As I walked down to the halls of the IU Health Bloomington Hospital, I couldn’t help but feel depressed. Most people don’t feel overly joyous when they are walking the halls of a hospital, but I wasn’t there for myself or even somebody I knew. I was simply there to observe a group of EMTs for the night.
In one room, life had just been brought into the world and celebrations were due. In another, someone was discharged after a serious injury. In another, a family cried as the monitor that sat next to the patient stayed in a steady flat line.
It wasn’t the looming amount of death or injury that made the hospital so depressing, however. There were celebrations and happiness spread throughout the hall.
The emptiness and depression came from the blank white walls that stared at me from every direction. Not a single painting or picture filled the halls, and the only decoration was a small fake skeleton on the nurse's desk.
IU Health Bloomington Hospital does have a display of mosaics and a few other artworks displayed throughout the hospital. I was in the medical side of the hospital, whereas the mosaics and other artworks are in the holistic side of the hospital, predominately in the eating area and outside the public elevator.
The medical side of the hospital is often where emergency patients are brought in and treated. This typically requires badge access. The holistic side is often for recovery and open to public access.
Yet, it still made me think about the effect of art on the mind and body.
There was nothing to bring any amount of light into the lives of these people going through some of the hardest moments of their lives. There was nothing to make the celebrations feel lively and happy.
In Harlem Hospital in New York City, a handful of artists painted 12 murals from 1937-1940. The murals are displayed throughout the hospital that depicted children playing, a couple dancing, a theater performance on stage, a group of women talking and a handful more scenes.
They showed community and brought colors and vibrance to the bleak building.
In 2004, they removed and relocated the paintings to preserve the artwork. Some of the works are being restored and placed in a museum. From what I have found, nothing replaced that art.
Art is proven to significantly improve the health of patients. Patients had reduced anxiety and due to this blood flow increased by 10%. Art has a strong, positive psychological effect on the brain. It creates a nurturing and inviting environment. It brings light and positivity to a sterile place that benefits patients young and old alike.
[Related: ‘Poetry is Therapy’: a night at The Bishop Bar]
In my research on this topic, I could not find a single reason as to why hospitals are so bland. There is nothing stopping hospitals from livening up their rooms. In fact, it’s encouraged by many scientists and psychiatric doctors.
At the IU Health Bloomington Hospital, I was simply a visitor who had no connection to anyone in the building. I was an outside observer. Yet, everything about being there felt heavy.
I felt like I wanted to be anywhere but there. I wanted to close my eyes and picture a place with vibrance and joy. There was nothing there that made me want to stay.
How do we expect patients to thrive and recover in that environment if an outsider who was in perfect health felt that way?
Hospitals are already bearers of bad news. They bring sadness and heartbreak. They bring life, and they bring death. They should be places of color. They should be places of life.
Gentry Keener (she/her) is a junior studying journalism and political science.
CORRECTION: This article has been edited to reflect a 2019 project added murals to the IU Health Bloomington Hospital.