Local artist illustrates a day in the life at Hennepin Healthcare in 160 moments over 24 hours
At 1 pm, she was in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, sketching baby Emanuel as he is cradled in his mother’s arms.
At 4 am, she was in the Emergency Department, sketching a hallway of exam rooms and the sounds that were coming from each.
At 11 am, she was in the kitchen, sketching an assembly line of food workers as they put food on trays that would soon be lunch for hospitalized patients.
Over the course of a year and a half, local artist Anita White captured moments at Hennepin Healthcare that spanned every hour of the day – all 24 hours of it. She visited places as varied as the Emergency Department and Pediatric Clinic to Food Services and Hospice. She observed patients, families, and staff at the moment of care, and then she made sense of those moments by drawing them.
“I set out with my paper pad and trusty #8 gel pen to record the hospital in its myriad complexity,” said Anita. Once a sketch was complete, she added watercolor to “make it come alive.” She says her goal wasn’t to represent her subject matter realistically. Rather, “I paint intuitively what I feel.”
From personal struggles to a greater purpose
Anita’s drawings at Hennepin Healthcare originally started as a way for her to process her late husband Josh’s medical struggles and navigate a tough situation. However, they soon grew into a commissioned art project to illustrate moments from across the care continuum to tell a larger story.
“Through spending a lot of time at Hennepin Healthcare, I saw through the myriad of appointments, ER visits, and hospitalizations to a larger vision of what this institution is all about,” said Anita. “I sought to draw the humanity of the hospital over a 24-hour period so as to show how the many parts become a whole.”
In total, Anita sketched 160 drawings during her project for Hennepin Healthcare. Together they express the humanity of patients and families and the compassion and expertise of the healthcare team.
Because of the vulnerability in the healthcare setting, “my first priority was always to respect people’s privacy,” said Anita. She remarks on the connections she made with her subjects during the intimate and personal process of drawing them. “I remember most of the people I’ve drawn,” said Anita.
Reflecting on the project, Anita said, “It has been a humbling job to reach beyond my personal terrain to see the larger vision of what the hospital is and who it serves in so many profound ways.”
A tool to become a more person-centered system
The project was funded by the Pat Fallon Humanism Grant Fund of the Hennepin Healthcare Foundation. It was commissioned by the Office of the Medical Staff in partnership with the Patient Experience Department.
“Anita’s drawings illuminate the healthcare journey through a family member’s eyes and are a valuable tool as we work to become a more person-centered healthcare system,” said Dr. Megan Walsh, chief academic officer. “Anita got to experience corners of our system not typically seen directly by patients or families, and in her drawings you can see the connections she made to the whole.”
The drawings are currently on display in the HCMC Medical Library in an exhibit curated by Hennepin Healthcare’s Inspire Arts Program. Says Wenda Ballinger, arts program coordinator, “One of the many roles that art can play in the healthcare environment is to help humanize the experience. This exhibit of Anita’s work, drawn on location and in the moment, helps us to see not only the humanity of the patients and families with whom she interacted, but also the compassion and kindness of the staff who cared for them.”
By capturing the small moments, like the happiness of a patient who hadn’t eaten for twelve hours at being given a sandwich, or the musings of the employee fasting for Ramadan who faithfully makes the brownies every Thursday, Anita’s art helps the viewer to connect, empathize, and see the patient behind the gown.
The exhibit is just one way Anita’s sketches will touch the Hennepin Healthcare community. The Office of the Medical Staff and Patient Experience Department are currently exploring other opportunities to share her work and make an impact, including a 2020 calendar featuring a small collection of her drawings that will be distributed to staff.
Experience Anita’s sketchbook
The project for Hennepin Healthcare has been a both a creative and healing outlet for Anita, whose sketchbook is always open to the whims of the moment. She currently leads poetry, music, and art classes in several nursing homes and previously taught elementary school art for 38 years.
“Daily drawing is a way to navigate life’s challenges and seek out the joy and beauty that is always there,” she said. “It has helped me make my way and has led to surprising things like finding the hidden humor that bubbles up in challenging situations.”
You can visit her exhibit in the HCMC Medical Library in the Red Building, Level 2 skyway anytime Monday-Friday from 8 am-5 pm. The library is open to staff by badge access, and the public is invited to view it by appointment by contacting the librarian at Danielle.Becker@hcmed.org. The exhibit is expected to move to the Clinic & Specialty Center next month. In addition, you can see more of her narrative drawings through November 30, 2019 at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church at 511 Groveland Avenue in Minneapolis. An artist’s reception will be held there on Tuesday, November 19 from 7-8:30 pm.
To learn more about the Inspire Arts Program at Hennepin Healthcare and how to support its work, visit Inspire Arts Program.