Art heals

If medicine is an art, can art be medicine?

A new First Friday exhibit at Ashland Community Hospital asks that question in an attempt to offer patients another path to healing.

The "Healing Arts" exhibit, already on display at the 280 Maple St. building, presents paintings and photographs by six local artists. On what was once a blank wall in the ACH Diagnostic and Surgery Center, now hang nine framed works depicting nature scenes and inspirational messages.

"Art and healing have been associated and have been involved long before the science of medicine — clear back to Hippocrates' days when a rich art environment was considered therapeutic," said Kathi Wilcox, the hospital's manager of organizational transformation, who helped organize the exhibit.

All of the artwork on display during the First Friday gathering — held from 5 to 8 p.m. on Sept. 5 — will be for sale and 10 percent of the proceeds with go to the hospital's auxiliary volunteer organization.

Watercolor paintings by Marjory Foster and photographs by K. William Greene will be highlighted during the event, which will also serve as the opening reception for the exhibit, although the art has been on display since June.

Wilcox, along with other hospital administrators, worked with the Ashland Gallery Association to select appropriately themed pieces for the show. Organizers chose art that depicts calming or soothing images instead of abstract or dark motifs, Wilcox said.

"What we decided was that we needed to bring the art into the hospital to counterbalance what is looked at as a very institutional environment, a very chemical environment," she said.

Other artists represented in the exhibit include Carol Cochran, Christina Madden, Roni Marsh and Laura Shepardson. Many of the artists plan to attend the opening and set up easels to show more of their work.

The free reception will also include wine, hors d'oeuvres and music.

Information on the connection between art and healing will be available at the event.

"There is a lot of research on the improved health outcomes of patients who have access to art and we want to share this information with the community," Wilcox said.

A new exhibit, with pieces from other Gallery Association artists, will be installed in the days following the reception. The hospital plans to rotate art every three months and to continue to hold a reception each First Friday in conjunction with the citywide effort to encourage people to visit galleries, shops and restaurants on the first Friday of each month.

Healing Arts organizers hope the gallery's distance, about a mile from downtown, where most First Friday events are held, doesn't stop people from driving to the hospital to see the exhibit.

"We know that we're off the beaten path, but we hope to make it worth people's while to see the art that were displaying and also to learn about the healing arts in healthcare," Wilcox said.

More than 200 invitations have been sent out to homes near the medical center and hospital employees have also been invited to attend, Wilcox added.

Despite the perks of the event, Alice Kilham, who works in the Rogue Valley Metaphysical Library — which shares a suite with the Nuwandart Gallery in the Railroad District — said she doubted many people would make the drive to the hospital during the First Friday event.

"I think people might like to go up and see it, but not necessarily on First Fridays. It's such a social scene down here during First Fridays and people like to walk downtown and have a glass of wine," she said.

Greene, a former gallery owner, said although he hopes community members will stop by to appreciate the art, his purpose in showcasing his work in the hospital is to bring peace to the people already there: the patients.

"The intent is to bring a little bit of humanity to the place and to remind the people there that they matter. I would say that both the visual arts and the musical arts are really one of the paths that help people to heal," said Greene, who is also a musician and teaches drumming.

As a hospital auxiliary volunteer, Judi Pocan has seen firsthand how art can help soothe nervous patients, she said. From her desk in the ACH Diagnostic and Surgery Center, she has observed patients and hospital visitors taking in the Healing Arts exhibit.

"It gives them something pretty and interesting to look at instead of necessarily worrying about why they're here," she said.

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