Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The arts are nothing new for Harlem Hospital Center. In 1936, the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP) commissioned works for the city’s public hospitals, including the Harlem Hospital Center. The murals that cover the New Patient Pavilion tell the histories of African American art, literature, and philosophy. The artists were among the first African Americans to receive a government-commissioned award.

After a somewhat rocky start to the murals (hospital administrators initially rejected the murals because they argued the demographic of the neighborhood might change in the future), art now plays an integral role in the Hospital. In 2012, these works were restored and became an integral part of the patient pavilion on Lenox Avenue, aptly named Mural Pavilion.

In a New York Times article, Chuck Siconolfi, Senior Principal for Health Care, acknowledged the value of the artwork as a healing tool and as something that brings the community together: “They are as much a tool in the delivery of care as any radiological device or any scalpel…All the murals tell wonderful stories. We said ‘Let’s go beyond displaying these murals and make them emblematic of the whole community and its role in American life.”

What better way to embrace the legacy of these works than by continuing to present new artists whose works represent the community?

In partnership with Community Works, a nonprofit arts and education organization and New Heritage Theatre Group, the oldest Black nonprofit theatre company in NYC, Harlem Hospital Center presented the “Harlem is…Spirit of Community” exhibit.

The exhibit, which opened on March 15, will be extended through July 28. The multi-media exhibit features a timeline of archival images and photographs, a film screening of “Celebrating What Harlem Is” by David Lackey, music by Greg Harris, and spoken work by community members.

The Hospital now boasts its own art collection, which includes a set of wood panels from Liberia that were gifted on indefinite loan by Maria King Wallace. Her brother, Barnardo Rubie, thought of the hospital’s collection as “an institution that has carried the legacy of our people for at least 100 years,” according to another New York Times article, CEO and COO Eboné M. Carrington acknowledged the importance of the work and the transformative “power of art in healing.”

By depicting lives and histories of the community, the art at Harlem Hospital Center creates a space where patients, visitors, and doctors can all feel a sense of belonging and care.

Photo: Karsten Moran for The New York Times