At new UK hospital, art helps with the healing

December 11, 2011

A loved one is in surgery, and all you can do is worry and wait. Unless, that is, you are at the University of Kentucky’s Albert B. Chandler Hospital.

In that case, you can soothe yourself by admiring original works by some of Kentucky’s best painters, sculptors, photographers and other visual artists.

In the surgery waiting room alone, there are equine paintings by Andre Pater and Peter Williams; blown-glass vessels by Stephen Rolfe Powell of Danville; a wood carving by Wolfe County native Edgar Tolson; interactive three-dimensional works by Steve Armstrong of Versailles; fiber art by UK professor Arturo Sandoval; a sculpture by John Tuska; Lexington painter Robert Tharsing’s fascinating landscape, A Natural History of Kentucky; and much more.

The huge room has just a sample of the more than 300 pieces of art that fill the 1.2 million-square-foot hospital addition, which opened in May. The medical center has become, in effect, one of Kentucky’s notable art museums.

“We wanted to make the public spaces empathetic and relaxing,” said Dr. Michael Karpf, UK’s executive vice president for health affairs. “And we wanted to make it uniquely Kentucky. It’s not all from Kentucky, but most of it is.”

UK has raised about $5 million in private donations to purchase art. The idea is about much more than making the new $532 million building pretty. Art can have a transformative effect on the human spirit. It makes people feel better, from reducing stress to inspiring hope.

“There’s a fair amount of research that shows art will improve moods and make people heal faster,” Karpf said. “So it makes financial sense for us to do this. People feel better and get out of the hospital faster.”

It is common in many cities for major new buildings to invest 1 percent of the construction budget on art. With this huge project, the results are impressive.

As soon as visitors enter the covered walkway over South Limestone from the parking garage, they see glass cases displaying folk art sculptures. Outdoors beneath the walkway is a landscape and water feature with curving fences made from traditional Kentucky dry stone.

Also outside is Second Breath, a bronze figure by Maurice Blik, a Holocaust and cancer survivor. “It ended up being controversial because it’s a nude,” said Jacqueline Hamilton, who coordinates the hospital’s art program.

At the end of the walkway is the education center, where patients and the public can research medical information. It is decorated with cityscapes by Louisville folk artist Anthony Mulligan, other paintings and a case of folk-art sculpture.

Ginkgo, a stainless-steel and fabric sculpture by Warren Seelig, is a focal point in the long lobby that connects the hospital’s wings. Elevator bays feature mosaics of paintings by Versailles glass artist Guy Kemper.

On the lobby’s second floor is the 90-foot-long Celebrate Kentucky wall. Tim Broekema, a Western Kentucky University photojournalism professor, created the wall using photographs and videos of Kentucky scenes taken by dozens of photographers. The wall is constantly changing with images that reflect the current season.

Karpf said the wall has been extremely popular, perhaps because it offers glimpses of home. About 40 percent of the hospital’s patients come from small-town and rural Kentucky.

There are landscape photographs in patient rooms, and paintings and sculpture in halls and reception areas throughout the hospital. Near the emergency room is a video installation called Mine-Control that changes shape as the viewer interacts with it. The pediatric emergency room has art that appeals to children.

The hospital tried to buy at least three pieces from each Kentucky artist it selected. “We’ve done a lot to stabilize the Kentucky art community during the recession,” Karpf said.

Two long corridors have become galleries for temporary exhibits. One now has drawings by Alabama’s Thornton Dial, and the other displays cut-and-paste photographic panoramas of Lexington and New York City by Albert Moser.

The UK hospital is a busy place, but only one piece of art has been damaged — a canvas was accidently ripped but is being repaired. “If you present it as art, people tend to respect it,” Hamilton said.

The Lucille Caudill Little Performing Arts in HealthCare Program and an endowment by Dr. Ronald Saykaly will sponsor performances by UK music students and faculty, as well as other performing artists. Performances can be in the hospital lobby or a new high-tech auditorium. When the violinist Midori was in town in September to perform with the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, she also played for hospital patients.

