There are an untold number of people at any given time of the day that live, work, and visit a hospital, nursing home, or other institutional setting. The areas where the majority of these people must be on a daily basis is often rather bleak and empty. We provide “Medicine for the Soul”, a voice to the voiceless about their environmental surroundings. We do this through a supervised, interactive art activity that involves everyone – patients, residents, family members, medical staff, volunteers... “We have begun a journey to bring color and beauty to these facilities where colorful, engaging designs do not presently exist, “says Arlene RB Sullivan, Executive Director/Artist of Changing Images ART FOUNDATION, INC.
Changing Images, a non-profit, 501 (c) (3), tax exempt organization, is supported solely through contributions from sponsors and benefactors. 1997 was a year of change for Sullivan who was previously associated with another foundation for six years, but felt limited. “Fate was kind to me. I was fortunate enough to meet up with a unique individual, Mary Ann Martello, through some work we were doing at our children's school. Mary Ann was very excited about the concept of painting with people and since we had worked so well together prior, we decided to combine our talents and dreams to create something that has since become bigger than either of us could have imagined.
Over the years we have been privileged to join hands with thousands of eager volunteers, who have helped us to complete several thousand murals worldwide. We are now seeking out corporate sponsors to help us move on to expand our core base and enable us to take on larger scale projects. Sullivan became interested in painting in institutional settings when her youngest child became hospitalized at two weeks of age and they spent two months in intensive care. A former art teacher, she was depressed to see the only things that surrounded the patients in the unit were scary machinery, wires, tubing and seemingly unending beige, blank walls.
“Our “normal life” was placed on hold. After awhile you start adjusting your breathing to the beeps you don't even understand. The hospital and medical staff were excellent but the atmosphere was not very cheerful or comforting,” says Sullivan, “It was a very stressful time.”
“Many people ask how we can constantly keep going into such depressing surroundings. Our answer is, that is exactly the point. It is because they are depressing when there is no need for them to be. All of us at some point in our lives will spend some time in hospitals, nursing homes and maybe even shelters, either as a visitor, patient or resident, so why shouldn't they be bright and cheerful? Why shouldn't there be butterflies, rainbows, flower gardens and streams; something to distract the mind into comforting daydreams? We are also very fortunate to meet and work with many wonderful people, who just happen to be sick, old or in unfortunate circumstances.
“Hospitals run the gamut of emotions from babies being born, taking their first breath, to people breathing their last, the environmental surroundings should strike a chord in their hearts and be a stress free as possible. Nursing homes house an incredible army of untapped knowledge and talent with residents just waiting to be asked to once again, put it to good use. Many times residents will work on murals that get donated on to other facilities in need. The beauty of this “work” is that there are no limitations, it can involve everyone, no matter their ability. We have yet to meet anyone who is unable to add their part. When we paint together, we are all on the same level, our abilities are equal and we are all giving of ourselves. What greater gift can there be?”
Paintings are drawn and color coded directly on walls, multiple canvas sets, banner cloth, ceiling tiles...wherever there is a blank and desolate space, then everyone joins in to pick up a paint brush and add their own personal brushstroke. Our themes bring the “outdoors, in” with the thought that many people in hospitals and nursing homes may never get the opportunity to walk through a flower garden or visit a zoo. “I once painted with a man who was institutionalized the better part of his life from the age of 4, he has never felt rain. The joy on his face when he was able to paint with us was indescribable! How can shared experiences such as that be depressing?,” asks Sullivan.
The end results are beautiful, brightly colored murals that are professionally finished and varnished for durability. “There have been many rewarding accomplishments such as when I was given the okay to paint in the pediatric intensive care unit where it all began with my son and we were able to truly transform the unit with colorful murals of exotic animals, birds and fish. It was an honor to be able to meet with the former first family, Mr. and Mrs. George and Barbara Bush when they autographed a mural which now resides in the pediatric unit of the MD Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas. It was thrilling when Mr. Bush contacted us with a request for another painting to be donated to the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital in Portland, Maine and yet again when they autographed a mural for a very special project in the Newton Hospital pediatric unit, Newton, NJ.”
Many celebrities such as Luciano Pavarotti, Jay Leno, Mr. Rogers, the cast of Touched By An Angel, to name a few, have gladly autographed murals which were donated to hospitals and nursing homes. “With a simple act of kindness, these people have greatly touched other people's lives on a daily basis and have brought a joy they cannot begin to imagine,” says Sullivan... “It truly is “Medicine for the Soul”.
Sullivan has written, illustrated and published a children's book, The Journey of Hanna Heart. “The idea for the book came from painting with children in hospitals. There are a lot of books out there about a visit to a hospital and all that entails but for children who are routinely in a hospital, there is not much designed to help them dream about being somewhere else, if only for a short while. This book contains illustrations of the many bright, colorful murals we do in pediatric units, accompanied by a simple story. It can be read to them by family members, volunteers, or even the children themselves. It offers something comforting for the children to fall asleep holding onto at night, something that is a positive memory of what sometimes can be a very frightening experience.”
It is Sullivan's hope that the book will be purchased by auxiliaries and given to children in hospitals through welcome packages. While originally intended for sick children, the book has been positively received by children of all ages in elementary schools as well. All proceeds from the sale of the book go to fund murals at facilities in need. Arlene RB Sullivan and her three children reside in Wayne, NJ. Her youngest son, the inspiration for this wonderful journey, is now happy and healthy. Mary Ann Martello has since moved on to other challenges.