The Gift of Art

How do you feel walking into a strange place? Into a hospital or care facility? For most people it can be an overwhelming and possibly fearful experience. Throughout my years as an artist with FFHA, I have seen the positive impact our art has had on the patients, staff and families who encounter our art.

I have seen a vibrant young man just diagnosed with a brain tumor standing in the corner full of anger, frustration and nervousness. He began to paint a ceiling tile and his doctor joined him. He was the last one to leave the event, smiling and thanking us for all we were doing.

I have seen an older gentlemen waiting in the ICU/CCU sitting area who tells us his life’s story as he helps us roll paint onto the wall, creating a sunset over a lake scene; a mother walking the hallways in South Korea stopping to gaze at the fish or jungle scene as she rocks her child; a brain and spinal injury patient who doesn’t want to leave her room for therapy, but joins in the painting and laughter of fellow patients, family and staff when she enters a room that has been transformed with music and color.

I have seen a family in Brazil who crowded around a small bed, enjoying a respite from caregiving, paint a soccer ball, cat or parrot on the wall; a family paint a rainbow over the bed frame with smiles as they transform the room with color and hope; a family in a New Orleans waiting room, hoping for a good report from the doctor, leave their seats to paint hummingbirds and flowers on a nearby wall.

I have seen stressed nurses, doctors and staff who had the opportunity to sit down for a short time, resting their mind and body as they create something beautiful; the staff at a shelter for abused children who smile as they see a child talking to the fish as they walk down the hall; the many facility workers who hang our artwork and replace blank, white ceiling tiles with colorful butterflies who receive smiles of gratitude in their effort to transform the space.

No matter where I go, I see the endless gift of hope and joy that art brings. It really is true. We can brighten our world, one painting at a time. I hope you will join me.

– Barbara Banta

My Hospital Art Internship Experience

On my first day at the Foundation for Hospital Art, I met all of my fellow interns. We asked all of the basic questions like “What school do you attend? “and “What’s your major?” After I told them “Finance”, they all had confused looks on their faces. They asked me why I was doing an internship with an art organization, and I could not give a clear answer. After eight amazing weeks with an incredible organization, I still cannot answer that question, but I can tell you why I am glad I made a choice that went against the norm. I got to meet a group of selfless, caring, and loving people who work every day to help make hospitals brighter. Every day, I got to wake up and work on something that would inspire happiness.  It was so much more than a summer internship.  What surprised me was that I ended up learning so much about business. Scott Feight, the Executive Director, taught me about what it takes to run a non-profit and as well as shared his experience in the corporate sector with General Electric. I was able to talk with many young professionals working in all parts of the business. A fantastic part of the internship involved hosting large community service events in Texas. I worked with lots of hard-working people and witnessed over 700 people paint art that would be sent around the country to benefit patients.  

The PaintFest events we led were great opportunities to meet wonderful people, and I found that I was able to connect the most with people when painting with them. One morning, two other interns and myself visited the Atlanta Mission, an organization dedicated to ending homelessness. There were only a few people painting at first, so I sat down with someone and began painting with them. I asked some questions and got a couple of nods but no verbal response, so I assumed that he did not want to talk. I quickly learned that he was unable to talk but communicated through nonverbal gestures. Although we could not communicate perfectly, we were able to connect by painting together. Experiences like these demonstrate the power of the process of painting and art itself.

I am incredibly grateful to everyone I met and worked with during the eight weeks. I especially want to thank all of the volunteers that donate their time to our mission. I am glad I was able to work for an organization with such great people and purpose.  

Carson Madsen

A Short Story – “Start of Something New”

We hope you enjoy this short story.  Inspired and written by Macy Brown.  Macy is a student at the University of Georgia and was one of our 2018 John Feight Hospital Art Interns.

“You may never regain full ability in your hands . . .”

 

Words that Sarah never thought she would hear. She was 16 years old and a promising young artist, who dreamed of going off to a prestigious art school after she graduated from high school. All of those dreams changed after she got into a severe car accident. Her mom worked hard and long hours to buy her that car for her sixteenth birthday, but that didn’t stop the drunk driver from hitting her while she was on her way home from an art exhibit at the Community Center. She had won a contest and they wanted to showcase some of her work. She chose her most prized possession: a painting of her dream-horse Butterscotch. A beautiful yellowish-brown fur coat that would be repulsing to others, but underneath a beautiful, long, black mane, Butterscotch was quite the sight.

 

Her doctor’s words made Sarah feel empty and broken. All those dreams of going off to school, studying the greatest artists, and learning all the techniques to improve were gone. Everything that she was working towards felt worthless now that she may never get to experience everything that she wanted. “But there are plenty of programs that we can try to help you regain full functionality of your fingers” he said. “There are many support groups for people that are going through this same situation,” was the reply when my mom asked about the possibility of depression. Programs. Support groups. A 16 year old shouldn’t have to know what this feels like, especially when they have their whole lives ahead of them.

