Hospital art | art hospitalier

Encountering Art in Hospitals: A Comparative Analysis of the Forms and Perceived Functions of Commissioned Contemporary Art in Two New Montreal Mega-Hospitals
Principal Investigator: Dr. Tamar Tembeck (McGill University). Co-applicants: Dr. Mary Hunter, Dr. Melissa Park, Dr. David Theodore (McGill University); Dr. Magali Uhl, Dr. Florence Vinit (UQÀM).

Research Assistants: Gina Page and Dr. Marie Lavorel (McGill University)
Project supported by an Insight Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2016-2019).

Summary: Encountering Art in Hospitals offers a focused inquiry into the commissioning process and public reception of contemporary artworks developed for two new urban health care spaces. The comparative pilot study is anchored in a review of policy, architectural and publicity documents related to hospital arts commissions, as well as ethnographic field research (observations, interviews and focus groups) conducted at the new McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and Phase 2 of the Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM). Part 1, “Staging the encounter,” examines the art commissioning process at the CHUM and MUHC, while Part 2, “Experiencing the encounter,” focuses on the reception of the commissioned artworks by a range of hospital users (e.g., patients, visitors, staff). Our interdisciplinary team, composed of specialists in art history, architecture, social sciences and medical humanities, will investigate the differences and similarities in the forms and perceived functions of the contemporary artworks commissioned for these two hospital environments. The study takes into consideration the common ground shared by the two hospitals: the relative synchronous timing of their constructions, and their mutual access to a percentage-for-art scheme from Quebec’s Ministry of Culture and Communications. However, it also attends to the cultural (e.g., Anglophone/Francophone) as well as organisational differences between the two institutions, and their potential impacts on the choice of artworks commissioned. In light of the apparent variance in the two institutions’ curatorial orientations (despite their access to similar funding and policy directives), Part 1 of our study is devoted to a comparative analysis of the institutions’ expectations with regards to the commissioned artworks–both in terms of their forms and perceived functions in the health care environment–as well as to an aesthetic analysis of the works themselves. Part 2 will focus on hospital users’ receptions of the commissioned artworks on both sites.

Existing studies on art in hospitals tend to focus on accumulating evidence of their beneficial impacts on patients’ recovery and wellbeing. Since the birth of hospitals, however, art has played a variety of other roles, ranging from providing contemplative touchstones for hospital users, to improving the institution’s overall image in the public eye. This study will allow us to gain further insight into the non-therapeutic roles played by contemporary art in hospitals, and set foundations for a broader program of inquiry into hospital art practices worldwide. The study’s primary goals are to: 1) shed light on the material and organizational conditions of the hospital art commissioning process at the CHUM and MUHC; 2) uncover tacit as well as overt expectations relative to the perceived functions of art in these hospital environments; 3) evaluate whether or not these expectations are being met in practice, and identify what other functions potentially emerge from the works as they are experienced by hospital users; 4) situate these hospital art commissions within contemporary art history, both in relation to the history of public art in Canada, and in relation to contemporary hospital art practices worldwide; 5) identify best practices in order to inform future cultural policies supporting art commissions for health care environments.