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Enhancing Healing Through Art

May 12, 2020

Public health students work to install calming photography at UMD Health Services.

It’s no coincidence that artwork has increasingly popped up on the traditionally stark walls of healthcare facilities in recent years. Research has demonstrated that art can have healing effects on the sick. 

Kelly Lanigan installing a photoUMD public health students, led by Azrin Awal, started working with the Foundation for Photo/Art in Hospitals earlier this year to bring healing photography to the UMD Health Services building. The students initially installed 15 pieces. Public health major Mel Peirson and her classmates continued their work this semester by fundraising for additional photos.

The Foundation for Photo/Art in Hospitals was established in 2002 to help provide a more soothing atmosphere in hospitals in order to reduce stress and facilitate healing. Peirson is one of several students involved in the Health Services project. The public health major at UMD requires a capstone course that many students take during their senior year. During the course, students participate in volunteer work of their choosing that contributes to their community’s public health. 

Artwork at Health ServicesAssociate Professor Ladona Tornabene teaches the course, titled, “The Health Education Specialist: Skills and Application.” Tornabene notes that students also have the opportunity to participate in this project through a study abroad program in Italy, where Elaine Poggi, the nonprofit’s founder, is located. The program was canceled for the May 2020 session due to the COVID-19 pandemic but is planned to continue once again next spring.

Photos selected by the foundation highlight the beauty and peace of nature scenes from around the world. Photographers can submit their work for use by the foundation and photos are subject to approval by Poggi. Hospitals and clinics can then choose which works to display in their clinic. 

Peirson chose to work with the Foundation for Photo/Art in Hospitals because she “truly believes that art helps people heal and spark love and creativity.” She notes that photos from the foundation end up all around the world, which makes the photos at UMD even more special.

“Being a student that uses Health Services for medical appointments and counseling services, I spend a lot of time there,” says Peirson. “After the first installation of photos was placed in health services I already started to feel a greater sense of peace and welcoming. Yet, there were still some bare walls that needed some healing touch. So we created a fundraiser and were able to get 15 more photos to be placed at Health Services.”

The fundraiser hosted by Peirson and fellow classmate Morgan Wittman, raised $535 to contribute toward the installation of the additional photos. This fundraiser allowed an additional 15 pieces to be placed at Health Services for a total of 30 photos.

Peirson adds that the photos are “especially important right now to help bring hope and love to the nurses providing care and the students that are still using Health Services during this uncertain time.”

Dori Decker, health educator and wellness coordinator at UMD Health Services, is thrilled with the results of the student-led effort. "The photos really do make a big difference in creating a more relaxed environment in our clinic and we are grateful for the students' efforts to get them here!” she says.

Two photos are displayed in a health services exam room

Pictured at top: Adam Johnston, Kelly Lanigan, Azrin Awal