 

Sarah asked if she could get out of bed and take a walk through the hospital to clear her head. Even though she may never paint again, at least she had the ability to stand up and use her two legs, right? Although her mother insisted on accompanying her, she asked to be alone just to try to wrap her head around what her next steps would be moving forward from the accident. She had two years left of high school. She was supposed to be visiting Columbia University next spring – her dream school. Only an hour from home, close to her mom, and she would be studying her passion. What now?

 

Sarah rounded the corner of the hallway and ran into two twin girls hanging a mural that consisted of six paintings – a beautiful portrait of fawns. She stopped and studied the painting. It was something that she had never quite seen before, and somehow it made her feel a little hopeful about her situation. One of the girls turned around to Sarah and smiled, “Do you like it?” she asked. Sarah loved it so much that tears came to her eyes as she thought that maybe she would never be able to paint something like this or anything at all. The other girl noticed Sarah’s tears and her cast-covered arms and immediately said, “Hey don’t cry! These paintings are supposed to bring joy, not sadness! Come on, come with us!”

 

Sarah followed them into a room filled with patients, paint, brushes, and blank canvases. Everyone from all over the hospital, no matter the condition of their health, filled the room with smiles and laughter. Sarah stopped and asked, “What is this?” One of the girls looked at her and said, “A place full of possibilities. No matter what life has thrown at you, this is the place where you come and forget about your situation and choose to ‘love through a paintbrush!’ I’m Ashley and this is my sister Ally. Our grandfather started this organization called the Foundation for Hospital Art. The goal is to bring happiness into a place that is filled with such sadness. Come on, come paint with us!”

 

Ashley led Sarah over to a table with two other young girls. One had a broken leg and the other was a cancer patient. “I don’t think I can paint though,” Sarah said and slowly held up her arms. “Painting is my favorite thing in the whole world, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to paint again.”

 

“Nonsense!” Ashley replied, “this is where anything is possible. YOU just have to believe that.” She helped Sarah pick out some paint and opened the bottles and brushes for her. She found some tape and helped maneuver the brush into Sarah’s hand and taped it to the cast, so she wouldn’t drop it easily. Before Sarah knew it, she was painting a bird. A beautiful blue and green bird.

 

“That is beautiful!” Sarah turned around and there was Ally. “This is our dad, Steven. He helped organize this event.”

 

Sarah smiled and said “Thank you, sir. My name is Sarah and I was recently in a car accident and was told that I may never paint again. It is my dream to become a famous artist one day and this makes me feel like maybe that dream won’t be taken away from me.”

 

Steven smiled, “This is why we do this, girls,” talking to his daughters, “because someone somewhere needs the encouragement to never give up on something they truly want to do.” He looked at Sarah, “do you mind if we paint with you?”

 

Sarah smiled, “I would love that!”

 

Little did Sarah know that this would be the start of a new journey. A journey filled with overcoming struggles, new friendships with Ashley and Ally, and a renewing of a passion she thought she would lose for good.

 

 

Foundation Firsts

We recently sat down with John Feight, our Founder, to talk about some of the many “firsts” for the Foundation. We hope you will enjoy these as much as we did.

The very first hospital: Northside Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia
The very first wall mural: Ground floor, Psychiatric ward, Northside Hospital
The first hospital outside of Georgia: Sunrise Hospital, Las Vegas, Nevada
The first local news coverage: interview and story by Deborah Norville
The first national news show: CBS Morning Show by Bob Schieffer
The first national magazine: Guideposts or Forbes, about the same time
The first nursing home: located on Peachtree Street in Atlanta
The first country to paint in outside of the US: France
The first donated dollar by a patient: White Memorial, Los Angeles, California
His first painting, ever: Mary, Joseph, and Jesus
The first ceiling tile: 2nd Floor, Cancer floor, Northside Hospital
The first PaintFest multi-panel kit: Northside Hospital
The first corporate sponsors: Delta Air Lines and The Coca-Cola Company
The first Olympics: Seoul, South Korea in 1988
The first studio location: Sandy Springs, Georgia
The first military PaintFest: 121st Evacuation Hospital, Seoul, South Korea

And some bonus questions –
His favorite color to paint: yellow
His favorite thing to paint: the sun

We hope we have brightened your day with some historical Foundation trivia.

Two sisters united by a PaintFest

 

It’s been six months since we wrapped up our last stop of PaintFest America. The trees are bare here in Marietta, Georgia, and the sweltering days of summer are far behind us. Winter is here, or at least it visits from time to time, and the hustle and bustle of countless preparations for our 50-state bonanza is becoming a distant memory.

