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Healing Walls: Historic and Collaborative Murals at New York City’s Public Hospitals
Beginning as a flagship program of the NYC Health + Hospitals’ Arts in Medicine Program, the Community Mural Project built on a mural-making tradition in our public hospitals dating back to FDR’s WPA program for artists in the 1930s. The Community Mural Project commissioned a new generation of artists, chosen from among hundreds of applications, to collaborate with hospital and health center staff and their surrounding communities to create extraordinary new murals. Now there are 26 newly created murals, including one in every city hospital and long-term care facility in the nation’s largest municipal health and hospital system.
The Community Mural Project was designed to encourage creativity and lower stress among frontline health professionals and other staff and to build trust and increase engagement between the staff and members of their surrounding communities. It is the largest mural project in public hospitals since the New Deal-era Federal Art Project, which inspired murals in virtually every city hospital in New York.
Healing Walls: New York City Health + Hospitals Community Mural Project 2019-2021 documents the system’s new murals and serves as a gift to the people who created them, and the thousands of hospital staff who work tirelessly every day to keep New Yorkers healthy. The book features all 26 of the new murals, and presents a deeply researched history of the New Deal-era, along with insights into the role of the arts in addressing health challenges.
In her historical essay, art historian and Whitney Museum curator Barbara Haskell writes that the Depression-era hospital murals “demonstrated the meaningful role art can have in forging a shared vision of hope and renewal.” In Haskell’s words, “As we reflect upon the singular role hospitals play in our communities, it is time to reaffirm our understanding of art as an important part of the healing experience by strengthening our resolve to integrate it into hospitals.”
Larissa Trinder, senior director of the NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine program, will share insights into the role of the arts in the city’s hospital system. The book’s co-editor Rick Luftglass, Executive Director of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, which supports the hospital system’s Arts in Medicine programs, will moderate a discussion with Eric Wei, the hospital system’s Senior Vice President and an emergency physician, and art historian Barbara Haskell. The discussion will focus on the historic WPA murals, and explore how today’s Community Mural Project carries forward the Roosevelt tradition while adding the new dimension of collaborative creation.
Healing Walls: Health and Art in New Deal New York, a new Roosevelt House exhibit, was inspired by the Community Mural Project. The exhibit chronicles the federal government’s New Deal-era employment of artists and showcases some of the works they created for both health facilities and public health campaigns under the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The focus falls on six historic mural projects, highlighted by the first-ever display of two recently restored original panels from Abram Champanier’s mural Alice in Wonderland in New York. The panels, from a 1938-1940 mural series, were rescued 40 years ago during the demolition of Gouverneur Hospital in Lower Manhattan and have not been seen in public since.
The exhibit opens to the public on November 23 and runs through February 24, 2023.
Roosevelt House is open to visitors Monday–Friday, 10am–5pm and during all Roosevelt House public and college events.
Each in-person attendee will receive an advance copy of the lavishly illustrated new book,
Healing Walls: New York City Health + Hospitals Community Mural Project.