Art is not just for museums. In fact, for an institution as storied as the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), art is a way of recognizing and relishing our collective history. That’s something the MUHC’s RBC Art and Heritage Centre Curator Alexandra Kirsh firmly believes.
Kirsh specializes in art in public spaces – specifically hospitals, and she sees her role at the Centre as a bridge between the past, and the present.
“When we moved to the Glen site of the MUHC, we wanted to make sure that we brought our history and heritage with us. And especially moving into a big empty building, a lot of people felt like we lost a sense of self,” explains the bright-eyed academic.
“Bringing that history back into the institution reminds us of where we’ve come from and where we’re going. It reminds us of the altruistic objective that everything started from – helping people in need – and creates a sense of purpose. It’s pride of place and a connection with the institution that we haven’t forgotten or lost.”
The Centre operates with the generous support of its corporate sponsor, RBC Royal Bank, another longstanding institution with deep roots in Montreal, and an interest in preserving and showcasing the rich history of our community. Established in 2013, the Centre is dedicated to preserving and highlighting existing artifacts and archival material from this rich heritage in dedicated exhibition spaces across all MUHC sites.
However, the partnership between RBC and the MUHC goes beyond reflecting on the past, to a profound commitment to supporting the arts, and contemporary artists in the hopes of creating dynamic public spaces.
“Working with the McGill University Health Centre is a unique opportunity to share a distinguished history, and use it as creative momentum moving forward,” says Corrie Jackson, Senior Art Curator, Curatorial Department at RBC.
Kirsh thinks that bringing art into hospitals for employees, visitors and patients provides a unique opportunity for them to encounter it outside of a museum, learn something new, and connect with the local community.
“The art is for everyone, it’s for the patients, the family members who are with them, and the staff,” she notes. “What’s more, it is often helpful to either calm people down or to distract them. While you are waiting for an appointment or for a loved one to finish surgery you may be nervous about what is going on, so it is a visual way to occupy your mind.”
The Art and Heritage team believes that a beautiful environment communicates to someone waiting that they are valued, and that the institution cares about them. They see it as another form of patient care.
“The environment of the hospital has a big impact on the recovery of our patients, and the integration of art into a hospital makes it a truly healing environment,” agrees Dr. Jonathan Meakins, Director of the Art and Heritage Centre.
Many see the work as a way of silently acknowledging the community, and providing a unique kind of companionship on what can often be a painful journey.
“It allows patients to connect, perhaps more easily, with those parts of themselves that provide a certain sense of meaning or purpose,” notes Dr. Christopher MacKinnon, who works as a psychologist in the MUHC’s Palliative Care Unit. He believes art can help diminish some of the distress in the sick and dying.
“If you are stuck in an empty blank room you might wonder – have they forgotten about me?” explains Kirsh. “If your environment is much more welcoming you know they haven’t forgotten about you, it’s a way for the institution to say ‘we see you, we care’.”