Story by SUZANNE KYDLAND ADY Of The Gazette Staff
A recent event at St. Vincent Healthcare has become a showcase of creativity. Everything from a simple heart to a birthday cake to a complex cartoon character now grace a handful of ceiling tiles at the Billings hospital, compliments of patients, staff members and visitors.
Last week, through St. Vincent's new arts and medicine program, several standard-sized tiles were removed, painted and put back up.
Jane Waggoner Deschner, an artist active in art projects around the community such as Horse, Of Course!, has seen firsthand what art therapy can do — especially in a hospital setting.
"When someone is in the hospital, they have so little control over their surroundings," she explained. "Many studies have shown that when you're making something, you don't pay as much attention to pain."
Deschner, a consultant to the hospital and curator at the St. Vincent Women's Center gallery, has traveled to hospitals around the country. Some medical facilities, she said, have art studios for patients. Others will let a patient choose the artwork to hang on the walls in the room during his stay.
"I've seen artists-in-residence at a hospital who will come around with an art cart and help you make something," she said. "Others have dancers-in-residence who come in and do movement with the patients."
Recently nominated to an 18-member board of directors for the Society for the Arts and Healthcare, Deschner is among a large group of medical personnel and art therapists across the United States who believe the arts can heal.
"Arts, especially in a hospital setting, can change the entire hospital experience," she said. "And when you provide an environment that's conducive to healing, the patient and even the family will be happier and usually have a better experience."
It was this idea Deschner that brought to the table last January when meeting with St. Vincent Healthcare CEO Michelle Hood and Sister Bernadette Helfert, the regional vice president of Mission Integration at the hospital.
"We asked, 'What could we do to start something like this?' " Deschner said. "And we decided on the ceiling tiles. We got some money to do six to eight painting workshops over the course of a year."
Additional classes will be offered through St. Vincent Women's Center, including Create Your Own Collage-Face Clock, Thursdays, June 5 and 12, 7-9 p.m. For more information, call 237-3680.
She considers the first tile-painting workshop, held for three hours in the morning and another three hours around dinnertime, a success. She pointed out there were nine people painting the 12-inch by 12-inch tiles a few minutes before the workshop officially started.
The event was open to patients and their families, staff members and visitors, who could use acrylic paint to design whatever they wanted. Hospital gowns were worn over street clothes.
"What else could you do for this little amount of money?" Deschner said. "It was so easy … just some paint and tiles. And everyone just had fun."
When the painting was completed, the artists chose a spot in the ceiling where their tiles would be placed. All are on the third floor near the cafeteria and very visible to passersby. The tiles will stay in the ceiling indefinitely.
Deschner was overwhelmed by the positive reactions from the event.
"There was one family who had members from all over the country because their grandma was in the hospital," she said. "One by one, they all came down and started painting, then they took the finished tiles to show her in her room. One of the men told me, 'I had all this stuff in my head when I started painting, and now it's gone.' "
Many painters used their tile art to send a prayer or powerful message to people, or created something which was personally meaningful.
Two more painting workshops are scheduled for June 16 and July 21, and Deschner hopes to expand the program to the rehab and pediatrics department for regular sessions.