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For the week of December 20 through 26, 2000

‘The newest, biggest 
art gallery’

An eclectic collection of art at St. Luke’s

Express Arts Editor

The St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center will no doubt bring all sorts of new services to the Wood River Valley. It is, after all, a state-of-the-art hospital.

Will Caldwell, an artist and member of the art advisory council of the hospital, likes to refer to it differently. "It is the newest, biggest art gallery in town."

Caldwell may have a point. In unveiling its new facility, the Medical Center also introduced to the community its new art program. Headed up by Joan O’Neil, the art committee of the hospital has seen to the acquisition—primarily through the solicitation of donations—of more than 250 pieces of art. It is an eclectic mix from both valley artists and others, notably David Hockney, Alexander Calder, Russell Chatham and Joseph Alvarez. The art works are exhibited throughout the hospital.

O’Neil, Ann Agnew—another member of the committee—and Caldwell met recently with me about the program.

The pieces at the hospital fall roughly into the categories of permanent collection, art on loan, and art for sale. Agnew said 47 of the 250 pieces exhibited came from the old hospital. Another 60 or so were donated to the hospital’s permanent collection. Still another 44 pieces are on loan from private collectors and art galleries in town. The balance of the art hanging at the hospital is part of the Art for Sale program. This is art created by local artists, O’Neil pointed out. These particular pieces will be rotated every six months, unless, of course, they are purchased. Near each piece of work is a listing of the artist, contact point and price.

Caldwell and Bellevue resident Karen Vance helped the art committee identify and contact artists in the valley. At present, there are approximately 25 local artists with work exhibited in the hospital.

The program had a fairly humble beginning. O’Neil recalled going to a meeting for the interior design of the hospital. She had raised the question as to what would hang on the walls. It was suggested to her that they "just buy posters." She was a bit taken aback by this. It then occurred to her, "There was so much talent in this valley that we could tap into." O’Neil subsequently contacted Caldwell.

Agnew offered that the Art Committee has two goals: "One is that the art community gets exposure it might not ordinarily get and, two, that we keep the hospital as beautiful as we can."

It is fair to say they have achieved both of their goals. Entering the hospital lobby, one is greeted by two large paintings by James Cool on loan from the Gail Severn Gallery. Upstairs one finds a long hallway peppered with art—a sort of promenade of valley artists. As O’Neil said, "It is somewhat unique to be able to see the whole spectrum of local artists in one place." Even the chapel is painted with murals by resident Martine Drackett.

The committee, in deference to the patients’ privacy, has decided to keep all of the rotating work in the more public areas: the lobby, cafeteria and main arteries of travel. With these considerations in mind, hanging the work was no small feat. O’Neil said the committee hired a professional to help them, nonetheless, the task was daunting. Agnew added that the day the 250 pieces of art were delivered to the hospital, they all wondered, "How do we possibly do this?"

The task of hanging took them close to five days.

There is one special corridor in the hospital: the hall of children’s art. Every school in the area has a large space in which students have displayed their art work. From the youngsters at Bellevue Elementary to the teen-agers of the Wood River High School, children of the valley have their own opportunity for expression in a very public space.

Pretty much anywhere one goes in the hospital, save the operating rooms—and presumably no one will be looking at the walls there—he will find something aesthetically pleasing and/or provocative.

It seems somewhat fitting in this area replete with artists and art galleries that even the hospital has become a cultural center. Don’t wait to get sick before enjoying it. Art has a way of healing us, even if we aren’t in need of healing.


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