MUSC, Halsey team up to practice art of healing
Wealthy, poor, healthy, sick, all can be intimidated by hospitals and visions of stark waiting rooms filled with families spending endless hours anxious to learn the fate of a loved one.
But Ray Greenberg and Mark Sloan have collaborated to make a difficult situation more bearable.
The two community leaders appear to be the proverbial odd couple: Tall and lanky, Greenberg, 52, is a physician and president of the Medical University of South Carolina. Considerably shorter and bearded, Sloan, 50, has been director and senior curator of the College of Charleston's Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art since 1994.
Last spring, the two men arranged for MUSC and the Halsey to assemble the largest collection of original, contemporary South Carolina art on permanent display in the state. The purpose was to use the visual arts to assist hospital patients in their recovery.
On Monday, when the 641,000-square-foot, $400 million Ashley River Tower hospital on Courtenay Drive, decorated with 876 pieces of art, opens to the public, the melding of science and art will be evident.
"Our goal was not only to build a permanent art collection, but also to remind our medical students that they are here to serve the people of South Carolina," says Greenberg.
The MUSC president explains that recent studies strongly indicate that the presence of art in hospitals can shorten recovery time and reduce stress and anxiety for patients and caregivers.
Original artwork, all created by South Carolina artists, will be shown throughout every public area of Ashley River Tower, including patient's rooms and examination areas.
Although a sign says, "Chest Pain Center," the art will be there in an attempt to distract terrified minds and to lend comfort to troubled hearts. Art will include Catawba Indian pottery made by Keith "Little Bear" Brown of Fort Mill, the visage of legendary Charleston ironsmith Philip Simmons made of bottle caps by Molly B. Right and the exuberant paintings of Beaufort artist Cassandra Gillens.
Many of the artists have intriguing pasts: Coca-Cola commissioned a painting by Lese Corrigan presented to former first lady Barbara Bush; Nancy Marshall was the staff photographer for former President Carter; Buddy Folk, once an industrial designer for IBM in New York, still paints from his wheelchair in his Greenville home.
Growing up in Chapel Hill, N.C., Greenberg and Sloan were boyhood friends and graduated from the same high school. But Greenberg stayed in his hometown to attend the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill before going on to earn degrees at Duke Medical School and Harvard University. Sloan left to attend the University of Richmond and then earn a Master of Fine Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University.
"Through the years, we had lost contact with each other," says Sloan, whose art has been shown at such places as the Grand Palais in Paris. "Then in 1995, I had an exhibit of my photography at the High Museum in Atlanta, and Ray's wife, Leah, attended the opening. She introduced herself and told me she and Ray would be moving from Atlanta to Charleston soon. Ray and I had not seen each other in nearly 20 years, and then, one day, he appeared at my front door."
In 1995, Greenberg was hired as provost and vice president for academic affairs at MUSC, and in 2000, he became president of the institution.
Although a man of science, Greenberg is intensely interested in the arts, as is his wife, who serves on the board of the Halsey Institute. After Sloan curated an exhibit of the work of South Carolina photographers in the MUSC library in 2006, Greenberg asked him to be consulting curator and organizer of the art for Ashley River Tower, which will treat heart, vascular and digestive diseases.
To make the massive project work, Sloan, his staff and members of an MUSC art committee traveled the state for 10 days interviewing the 72 artists who had been selected from the 275 submissions. Next, Sloan and Greenberg, with input from the committee, selected 876 pieces of artwork created by 53 South Carolina artists. The work represented diverse age, race, ethnicity and background. Five pieces were commissioned by Sloan and Greenberg.
As the two men show visitors around the glass and steel building with its dramatic, modern facade, symbols of the Palmetto State and its history are much in evidence, starting with the Carolina bluestone-paved horseshoe driveway out front. All the art is by South Carolinians, although some of the artists lived in other countries before settling here.
The curator points out that Lowcountry sweetgrass baskets, placed under Plexiglas, are scattered about various waiting rooms and hallways of the six floors devoted to patients. Each of the 156 rooms is graced with an original work of art, including sculptures, paintings, photography, quilts, abstract art and conceptual art.
If you happen, for example, to be in the cardiac ICU lounge, you will see a selection of paintings by Marcelo Novo, who spent much of his life in Argentina and who created an image of a heart that hangs in a hallway.
The families of patients may seek refuge in a chapel, where Sloan leads a guest and explains lily pads soon will hang from the ceiling in an installation titled "Lily Clouds" by Charleston artist Jocelyn Chateauvert.
"All funding for the artwork came from private donations," says Greenberg. "And working with the Halsey Institute achieved considerable savings for us because the Halsey procured, framed and installed the artwork," he says. "The overall cost of the artwork was less than a quarter of 1 percent of the total cost of the facility, compared with other hospital (art) projects where the percentage is four or more times higher."
Greenberg and Sloan also note that all the artists were paid for their creations.
"And beside each work of art will be a photo, biographical material and the Web site of the artist," says Sloan. "In this project, everybody wins."