“What has been rewarding is that as we tried to humanize the building for patients, we also humanized it for staff,” Karpf said. Physicians have been big donors to the art program, and nurses have helped choose pieces for areas where they work.

When a pipe burst several months ago, filling an emergency room hall with water, doctors and nurses first made sure there were no patients in danger. “Then they started grabbing art off the walls and putting it on gurneys to take it to safety,” Karpf said. “They saw it as their art.”

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Chamber knows Kentucky art is good for business

February 27, 2011

FRANKFORT — When the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce decided to renovate and enlarge its headquarters to create more public space, chamber president David Adkisson said, “I kept saying I wanted something really Kentucky.”

He considered asking architects to design the 7,000-square-foot addition to look like a fancy Bluegrass horse barn, or even a bourbon distillery warehouse.

“They convinced me that wasn’t the way to go,” Adkisson said, as he gave me a tour of the beautiful, but conventional, new space.

What is happening instead is a better reflection of Kentucky’s uniqueness: the Chamber is filling its new building with a diverse collection of original art and furniture by the state’s contemporary artists and craftsmen.

Since the new space opened in April, it has been a big hit, with members of the business advocacy group and with other Kentucky organizations that have used the new meeting rooms, Adkisson said.

He said the project has more than achieved his goal of making the Chamber’s headquarters, near the intersection of Interstate 64 and U.S. 60, a prominent “front door” to Frankfort.

“We’re in the business of showing off the best of Kentucky, so this was a natural,” Adkisson said. “We made a conscious effort to create a gallery-like atmosphere that would showcase the artwork. Now, when groups come here, the art immediately becomes the focus of attention.”

The project also has been a significant boost for Kentucky artists — and not just because the Chamber has so far spent about $50,000 buying and commissioning pieces. Louisville distiller Brown Foreman gave $40,000 toward the art project, and most of the rest so far has come from building-project money, Adkisson said.

Lori Meadows, executive director of the Kentucky Arts Council, worked closely with the Chamber to identify artists and pieces for the building.

“It’s incredibly important for the Chamber to recognize that to complete a building, you need art,” Meadows said. “A lot of time went into the selection of pieces to make sure they were appropriate for each spot.”

The additional space was built onto the front of the Chamber’s existing 10,000-square-foot building. The two sections are connected by a new, light-filled lobby. The upper parts of the tall lobby walls are covered with panoramic Kentucky scenes by Jeff Rogers, a Lexington photographer best known for his two Kentucky Wide books.

The Chamber’s new board room is dominated by a round conference table designed by Brooks Meador of Interspace Limited in Lexington and produced by furniture maker Shawn Strevels of Faulkner Fain in Nicholasville.

The board room’s largest wall displays four large seasonal landscape paintings of Kentucky wilderness by John Lackey of Lexington. Light from a corner window illuminates a leaded-glass sculpture by Dan Neil Barnes of Lexington.

The building’s largest meeting space — the AT&T Teleconference Room — has a 10-painting suite by Lexington artist Dan McGrath, depicting scenes of commerce across the state.

The new addition also features paintings by Chris Segre-Lewis of Wilmore and Darrell Ishmael of Lexington, and mixed-media pieces by Kathleen O’Brien of Harrodsburg. There are decorative platters made by porcelain artist Wayne Bates of Murray, and a coffee table in the reception area made by Mark Whitley of Smith’s Grove.

“Our goal is to buy one new piece each year,” Adkisson said. After a few more pieces are purchased, he said, the Chamber plans to publish a brochure for visitors, telling about each artwork and the artist who created it.

“I think it’s exciting that they are realizing the value of art and supporting it,” said Ishmael, who in addition to being a successful artist is an executive with East Kentucky Power Cooperative in Winchester. “I think it’s really refreshing, and I wish other businesses would do it.”

Meadows said the Chamber’s collection has inspired several executives to contact her for help in acquiring original Kentucky art for their companies’ buildings. “That’s exactly what we want to see happen,” she said.

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