art piece may be deemed a masterpiece in a museum setting, it may not translate to the setting of the anxious patient or the stressed healthcare worker. Carefully identified art pieces, such as landscapes with sweeping views, have been documented to aid in stress reduction and calming the patient, reducing pain, and positively contributing to the overall patient experience.[i]

Emotional healing contributes to physical healing, and the design of the built environment inclusive of art has been documented to play a significant role in emotional healing.

Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven

The 516,500-square-foot, 14-floor facility designed by a team led by Shepley Bulfinch used evidence-based design principles to guide features that were incorporated, including a rooftop garden, natural daylighting, and single-patient rooms. However, the design went beyond the physical layout and connection to nature, and included an evidence-based art program. Quality care was taken to new heights with a building design that has neutral colors to act as a backdrop to carefully selected art pieces.

Smilow’s art program started with a diverse team approach. Yale-New Haven Hospital formed an art committee with staff representation, patient representatives, and interior designers from CAMA Inc., serving as art consultants. CAMA started its process with a research review, providing the evidence to steer art selection and placement, and then with the committee developed a mission statement to provide structure and guide the decision-making around art selection and its role in the new hospital.

The research and mission helped to identify pieces to consider as well as best placement. The committee was involved in the entire process, identifying regional artists, works using a variety of mediums, and the inclusion of a rotating healing arts gallery where staff, patients, and families could experience art on a regular basis as they traveled from the parking garage to clinical areas.

The hospital budgeted for art at the beginning stages and had a line item specifically for art selection, recognizing the role art can play in healing. In the end, more than 700 pieces of art (the third largest permanent art display in Connecticut) were selected for the opening of the new hospital. The facility benefited from generous donations through organizations such as the Yale University Art Gallery, LeWitt Foundation, and from regional artists.

The placement of each piece was as important as the selection. The pieces were grouped with calming, sweeping landscapes in pretreatment areas, and community-based pieces in postoperative spaces to support integration back into the individual’s community. Regional landscapes—like coastal views, marshes, and farmland—were featured as well as local New Haven imagery, urban landscapes, historical architectural photographs, and aerial views of the surrounding campus. The use of art connected historical architectural artifacts with new features and provided a connection between past and present.

One waiting room features not just art but also artifacts—old musical instruments, pottery, and glassware—to tempt visitors out of their seats to take a look around and experience the space. The art can bring someone out of their own thoughts and spark a conversation between two patients. Sharing their stories may connect individuals at a time when they may feel alone or isolated.

One nurse requested a labyrinth and inspired a finger labyrinth for the indoor space. The CAMA team did some research and identified a Texas artist who featured labyrinths in his work. The piece selected was placed in a way to best engage those in the space.

Learn more

Smilow Center’s art program, including a YouTube video featuring Roz Cama can be found at:

Shepley Bulfinch:

CAMA, Inc.:

RxArt, a not-for-profit organization that promotes the use of art in healthcare: www.rxart 


[i]Kathy Hathom and Upali Nanda, A Guide to Evidence-based Art, (2008) The Center for Health Design.