Art for Health’s Sake

Building or expanding an existing hospital is not just about steel, concrete and IT. For the established SJG Murdoch Hospital, its art collection is substantial and impressive. Arts Manager Ms Connie Petrillo said its program began in 2005 as a tribute to the Sisters of St John and their tradition of holistic and compassionate healing within a hospital environment.

Ms-Connie-Petrillo-and-painting-by-Chris-Hopewell-Jan 15           Ms Connie Pertillo

There’ve been many studies reinforcing the role that an exposure to art plays in modern healthcare, both in an acceleration of the treatment and rehabilitation process.

It’s all part of therapeutic healing and it can reduce the length of time a patient stays in hospital and decrease the use of pain medication,” Connie said.

The reaction to a work of art is always subjective and one person’s masterpiece is another’s postmodern disaster.

Emotional reponse
“The flagship of the program is most definitely the art collection. And, yes, sometimes they’re challenging but we’ve focused on works that are transcendent and visually stunning. There’s no doubt that there are many different artistic tastes and consequent reactions to the display of art. But it’s important to present works of art that challenges a viewer; that’s a risk, but art should always have an element of risk.”.

“Art is a universal language – a picture paints a thousand words – and whether it nurtures or challenges it should always nourish the individual and, at the very least, act as a catalyst to pause and reflect.”
“The majority of artworks at SJG Murdoch are by WA artists and that’s intentional because they reflect the place and role of this particular hospital. There’s also a significant number by Indigenous artists and that’s an integral part of the hospital’s commitment to reconciliation and the celebration of a rich Aboriginal culture.”

“It’s also a way of forging relationships with the local arts community and, hopefully, making sure the collection remains contemporary, innovative and inclusive.”

Phillip-Cook--Herne-Hill-2014There’s a broader brief to the SJG arts program, both on a policy level and in practical terms. In fact, it has just issued a tender for $500,000 a complementary artwork at the entrance to the hospital.

“The entire SJG Health Care Group has a firm belief in the value of the arts within the health sector. We’ve just established an Arts Council to develop this area across its 18 facilities in Australia and New Zealand, which will include its pathology, home nursing, disability and social outreach services.”


Children in hospitals
At the industrial-look FSH, the paediatric ward is turning to artists of the future. Local high-school students have created artwork, their younger counterparts have selected the winning pieces and they have been digitised onto wallpaper.

It’s all designed to make a child’s stay in hospital a positive experience and it will be rolled onto the walls at FSH early this month.

Senior Engagement Officer Lucy Kirwan-Ward was the catalyst for the Wallpaper Project.

“The focus was to develop artwork in an area of the hospital frequented by children so the style and theme were tailored to the needs of younger patients. It’s been a wonderful opportunity for young people to be involved in their local hospital and for some of the students it was the first time their work had been displayed.”

“The most important factor in everything we do is the way we care for patients and the experience they have at Fiona Stanley. Having said that, it’s not often we build a new tertiary hospital and its design lends itself very well to the incorporation of works of art. And having this community engagement is a definite plus.”

Connecting with the landscape
The paediatric ward is on the eastern side of the complex and one good reason why, says the Head of Paediatric Services, Dr Janine Spencer, a lot of the artwork references a WA landscape.

“There’s an amazing diversity in the art but we do look out towards the desert and there’s a distinctive native flora and fauna theme with emus and camel trains. A lot of the paintings will appeal to indigenous kids. We’ll also have a montage of water scenes some of which were done by children who arrived here as refugees.”


“It’s so important to make this area of the hospital friendly and child-centred and also bear in mind that a child’s perception of a hospital visit is very different from an adults. There’s a lot of supporting literature about the intrinsic benefits of art in the treatment and recovery, particularly where young children are concerned.”

“We’ve used a lot of muted colours that will suit age-groups from babies to 18-year-olds and there’s lovely painting of Busselton Jetty that should appeal to older children. We’re hoping that the art will provoke conversations between patients and staff.”

“The waiting room at the Paediatric ED is interesting with some very quirky pieces done by WA artist Shaun Tan. He’s donated a lot of his work to the hospital, some of which can be a bit confronting for younger children but we’ve selected appropriate pieces.”

The Wallpaper Project has been a wonderful way to engage with the wider community, suggests Janine. And the broader ethos of embracing a slightly different approach will have positive spin-offs for medical professionals.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm from the schools involved and we may well do this on a biennial basis. Fiona Stanley is an inspirational person and we’ve got a terrific opportunity to do things a little differently here.”