Foundation Buys Local Art For Every Hospital Patient Room In Vermont

Jun 20, 2016

A foundation that was started to purchase an original work of art for every hospital patient room in Vermont has completed its mission.

For the past seven years, The Susan Sebastian Foundation has been purchasing paintings by Vermont artists for hospitals.

And the foundation recently gave 54 paintings to Southwestern Vermont Health Care in Bennington, making it the final hospital in Vermont to receive the artwork.

Toward the end of her life, Susan Sebastian was at Fletcher Allen (now University of Vermont Medical Center), and she told her friend Deb Clark that the bare walls were depressing.

"One day she looked at me and she said, 'Deb, I can't believe there's not art in this room. I'm looking at a TV, and I'm looking at a brick wall out the window and there needs to be artwork. I love art and we need to have more art pieces in the rooms,'" Clark recalls.

That was just before Sebastian died in 2009.

Her mother started a foundation to purchase a painting for every hospital patient room across the state.

Clark says it sounded like an ambitious project when Sebastian first came up with the plan.

"You know, and as I walked away I just kind of thought, 'Oh my gosh, what an undertaking,'" says Clark. "This is a huge thing. Is this really going to occur? And it has."

A spokesman estimates that the foundation spent about $50,000 per hospital on original art, but added that the foundation spent less money for some of the smaller hospitals.

Dr. Esther Sternberg wrote a book about how architecture and physical spaces can aid in the healing process.

"There are studies in the literature looking at the impact of art on wellbeing ... People look at one room in one hospital. A hallway. They don't look at 1,200 beds across an entire state ... This is amazing to me.

Sternberg was at the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester to talk about her book and look over the Bennington hospital's artwork before it was hung.

She says the Vermont project is by far the largest attempt she's heard of to bring fine art into hospitals.

"The scope of this is amazing," Sternberg says. "There are studies in the literature looking at the impact of art on wellbeing. Patients undergoing surgery. Pain. People look at one room in one hospital. A hallway. They don't look at 1,200 beds across an entire state. Every single hospital in Vermont, every single room in which art can be placed. This is amazing to me."

The paintings generally depict Vermont scenes; the barns, grazing sheep and foliage, which supporters say help bring the outdoors into the sterile hospital setting.