Around Town: PaintFest America Brings Art Therapy to D.C.

by Editorial

Local cancer patients and survivors painted the first strokes on canvas murals, as part of a 50-day tour to cancer institutes across the U.S.

Story and Photos by Julie Gallagher

PaintFest America

A windy day in the District didn’t stop cancer patients, survivors, loved ones and volunteers from kicking off the Foundation for Hospital Art’s PaintFest America tour at MedStar Washington Hospital Center on July 5.

Participants gathered around tables stocked with bright paint, paintbrushes and canvases to complete pre-drawn and color-coded murals, such as an underwater scene and the Golden Gate Bridge. Once finished, these murals will hang in the hospital’s hallways.

PaintFest America is a 50-day tour to bring artwork to 50 hospitals in 50 states. MedStar Washington Hospital Center was the tour’s first stop and it will conclude in New York City on August 23.

The Foundation for Hospital Art’s Executive Director Scott Feight said starting the tour in Washington held a special significance.

Cancer survivor Beverly Pollard and Foundation for Hospital Art Trustee Brian McGagh

Cancer survivor Beverly Pollard and Foundation for Hospital Art Trustee Brian McGagh

“I just felt like as the nation’s capital, I wanted to start it here. We’re going to start it here and end in New York City. In my mind those were our two biggest locations that I could do,” Feight said. “We didn’t want to do it right on the fourth of July, but we started on the fifth. There’s nothing better than our nation’s capital at this time of the year.”

The Foundation for Hospital Art is a nonprofit based in Atlanta and aims to “turn hospitals into beautiful places for healing” through art, according to Feight.

Raquel Nunes, M.D., an oncologist at Hospital Center, said art therapy programs like PaintFest can make a big difference in patients’ healing because they bring the focus back to the patient as a person, not just their diagnosis.

“I think initiatives like this are very important because when you are diagnosed with cancer, it’s really a very scary moment of your life.

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It’s a life changing event that has profound implications on your wellbeing. It takes over all of your thoughts,” Nunes said.  “I’m hoping this project will encourage our patients and other patients to explore art as a form of healing.

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In addition to the array of murals painted for each individual location to display, a cancer patient and survivor at each tour stop will paint a mural with their state’s bird and flower. These 50 state murals will be compiled into one 15 foot by 10 foot “Stars of Hope” mural at the final stop in New York City.

John Belk

John Belk

“Fifty days from now we’ll probably be exhausted but it’s going to be so fulfilling to be able to say we painted with cancer patients and survivors in all 50 states,” Feight added.

Feight said the foundation wanted to focus the tour on cancer patients because it is an illness that touches everyone. He said he is most excited to hear about people’s stories as they make their way around the country.

Beverly Pollard, a breast cancer survivor who received treatment at Hospital Center, attended the PaintFest kickoff to give back to a community that helped her.

“The reason I came out today, is because I want to do any type of support I possibly can because I’ve had a tremendous amount of support,” Pollard said. “That’s my journey right there, supporting, that’s what I want to do.”

John Belk, a prostate cancer survivor, said he came to PaintFest America kickoff to “pay it forward.” Belk said he thinks painting will give current cancer patients something to do and the completed art will help brighten up the hospital.

“Hearing each of those stories makes it special,” Feight said.  “We’re such a vast country, but we’re all the same. Cancer touches everyone.”

PaintFest mural

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