In a quiet nook of Barnes-Jewish Hospital, just around the corner from the hustle and bustle of a main corridor, is an almost magical workshop filled with colorful skeins of yarn, a jar of tiny origami stars, a rainbow of paper, assorted paint brushes, and other creative tools. It’s not the stuff typically found around a hospital. But this little haven is home to the Arts + Healthcare program at Barnes-Jewish.
The Arts + Healthcare program, supported by gifts to The Foundation for Barnes- Jewish Hospital, touches thousands of patients, their caregivers and family members and hospital staff. With a fine arts background, a compassionate ear and a passion for her work, Sarah Colby is the program coordinator.
Patients, family and staff tend to gravitate to Sarah’s workshop throughout the day. It’s a comforting oasis where they always feel welcome. They stop by “to play,” or for words of encouragement, or to give an update on their loved one—or to simply escape from reality for a little while.
“In places of stress and great challenge, it’s clear that art can provide respite, beauty, humor and empowerment,” Sarah says. “I’m constantly amazed and humbled by the marvelous creativity of people who don’t consider themselves artists. As I continually examine and refresh my own sense of the world through making things, I hope I can be a helpful guide for someone else.”
Creating a Comforting Sense of Community
Drawn to a “creative stew” of projects, Sarah has worked in art schools, community art centers and children’s art programs in Baltimore, New York City, Cincinnati and St. Louis for more than 25 years. “Those experiences gave me some preparation for my work at the hospital, but my real education comes from the daily interaction with health care staff, and patients and their families,” she says.
Sarah says it’s about community, not art.
“Art in a health care setting can be an unexpected environment of diversion—even fun—in stark contrast with the real reason a group of strangers meet in a hospital,” Sarah says. “The ‘art table’ provides all of us the opportunity to get to know one another well. Conversation and busy hands can normalize moments in a place that is far from normal.”
Almost daily, Sarah, “the art lady,” rolls her art cart full of creative supplies around the hospital. People familiar with her greet her warmly, while new patients and family members may hesitantly approach her art activity. But with Sarah’s friendly welcome and gentle encouragement, they quickly immerse themselves in creating a simple project. Sarah might make buttons, magnets, or felt flowers with patients waiting for chemotherapy. Or paint baby clothes with expectant moms hospitalized long-term for high-risk pregnancies. Or knit with loved ones of patients in the intensive care unit.
But whatever the creative outlet, the participants lose themselves for a little while thinking about something other than health care.
“Whatever the project, the real beauty and emotion come from people working together,” Sarah says. “Arts + Healthcare is an integral part of hope and healing. The program helps people find strength and renewal in the midst of stress and sometimes sorrow, through enjoying or creating music, poetry, journaling or visual art. For just a little while, the patient who is painting may think of herself as an artist instead of a patient. And that can make treatment more bearable.”
A Daughter Shares Tears and Fears Through the Art Program
Tammy stayed at Barnes-Jewish Hospital for three weeks while her mother had a stem cell transplant through the Siteman Cancer Center. During her stay, she participated in Arts + Healthcare. She shares her thoughts below:
“As my mom’s caregiver and the person who stayed with her the entire three weeks, I must say that my savior was the ‘art room’ on the first floor. The chance to create simple art projects both in the art room and in lounges on other days was a Godsend to me. It gave me a chance to get my mind off the harsh procedure and chat with other caregivers and patients experiencing similar circumstances. Who would have thought that making magnets and looming hats would be so therapeutic? I know several other adults who feel the same as me—we became very close in the art room while sharing our tears and fears.
While I realize the most important things in health care are tests, scans, doctors, medicines, research science, etc., art should also be considered in this mix as it does wonders for the person’s mind and soul.
My three-week stay was touched by Sarah Colby and her wonderful art room. Please continue to fund this wonderful amenity, as it is important and necessary!”
Please support the Arts + Healthcare Program Fund (#B1286-40) at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Make a gift online, call 314-286-0600 or email GivingBarnesJewish@bjc.org.