A Sense Of Place: Art Connects Healthcare To Community

IIDA members reflect on how art plays a key role in healing and why it’s not only important for patients and their families, but also for the public at large.

03/03/2016 By Louisa Fitzgerald

Cutting-edge, evidence-based healthcare design may sound sterile and dominated by technology, but art continues to play an increasingly important role in these environments. Positive patient outcomes—such as stress relief, faster recovery times, and a reduced need for pain medications—have been well-documented, but the benefits of including art and artisanal objects in healthcare extend beyond.

By connecting communities, supporting local artists, creating healing environments, and celebrating identity, art is often used by healthcare designers to fulfill many goals for multiple populations while still satisfying the complex design needs of healthcare spaces.

“Healthcare facilities must house technology, prevent the spread of infection, and accommodate all of the people who are populating that space, which often encompasses more than patients, their families, and employees,” said Cheryl S. Durst, executive vice president and CEO of IIDA. “Art is a counterpoint to the complexity of healthcare design. Incorporating art and artisanal pieces into healthcare environments humanizes the experience, creates a sense of calm, and presents an opportunity to welcome others into these spaces.”

Edwin Beltran, design principal in the Columbus office of NBBJ and member of the IIDA International Board of Directors, agrees: “In a world dominated by digital media stimuli, we see an increased need for sensorial stimuli that appeals to the human need for touch and connection to nature, both of which have been shown to reduce stress. Handcrafted materials offer opportunities to create environments that appeal to multiple senses by weaving sight, touch, and sound together. Combined, these materials connect us back to our human nature, which is of particular importance in healthcare.

Engaging the Community

Healthcare facilities are increasingly designed to shed the identity of being a place for those who are ailing; instead, these environments are built to be gathering places by providing programming for the public as well as event spaces and auditoriums that can be used for various community purposes.

“Healthcare is not only about illness, it’s about wellness. People go because they are sick, but also because they want to be healthy,” said Debra Levin, president and CEO of the Center for Health Design. “Many hospitals now have community rooms that the public is invited to use, so the goal is to create spaces that the community wants to be a part of.”

Using local artwork offers the community an opportunity to be involved with a healthcare project and provides an incentive to visit or use the facility for purposes unrelated to illness.

“You can support a local art community and also bring one together,” said Levin. “If you find local artists, they can create interesting pieces that have a sense and feel of the area. It’s a great way to bring the community together for a new facility, raise funds, and garner support for a project.”

According to Jocelyn Stroupe, principal of Cannon Design, it’s common for healthcare designers to tap local artists. In a recent project for an ambulatory care facility at the University of Minnesota, the design team put out a call.

“The range of art was from photography to sculpture and suspended pieces. What was interesting was that members of that community could walk through the facility and recognize names of the artists or subject matter from the area,” said Stroupe. “It provided people in that space with the ability to feel more connected, another sense of comfort in a healthcare environment.”

Celebrating Identity

Art in healthcare spaces can strengthen patients’ connection to individual identity and affiliation with a larger group, creating a sense of pride and evoking feelings of familiarity and control.


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