Art has the power to transform and transport, to heal, and to change lives. The walls of Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) have been enlivened by the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation‘s innovative art collecting program, with work adorning almost every surface in sight, providing an aesthetic atmosphere for all who enter the space: patients, their families and staff alike.

Research has shown the benefits of art in healing environments to reduce stress and speed recovery. Providing a panacea for the mind and body, the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation art collection is art on the front-lines, enhancing healthcare through the restorative power of art.

From postmodern abstractions to British Columbia landscapes, the waiting rooms, corridors and courtyards of the VGH and University of British Columbia (UBC) Hospitals are home to a collection of more than 1,800 works of art generously donated by philanthropists that feature some of Canada’s most acclaimed modern and contemporary artists. The team at Farmboy Fine Arts had the opportunity to tour the collection with Art Collection Manager, Katherine Knowles, and Artist Consultant, Pennylane Shen. The insight into the collection gave us an opportunity to discuss firsthand the impact of art in a healthcare setting, transforming and humanizing the hospital, and offering moments of transportation and reflection for those giving and receiving outpatient care.

Knowles shared some unbelievable stories of experiences she’s had with patients as they interact with the collection’s artwork. She showed us a vivid, abstract, acrylic painting by local artist Jack Shadbolt that she used in a seminar with dementia patients, asking them the describe what they saw in the image. One woman saw the stages of metamorphosis of a caterpillar, from cocoon to its transcendence into a butterfly, throughout the three panels of intense, gestural strokes of color. The interpretation is striking—where many others might see violence or destruction, she saw life and transformation. When Knowles saw the same patient later that week, she asked her the same question again and was able to have a moment of connection with the patient as she reflected on her previous experience, remembering it. A remarkable example of the power of art to access deep emotional connections within patients’ minds, it illustrates the undeniable importance of art in healthcare spaces.

Jack Shadbolt, Hill Fire, 1984. VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation Art Collection.

Jack Shadbolt, Hill Fire, 1984

VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation Art Collection

VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation Art Collection

Juliana Rempel, Untitled, 2011. VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation Art Collection.

Juliana Rempel, Untitled, 2011

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