Art and Healing Go Hand-in Hand

ECF grant helps University of Alberta Hospital provide art tours to patients and caregivers during pandemic

“Art really humanizes the healthcare environment,” says Ellen Cunningham, manager of the University of Alberta Hospital (UAH) art collection and galleries. “It injects joy and storytelling in a place that can otherwise be a very clinical, white-walled kind of environment.”

Keeping any kind of human touch in the hospital has been a serious challenge throughout the COVID pandemic: With patients unable to have visitors, doctors worked off their feet, and the palpable pall of the coronavirus casting its shadow over everything, there aren’t many places in which to find relief.

That is why Cunningham hopes their new self-guided art tour, made possible with $10,000 from Edmonton Community Foundation’s (ECF) COVID Rapid Response Fund, could bring a little bit of fresh air into an environment that desperately needs it.

“Art plays an important role in the mental health of patients and caregivers,” Nneka Otogbolu, ECF’s Director of Communications and Equity Strategy, says. “This grant helped create a way for the University of Alberta Hospital to continue providing the quality care it is renowned for.”

Designed as a pamphlet that highlights the location and information of some of the UAH’s 2,000 art pieces, the plan is to provide the socially distanced and exhausted denizens of the hospital a chance to refill their souls, even when they’re not allowed to leave the grounds.

“Our art collection has become even more powerful in the sense that the hospital space environment is even more of an isolated bubble,” explains Cunningham. “Patients only real connection is to the staff. Our hope is that if we can get them to visit a different area, maybe find some things they wouldn’t find otherwise, it will help them find some joy in a place where they don’t necessarily want to be right now.”

As helpful as it is for patients — Cunningham notes many people who need physical activity as part of their recovery already use the art as sign posts and destinations — the tour is also a chance to support healthcare workers, whose ability to rest and recharge has been all but obliterated for months on end. 

“Our caregivers need a bit of respite within the hospital, too,” she says. “Moving around the hospital, giving themselves a chance to take pride in the space and what we have here, that’s really helpful.”

Learn more about ECF’s COVID-19 response.