Patients become artists with help from friends

February 22, 2008
By

JOHN SWAN


Gazette Photo by John Swan
Shattuck Hospital patients display some of their work at an exhibition Feb. 1. From the left are Mizell Morgan, Minhsu Ha, Jacinto Peña and Linda Henderson.

FOREST HILLS—The healing power of art radiated through the lobby of the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital at 170 Morton St., bordering Franklin Park, during an exhibition of work by several dozen patients.

Calling the Feb. 1 show “a feast for our eyes,” Edmond Barry Gaither, director of The Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, congratulated the aspiring artists of the hospital’s first-year art program, funded by a grant awarded to the new community group Shattuck Partners in Life.

About 60 patients took part in the program, most in long-term care from the AIDS and tuberculosis wards at Shattuck, or from the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health.

Minhsu Ha, who emigrated here in 1970 from Vietnam and had four pieces in the show, said the program “makes me feel better. I have a happy time in my mind.”

“I haven’t done art since I was in high school,” said Arnette Branch from her wheelchair, pointing out her two paintings. “But this program helps me get my feelings out. I’m very angry. I’m so sick and have been in the hospital since August.

“Painting helps me heal and deal with the depression. And it’s good for me to socialize, although I miss the Saturday classes now that the last session is over,” said Branch. She lauded her instructor, Kofi Kayiga, a graduate of the London Royal Academy of Art who now teaches at the Massachusetts College of Art.

“I didn’t know I had any skill, but Kofi is so supportive and laid back. He taught me how to make something from nothing,” she said.

Kayiga smiled and said, “The most important thing they learn is to express themselves and build more confidence. The work lets them open up both artistically and emotionally.”

The Shattuck Partners grant is also funding a spoken word workshop this spring, at the same time the next painting classes will begin.

“It’s wonderful what you can read into each piece of work. You can almost read the artists’ thoughts,” said Terry McDonald as she negotiated her wheelchair up and down the aisles of paintings.

“I’m sure it’s good therapy, but I’m also impressed with the quality of much of the work. Quite professional-looking,” she said.

A former administrator at Shattuck for 14 years, McDonald said she is very confident coming back now as a patient. “I could go to any hospital, but I came to the Shattuck because they have such wonderful care. I know. It’s right up there with the rest of the top hospitals. I highly recommend it,” she said.

“Painting makes me mellow and relaxed,” said Jacinto Peña, an auto mechanic from JP who has been at the hospital seven months. “I hope there’s [continued] support for the program.”

Founded in 1954 as a hospice for cancer patients, the Shattuck is now a comprehensive facility funded solely by the state. It primarily serves “the poorest patients and people involved with state agencies such as the Department of Mental Retardation and Department of Corrections,” said Stanley Slotnick, director of public affairs for the hospital.

“We’re the safety net for patients with multiple problems and who may be in difficult situations, like the homeless who need dialysis,” he said, calling the hospital “very vibrant…and committed to delivering quality services with respect and compassion.”

Juliet Carey, a consultant for the friends group Shattuck Partners, went further, saying, “The Shattuck is the safety net of the safety net…an extraordinary hospital given its limited funding. So many come here with some of the most complex diagnoses and difficulties.”

Her group, she explained, was originally founded in 1987 by concerned volunteers who primarily focused on supporting what was then the only inpatient AIDS program in New England.

“People moved on, and the group dissipated,” she said. “But in 2005 the group was reinvigorated with a mission of a much broader scope.”

In addition to the arts programs, Shattuck Partners has initiated an incentive program for tuberculosis patients to help keep them on treatment plans; sponsored continuing education for clinicians; and assisted staff with outside grant funding.

“We also want to reach out to the community to introduce ourselves and build collaborations with residents and businesses,” Carey said.

“What wonderful work,” exclaimed JP activist and local resident Christine Poff as she toured the exhibition with Carey after the ceremony.

Director of the Franklin Park Coalition and vice president of Shattuck Partners, Poff stressed the need for local involvement. “If the hospital thrives, it will benefit both the park and the whole community,” she said.

For more information about Shattuck Partners, e-mail julietcarey@comcast.net or call 971-3893.