Art can heal, inspire and is a way to put positivity into the world. It’s a way to make connections, a way to self-reflect and and also — for some artists — a fulfilling career.
What started off as a simple comment by a patient at AU Health has turned the blank walls in the Emergency Department into a space for art, giving patients something to look at and something to smile at.
This was all the vision of Wesley Walters, a medical student at the Medical College of Georgia.
At the height of COVID-19, patients were having to spend more time in Emergency Department rooms, which are not intended to hold patients for long periods of time. Staring at bare walls, one patient mentioned to Walters that it would be nice if there was something to look at.
His response: “I bet I can fix it. We can get some art on the walls.”
He went to work doing just that by reaching out to the Georgia School for Innovation and the Classics, a public charter school in Hephzibah, Georgia where he read his book The Virus That Came To Town earlier in the year.
“I got in touch with their art department and asked if this initiative was something they’d be interested in,” said Walters. “I then met with the Emergency Department staff to work out specifics and safety qualifications, and the next thing you know, our collaboration had created an art contest with the goal of selecting 60 pieces to exhibit in the Emergency Department rooms.”
Walters arranged a contest because he thought it would be a better way to engage the students. He involved fourth and fifth graders, as well as high school students to design the works of art. The theme of the contest was “What would make you smile if you were in the emergency room?”
Over 100 pieces of art were submitted by the school, and the Emergency Department selected 60 pieces to hang on the walls. The students used various mediums like paint, charcoal, colored pencils and even shredded paper that was woven together. Best of show awards were also given, which Walters had the pleasure of handing out at the school.
“I think that was the best part of this whole thing, just seeing how empowered these students were. To really see the look on their faces when they heard that their piece was selected to hang on the hospital wall and real people, real patients are going to see their work and smile because of the work they put in for this contest. A few high school students want to pursue art in college, and this project will be something they can proudly place on their resumes,” he said.
Those in the emergency room who helped select the final pieces were impressed by the submissions.
“When I went to the Emergency Department conference room and put out all these pieces of artwork that we had to select from, people were stopping in the hallway to come look at all the art; They were texting colleagues to say ‘Come check this out,’” Walters added.
The goal is to make the contest annual, and it may even expand to furnish other departments in the hospital.
“It’s going to be a lasting partnership with the school. I’m looking forward to filling up the hospital with beautiful works of art from these students.”