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Giving Tuesday with RxART's Diane Brown

by Framebridge Editorial
November 21, 2023
4 min read

We believe in the tremendous influence of art and design: to reshape spaces, provide inspiration, and simply bring a smile to faces. And perhaps no organization understands this more than RxART, whose mission is to help children heal through the extraordinary power of visual art. That’s why, on Giving Tuesday, Framebridge will donate $10 from every order placed to RxART, to help transform children’s hospital settings into engaging and uplifting healing environments–at no cost to the hospitals. 

Since the innovative nonprofit was founded in 2000 by former art dealer and private curator Diane Brown, RxART has completed 61 projects in 39 hospitals with 93 established contemporary artists. Jeff Koons, for one, bedecked the CT scan suite at Advocate Children’s Hospital with his iconic images of balloon dogs, hearts, and monkeys. Nina Chanel Abney festooned the pediatric ambulatory clinic at NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst in joyful graphics and bold pops of color. And Takashi Murakami turned the CT/PET scan suite at Children’s National Hospital into a flower garden of happy blooms. The list goes on…there’s even an RxART coloring book that features a vibrant collection of drawings and sticker art by many of the commissioned artists.

“People don't see what we do unless they’re sick, unless they or a child they love is in the hospital,” says Diane. “So really, one of our biggest challenges is letting people know who we are and what we do.” Here, she shares how RxART got its start, the incredible artists she’s worked with along the way, and one inspiring story after another.

RxART President and Founder Diane Brown with Dan Colen at his project for St. Mary's Hospital for Children.

What inspired RxART?

In 2000, I had a CT scan. It was a scary experience for me–I was in a really cold room with a strap across me on a gurney, a needle in my arm, and the staff was not very friendly. I wanted to get out of that room, and my only escape was my imagination. I imagined a painting going across the ceiling and I got very involved in looking at it. Then the test was over and I thought, “Oh my God, this is so powerful. I’d like to do it for other people.”

How did the organization come to be?

I was an art dealer for many years, and then a private curator. So I started asking critics, collectors, curators, and artists, “Do you think I can put museum-quality art in hospitals, pay the artists, and not charge the hospitals?” Everyone said I was crazy except for one person, and that was Agnes Gund, who is a fabulous philanthropist friend. She said, “Try it.” And I thought, “Good enough.”

Derrick Adams’ joyful pool-inspired art for the Pediatric Emergency Department treatment rooms at NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem.

How will Framebridge’s support on Giving Tuesday benefit RxART?

People don’t see what we do unless they're sick, unless they or a child they love is in the hospital. So really, one of our biggest challenges is letting people know who we are and what we do. Every person who learns about RxART is one step ahead for us. What we do is great for the artists, great for the hospitals that pay nothing, and then, of course, great for the kids.

Ann Craven’s whimsical installation at the Chadwick Center at Rady Children’s Hospital.

Are the artists given carte blanche to create whatever they want? 

Yes. All the artists know what the goal is: to take children’s minds off illness or injury, and to give them the ability to be imaginative in a healing environment. We work with such astonishingly great artists, so I’m not going to tell them what to paint and neither are the hospitals. We work with Ralph Appelbaum Associates, which is a brilliant design team that helps our artists translate their ideas into monumental scale. 

Nina Chanel Abney’s vibrant imagery festoons the Pediatric Ambulatory Clinic at NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst.

Does a certain installation stand out in your mind?

There are wonderful stories from every project. Oh my goodness, Nina Chanel Abney went crazy with her project [for the Pediatric Ambulatory Clinic at NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst]. I expected her to do a wall in the waiting room, which would have been fabulous and interesting and the kids would have loved it. But no, Nina didn’t want to do a wall–she wanted to do everything. And now the adolescent waiting area, which is next door to this pediatric waiting area, they said, “Well, what about us?” So Nina’s doing that, too. And Jonas Wood created privacy curtains for the PICU [at Children’s National Hospital] that were installed right before the pandemic. That's where they sent the kids with COVID. The kids were there, their parents were there, the staff was there. Everyone was so terrified in the beginning, and the staff told us that the privacy curtains helped so much because they could say, “Can you find the dinosaur? How many bananas do you see?” The families could all talk about something other than how afraid they were that their child was sick.

The blooming Takashi Murakami CT/PET scan suite at Children’s National Hospital.

How have patients responded to the art?

When we did the project [with Rob Pruitt] at CHOC [Children’s Health of Orange County], there was a 9-year-old girl who had been having CT scans every year since she was two. She said, “I always felt like the machine was going to swallow me, but now it’s so much fun.” Another kid at the Takashi Murakami CT/PET scan suite [at Children’s National Hospital] said that he was always afraid, but now the flowers were smiling at him. At Cedars-Sinai’s [Maxine Dunitz Children’s Health Center], Urs Fischer did wallpaper on the ceilings and walls with splotches of color and elephants making silly faces. A little boy there had a chronic problem and had to come in repeatedly. On one visit he said, “Can I have an elephant room this time?” It makes you feel good when you can give a child one thing to be excited about when they return to the hospital.

Do you believe that art contributes to the healing process of children and their families?

It’s been well documented that your emotional state has a lot to do with your physical state. Your mind has a lot to do with how your body’s behaving. And if you’re terrified or depressed, you’re simply not going to heal as quickly. These spaces are meant to be imaginative, cheerful, comforting, and just stimulating in the most positive way.

Thank you to all of our customers for your support this Giving Tuesday. Your order will help children heal through the power of visual art and we are so grateful!