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Hospitals and healthcare facilities often present a heavy dose of feelings: fear, grief and uncertainty. This can be very challenging for both patients and family members. But meet two local heroes who have made it their life's work to make it easier on our eyes and spirit, Earl Pinchuk and Gary Blair. I've asked them to tell us about their journey and what motivated them to create their ART FOR HEALING FOUNDATION. Thank you Earl and Gary for your dedication and gift to our city, especially at this time in history.

Earl and Gary with Michel Goulet's "Diversion”. Collection of Hôpital universitaire Robert-Debré, Paris, France. Photo Credit: Francisco Batista
As lovers of art, we began our own art collection in the 1990’s, filling our home with works that we loved. To live amongst beautiful artwork is a privilege that nourished our souls.

In 2001, we decided to follow our shared passion by opening our own contemporary art gallery. While Gary continued working at his family’s company, Earl took a sabbatical from his, so that he could more closely study the business of buying and selling art. He began working at a gallery in Old Montreal, where he had access to many artists’ studios. We visited at least 15 studios in less than one month; it was clear that there was an abundance of art in Montreal. It then occurred to us that they all shared the same problem: lots of artwork, unsold, leaning up against the wallunseen and unappreciated.

At the same time, we had a friend, an artist, who was dying at the Royal Victoria Hospital. On our many visits, we would always remark how desolate the corridors looked, with their bare walls. However, we also realized that the hospital was occupied with their day-to-day operations and did not have the time nor the resources to think about the visual quality of their spaces.

In December, 2001, with Earl’s sabbatical coming to an end and our friend having passed away, we had a decision to make. Was opening a contemporary art gallery what we really wanted to do? After many discussions, we decided that Montreal did not need another art gallery, but rather a not-for-profit organization that would bring the surplus of art in Montreal to our local healthcare institutions.

As luck would have it, Earl’s 40th birthday was coming up in two months’ time. We conceived of the idea to throw a party with a twofold mission: to celebrate Earl’s birthday and to announce the launching of our new endeavour in the form of a fundraiser. We asked our family and friends to refrain from bringing gifts for Earl, in favour of their cheque books. Our guests were most generous. We raised $10,000 that night!

Thus, on February 9th, 2002, the Art for Healing Foundation was born.

For our inaugural project, we followed our belief that it was sick children who were most in need of visual stimulation. So we approached the Montreal Children’s Hospital to see if they would be interested in working with us to provide art on some of the featureless walls. Thus began a wonderful relationship with the Hospital.

We started with 100 reproductions, financed with the money that was raised at Earl’s birthday party. Seemingly overnight, Andy Warhol’s Daisy Series and images by Mark Rothko started appearing on the walls of the hospital, much to the delight of the patients, staff and visitors.

Other images included children holding hands saying, “Children love the world, children heal the world”. There were also images of smiling animals saying “I love you”.

Another corridor featured a seven piece installation of Henri Matisse’s cut out period reproductions and a biography of Matisse was hung alongside the works. The installation was a hit! Not only were the pieces visually pleasing, they were educational as well.

Top left, artist: Susan G Scott, photo: AFHF. Top right, artist: Nicole Cousins-Viau, photo: AFHF.

Bottom left, artist: David Lubell, photo: Chirag Pandya. Bottom right: Alexandra Haeseker, photo: Chirag Pandya.

It then came to our attention that there were seven children who actually lived at the hospital due to the severity of their illnesses. We noticed that the walls of their rooms were empty, leaving their environments cold and sterile. So, we then decided to provide them with hundreds of images from which they could choose their very own framed poster for their room. Six of the seven kids chose landscape images, perhaps reflecting their longing to be able to go outside. Through their imaginations, they could now experience the scene, liberating their minds beyond the four walls of their hospital room, alleviating the mental confinement of their rooms.

This is the power of art.

In 2003, we began receiving original art, hanging many pieces in various parts of the hospital, including thematic installations. The Marcovitz Family donated 20 original works of art by a family member, the late artist, Bill Charad. Instead of dispersing the works to several departments, we decided to keep them together and created the Bill Charad Gallery. The term “gallery” is defined as a thematic grouping of artwork along one corridor and this was the first of its kind at the hospital.

As we began to garner media attention, more Montreal area hospitals reached out to us. We began a collaboration with Maimonides Geriatric Centre (now the Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre, or DBM), where we encountered a very different viewership. DBM has over four hundred residents, all with physical and/or cognitive health issues.

The first “Gallery” that we created for them was the Joseph Prezament Gallery. This donation of 13 paintings consisted of images of gardens, Percé Rock and familiar Montreal street scenes. The first full day after the paintings were installed on the Fifth Floor, we received a call from the centre telling us that residents from all of the floors were coming to see the new “art gallery” and that they would return the next day to do their morning walk by the gallery. Quite naturally, residents of long-term care facilities need variety in their daily activities. This gallery gave some a new destination to visit, as well as providing a pleasurable experience from the art and we were even told that the paintings had a positive impact on their moods.

Since 2006, the Art for Healing Foundation has hung over 1200 works of art at DBM, completely filling the seven-story building. We feel so gratified whenever we hear the heartwarming stories of how art works as a window to another world.

A daughter of one of the residents related this story to us: She and her mother were walking along a corridor. Her mother stopped in front of a print of Baron Byng High School. She pointed to it and said, “That’s my high school.” The daughter, with tears in her eyes, thanked us, because her mother, who had not spoken in six months, had her memory rekindled by the image.

Art makes us feel human. It touches a place deep within us and it makes us feel good.

Scientific studies have found that art can even change a person’s physiology. Looking at art can lead to improvements in the immune system and increase blood flow to the organs. It lowers blood pressure, affects the autonomic nervous system and one’s hormonal balance and brain neurotransmitters. Additionally, it can alter one’s perception of pain, potentially resulting in the need for less medication. With art, the body’s physiology can transform from one of stress to one of deep relaxation, from one of fear to one of hope and inspiration.

Neurophysiologists have confirmed that art and healing come from the same source in the body, are associated with similar brain wave patterns and mind-body changes, and are deeply connected in feeling and meaning. Scientifically speaking, art has the power to heal.

Further, studies show that the public’s perception of the quality of a healthcare facility is shaped to a large degree by the image and appearance presented, not only by the condition of the physical building, but also the quality of the interior design. A medical facility that uses art for both stimulating and calming effects signals that it is run by people who care about, and for, their patients.

Since 2002, the Art for Healing Foundation has worked to install over 12,500 works of art in 85 healthcare institutions across Canada and Paris, France.

The beneficial effects of art are known, and ventures like the Art for Healing Foundation reflect a shared movement of incorporating art into everyday life. For us, sharing art has been incredibly rewarding, and we hope to continue alleviating, in some small measure, the burdens of illness and suffering.

Earl and Gary with Nycol Beaulieu’s “Lakeside Mirror I"

Photo credit: Nasuna Stuart-Ulin

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