Leveraging art, graphics in health care facilities

Artwork by George Peters and Melanie Walker of Airworks Studio at the UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital in Longmont.

Sara Parsons, ASID, CHID, EDAC Principal, Gallun Snow

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The expectations for health care buildings are constantly changing. In today’s world, the current trend is for outpatient spaces meant to serve the needs of interchangeable clinics or specialties as opposed to the more traditional model of customizing each space to the clinic served. The use of art helps to make each space unique and tailored to the patients being served. The importance of art in health care spaces is more than just a pretty picture. Art can bridge a connection with the local community by reflecting landmarks. Art can inspire patients and visitors through the healing process with hopeful, colorful imagery.

When a new health care facility first opens its doors, it wants to be embraced by the local community. One way to speed this bonding process is through art and graphics. When a first-time patient or visitor walks though the new facility and recognizes landmarks and locations in the artwork, it builds a connection. Everyone likes to feel connected to the place where they receive health care. At our firm, we like to celebrate the regional attributes and local subject matter in art while reflecting local styles and history. In Denver, an image of the skyline, an aerial of the city or an abstract of Union Station feels familiar. In a smaller town setting like Greeley, ranching scenes are more recognizable to some while historic buildings in the Downtown Greeley Historic District may be more well known to others. When we can display regional history, we create another connection to our community roots.

Throughout the life of the facility, the relationship with community is important – whether earning trust or fundraising, expanding services or creating partnerships. To keep the art local, we try to work within the community or with regional artists to provide appropriate healing art in health care facilities. Healing art covers a wide range of subject matter and media from majestic mountain vistas in oil paintings to abstract colorful fused glass pieces.

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Today the opportunity to display art or graphics in a health care facility is evolving. We still can hang a painting on the wall or a glass sculpture from the ceiling, but now we can also integrate art with the architecture. We can locate glass art panels within a wood accent wall. Manufacturers will print a graphic image on a range of wall coverings appropriate for the heavy traffic of health care spaces such as headwalls, long corridors or a backdrop to reception. We can even have images integrated into flooring products to support an overall design. Graphic displays that started in retail spaces are showing up in health care now too. Images and branding can be added to elevator doors, stair risers and signage to support wayfinding and promote healthy lifestyle choices. Inside the patient room, where wall real estate is hard to come by, the art or graphics can be integrated with the headwall or the patient information board where health care providers share contact and schedule information.

Different patient populations need different art and graphics. Not all art supports healing; a sharp metal sculpture may be more suited for a garden or a beautiful image of a foot trail toward a setting sun may be too ethereal for patients trying to heal and return to their daily lives. A still life of fruit will not comfort a surgery patient checking in on an empty stomach and a mountain stream may be uncomfortable for an ultrasound patient arriving as instructed with a full bladder.

In rehabilitation and physical therapy spaces, we strive to use active art – images of people walking, cycling, canoeing or fishing with their kids – to inspire patients to work toward the activities they enjoyed before surgery or injury. Every patient has an activity to look forward to when they recover; art can remind us of that reason to work hard in the therapy gym. In the neonatal intensive care unit, art can be hopeful and uplifting, colorful and fresh. Parents in a NICU are dealing with a roller coaster of emotion and may be suffering with feelings of inadequacy. A new mom of twins is tired but hopeful. A new dad is working hard to make memories with the son who may never be healthy enough to come home. Unlike the “well baby” nursery, a NICU has both happy and sad moments. We select art that inspires hope, happiness and visions of a new beginning without the assumption that every baby will grow into a chubby cheeked cherub perfect for an Anne Geddes portrait. In pediatric medicine, on the other hand, playful ageless art is the goal. Pediatric patients range from birth to 18 years old, so we need to select playful, fun art that can appeal to young and older children alike. Baby animals are a favorite that can transcend age.

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Art packages should include variety of size, media, styles and shapes. The art can be lit from above or behind; it can include movement or remain fixed. In health care spaces, art needs to be sanitized regularly along with furniture and finishes. Art should engage the patient or visitor, distract them from the troubles of today, and bring joy or hope along the path to healing.

As you plan your next building project, consider the role art can play in connecting your new facility with the community and supporting the well being of patients and visitors. Art can be more impactful when you plan ahead.

Featured in the July issue of Health Care Properties Quarterly

Edited by the Colorado Real Estate Journal staff.