On a Sunday afternoon in late spring, Geisel School of Medicine students welcomed family and friends of children in the “Art for Kids” program and the waiting room arts project to an exhibition featuring artwork created by those in the programs. The work is on view in Matthews-Fuller Health Sciences Library at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC).
“Art for Kids,” a Sunday art program for children with chronic medical conditions, is based in the AVA Gallery in Lebanon, NH. Established in 2007 as a Schweitzer Fellowship project by then Geisel medical student and artist Cindy Nu Chai '10, the program is organized and run by four second-year Geisel students each academic year, along with assistance from AVA arts faculty. Children in both programs work one-on-one with Geisel students to create artwork.
After eight successful years at AVA, the “Art for Kids” program extended its reach this year to include the Craniofacial Clinic waiting rooms at DHMC. Devoted to the evaluation and treatment of children born with craniofacial disorders, who often require complex and integrated care over many years, the DHMC Craniofacial Clinic arranges all appointments for its pediatric patients on one day once a month to better coordinate care and minimize interrupting school days. The new Craniofacial Clinic arts project keeps children entertained during their exhausting daylong series of doctor’s appointments.
“Each month we work with Chrissy Orcutt Henderson, a very talented Upper Valley artist, to thoughtfully design fun and accessible art projects, which our kids will thoroughly enjoy,” says second-year Geisel student Chengetai Mahomva. But the projects also benefit parents and medical students by giving them time to talk to each other prior to the children’s appointments. “We usually start the art project in the waiting room where you get to know the families and then follow them into each doctor’s visit continuing to do art so that the child doesn’t get bored. Listening to the family’s expectations for the appointment, observing how differently people express anxiety or joy and then watching how that manifests during the appointment, gives you a different, perhaps more patient oriented, view into the doctor-patient relationship.”
The quirky and dynamic, portraits, paintings, prints, and sculptures, which set this collection apart from the art work normally on view in the library, brings life to the creative alliance between the children and Dartmouth’s medical students.
Delighted to see their creations hanging in a public space for everyone to admire, it was an exciting afternoon for the young artists. As they talked shyly about their work to interested onlookers, their parents beamed with pride.
“What I love most about this program is that it focuses on talents not on limitations—everyone has something to offer. This exhibit also highlights how everything at Geisel is about putting the patient first. Dartmouth Biomedical Libraries, were very supportive about giving our kids a chance to shine,” says Mahomva, who managed the program this year along with fellow second-year students Cristina Alcorta, Harrison Jones and Julia Litzky.
Working one-on-one with the Geisel students, the children have an opportunity to use their imaginations and to express how they understand and view their world. What’s grounding about this interaction, Mahomva explains, is it encourages both the children and medical students to take risks and connect to something that requires a different perspective.
Abigail Ham, who created the painting reproduced on the “Art for Kids” exhibit postcard and flyer, has always been interested in art. “I painted the turtle and fish from my imagination—I chose those colors because I like bright colors,” the 14 year-old says. With several paintings in the show, her talents are obvious and well represented. Her Chinese-inspired painting of a flower, a style learned from Geisel student Thanapoom “Mo” Boonipat '16, is exquisitely rendered. “I copied the flower from one of his paintings,” she says. Noting that she’s a better artist than most of the medical students, Ham plans to continue studying art in high school.
Soft-spoken Lydea Brown, age 11, would rather draw than paint. “I really like working with the students and I’d like to continue drawing at home, but my family isn’t artistic,” she admits.
Mahomva thinks that as medical students go through life—or anybody for that matter—it is important to do things that are unfamiliar and in which they possess no expertise. “It’s humbling when you don’t have all of the answers and it makes you more approachable,” she says. Other than perhaps uncovering a hidden talent, medical students gain practical wisdom by spending time with the children in a nonclinical environment throughout the academic year.
“The kids are fantastic,” Mahomva says. “It has been one of my favorite experiences at Geisel!”
The exhibition runs through Friday, July 31, 2015, in the Matthews-Fuller Health Sciences Library located on the second floor of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Library hours are: Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.