BRATTLEBORO—For many people going to any doctor is a stressful experience, and a visit to a cardiologist can produce even more anxiety.
With heart disease one of the major causes of death, patients often find themselves contemplating their mortality while sitting in the waiting room of a cardiologist.
Dr. Mark Burke at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital (BMH) conceived of an innovative strategy to help his patients reduce anxiety and stress.
Through a collaboration between BMH and the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC), a program called Art for the Heart allows patients and visitors to the cardiology suite at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital an opportunity to view artwork by some of the region’s finest artists.
“Art for the Heart” showcases work by New England artists in rotating exhibits on the walls of the BMH cardiology suite. The exhibit, initially organized by the BMAC under the guidance of its chief curator Myra Williams and often involving other collaborating businesses or organizations, emphasizes the work of local and regional artists.
A new exhibit of Art from the Heart entitled “Scenes from New England,” opens with a free public reception on Thursday, June 4, at 5 p.m in the cardiology suits of BMH. The event will be catered by North End Butchers and Windham Wines.
Scenes from New England features 18 artists represented by local gallery Vermont Artisan Designs: Anne Cady, Jerry Cajko, Caroline Christie, Barbara Coburn, Sabra Field, Carol Gobin, Charlie Hunter, Deedee Jones, Deb Lazar, Alistair McCallum, Will Moses, Deborah Randall, William E. Roberts Jr., Janis Sanders, Marjorie Sayer, Jeanette Staley, Paul G. Stone, and Charles Townshend.
“Thematically, the images of are of Vermont landscapes and most of the artists are local,” Burke says about the new show.
“I am happy [about] this small effort to enrich the lives of our patients and, consequently, our community through art,” adds Burke, an avid photographer and trustee of the Vermont Arts Council and BMAC. “This program is a win for all participants: the patients, the community, the museum and the hospital system. Everyone benefits from exposure to the arts. The art on our walls is high quality and accessible. It serves to make the office welcoming and more soothing for a potentially stressful visit to the doctor.”
Burke came up with the idea for Art for the Heart when he and his partner consolidated offices at the hospital. “Suddenly there was lots of new space to hang art on the wall,” said Burke.
At first Burke considered hanging his own photographs, but he found filling that amount of wall space daunting.
“[BMAC Director] Danny Lichtenfeld proposed the idea of a rotating art show, which would give area artists a chance for exposure and a different group of people a chance to see museum-quality work,” Burke adds. “Rather than putting up on the walls dull generic reproductions that you see in most offices, we chose fine art by local artists.”
“‘Art for the Heart’ is designed for the patients and family visiting the cardiology department of BMH,” Lichtenfeld says. “We are grateful to be involved in this partnership with BMH. ‘Art for the Heart’ affords cardiology patients and their loved ones an opportunity to reduce anxiety and stress by contemplating objects of beauty, and it provides exposure for some of the many accomplished artists living and working in our region. They can have a beautiful object to contemplate that can be both reassuring, soothing and uplifting in an otherwise stressful situation. ”
“Our subject matter for ‘Art from the Heart’ is often sylvan and is both accessible and comfortable for people,” says Burke. “While I have nothing against challenging art, the demographics of the people coming through the doors suggest that it might defeat the purpose by making the art too disturbing. It is great to be challenged by art, but not in a cardiologist’s office.”
Burke has found the reaction to the shows has been fantastic.
“The work provokes conversation,” says Burke. “People not normally familiar with the visual arts are finding themselves with opinions, some for and some against what they see, but always involved.”
Art for the Heart helps more than just patients.
“The program benefits the artists by providing exposure to the people who see us,” says Burke. “A lot of people pass through these offices in a day, as much as 100 people. Additionally, this collaborative effort takes the museum and Vermont Artisan Designs beyond their respective walls and out to the public. It is my hope that our show will serve as an example of collaboration between art institutions and business and that it will expand to other settings.”
Lichtenfeld says, “BMAC is delighted to work with the hospital because many people visit the hospital who would never think of going to a museum, and so we have an opportunity to expose them to work they would not see otherwise. That is part of our mission to reach out to the communities that often are missed by museums.”
According to Burke, “BMAC is the cornerstone of art in our diverse arts community, and BMH is the cornerstone of health, so this seems like a natural fit. The art that graces our walls adds a welcoming and calming dimension to our office. Further, any opportunity to bring art to a broad swath of people who might not otherwise be exposed to it is an affirmative event.”
Greg Worden of Vermont Artisan Designs says he is delighted to be part of a program that can help “people in treatment through art that provides a calm and peaceful background.”
“We are happy to share the bounty of art that we have produced in the area,” he says. “All the art in the Scenes from New England show at BMH is also for sale. So the exposure helps the artists we represent. Virtually all the artists will be at the opening on June 4 to talk about their work, happy to be part of a worthwhile program that displays their art in a new and unusual venue.”
Chris Chapman, a Brattleboro resident who serves on the BMAC board, applauds the collaboration between Brattleboro’s hospital and art museum. “After all,” he says, “art and creativity are at the heart of health and well being.”