 

All of the murals that were painted in each stop across the country have been touched up and are now hanging in their respective hospitals. But as we learned in mid-December, PaintFest America isn’t over. It will never be over.

Just before Christmas, we received an email from a participant who wanted to express just how much the project meant to her and her family. Tears were abounding as each member of our team sat down to read her sentiments.

 

And now we share this story with you.

 

When I called Bonnie Griffith of Louisville, Kentucky for an interview the other day, I was received by a jubilant and cheerful woman who had just finished chopping up celery for her lentil stew. She informed me that she was part of a soup swap, as well as a juicing club; and I immediately started imagining the smell of wheatgrass and the thundering pulse of blenders ringing in my ears. Soon thereafter, I learned that Bonnie was originally from Western Massachusetts; and with the Falcons and Patriots Super Bowl match-up around the corner, she said she was a little worried about bringing up football on our call. Fortunately for her, she was safe with me. I’m originally from New England too.

 

But, we didn’t set up a call to talk about wheatgrass and the Pats, although, those are fun topics. Instead, we arranged to speak because of the way that Bonnie and her sister Connie’s  PaintFest America story had touched us.

 

When I asked Bonnie how she first heard about PaintFest America, she told me about her journey as a cancer survivor, and the benefits that her hospital provided for her during her treatment and continues to provide for her now. She was offered free massages, yoga classes, tai chi, and art therapy classes, among other things. But as soon as the word art came out of her mouth, her energy shifted, and her passion was clear. Til this day, Bonnie goes to art class every Thursday, and it was her teacher Emily that had promoted the PaintFest America event that would be taking place in their hospital (Norton Cancer Institute) on July 21st.

 

Now this is where the story gets fun, because the 21st of July is Bonnie’s birthday! However, she battled quite the predicament, because as a devout Patriots fan, she spends every birthday at training camp watching her beloved team prepare for the upcoming season. What to do! As it turns out, this year the Pats would start training camp a little later in the month, freeing up Bonnie to participate in PaintFest America. So she gathered up a few of her friends from her juice club, painted the day away, and got some fresh juice across the street to cap it off.

 

And then she had a thought.

 

Her younger sister Connie, a self proclaimed “handicapable” woman, would love this. The timing would work out perfectly. Bonnie would go up to Foxboro for training camp and visit her sister. PaintFest America would roll through Dartmouth in New Hampshire on the 16th of August and she would bring Connie to the event. When speaking with Bonnie, I was touched by her devotion to her sister. Being housebound, Bonnie expressed the importance of getting Connie out and about as often as possible, whether from her apartment to the grocery store, a scenic car ride, or in this case, PaintFest America.

 

But wait, there would be training camp on the 16th! Once again, Bonnie faced a predicament. Being a Boston sports fan is not for the faint of heart. But alas, the fates were in her favor, and that would be an off day.

 

So Bonnie and Connie loaded into the car at 6 am on the 16th of August and made their way to New Hampshire for a day of painting at the Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center. On the phone call, as we were recounting the event, Bonnie kept mentioning “this nice couple”. Immediately I knew who she was speaking about, our long time, super volunteers Sheila and Lamont Glover. She was floored by their kindness, and spoke of how they were “a dream to work with”.

 

All in all it was a wonderful day, one that the two would cherish henceforth.  Look at those smiles!

 

Unfortunately, we would learn from Bonnie’s Christmas letter that soon after their wonderful day at PaintFest America, Connie had started to decline in her health. “She was in and out of the Hospital, and I spent all fall and winter visiting her, it made me so upset, especially after all the fun we had in the summer, she was doing so well.”

 

Despite struggling with her health, when asked what her favorite memory of their visit together was, Connie listed PaintFest America as number one; and for the first time ever, she decided to include a photo on her Christmas cards… a photo of her holding the panel of “America the Beautiful” which she had painted in New Hampshire.

 

 

 

Inspired, Bonnie followed suit and included a photo of herself from PaintFest America.

 

 

Fortunately, Bonnie informed us recently that Connie is doing much better as Spring approaches, and that she is in a rehab center and has been eating, breathing and talking on her own now.  It is a long process.

 

The two sisters have made it their goal to make it back to the Norris Cotton Cancer Center to see the mural that they painted hanging on the wall. “Hopefully we can get up there by the time training camp rolls around.” I was so touched by their desire to bring PaintFest America full circle, and I can’t wait to hear about the day that they make it happen.

 

I think it’s worth sharing the way that Bonnie ended her letter to us…she said, “Thank you for organizing that whole affair. You will never know how much it meant to our family and our sister  Connie’s healing.”

 

But the funny thing is, that’s why we exist, to inspire hope and healing… and it means so much to us, to know that our mission is being fulfilled.