Montreal Gazette - - Cul­ture - JEFF HEIN­RICH jhein­rich@mon­tre­al­

For years, the walls of the Portage mother-and-child cen­tre, a home for re­cov­er­ing drug ad­dicts and their young chil­dren in south­west Mon­treal, used to be bare.

Now, as the cen­tre cel­e­brates its 10th an­niver­sary, the place looks like an art gallery, with 80 do­nated works val­ued at $50,000 on per­ma­nent dis­play.

The art comes cour­tesy of Art for Heal­ing, a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that since 2002 has in­stalled 6,500 art works in health in­sti­tu­tions across Canada.

Pho­to­graphs, paint­ings, etch­ings, wa­ter­colours, sketches, re­pro­duc­tions – any­thing from the wide world of art is the char­ity’s stock-in-trade. It’s also win-win for ev­ery­one in­volved. Artists and pri­vate col­lec­tors do­nate their work and get a tax write­off for its ap­praised value. The hos­pi­tal, clinic or so­cial-ser­vice agency spruces up its decor. And pa­tients get a lit­tle sun­shine in their life. It’s a ven­ture that started from noth­ing. “We wanted to re­spond to the lack of stim­u­la­tion in the hos­pi­tal sys­tem – hos­pi­tals just weren’t ad­dress­ing the is­sue,” re­called Earl Pinchuk, who de­vel­oped the con­cept with his hus­band, Gary Blair.

“This was back in 2001. Work­ing in the art world in Mon­treal, I was visit­ing a lot of artists’ stu­dios and see­ing hun­dreds of pieces sit­ting around do­ing noth­ing.

“And three times a week, I’d be up to the Vic, where a friend of ours was dy­ing, and see noth­ing on the walls; they were just to­tally blank. That’s when we started to brain­storm.

“There was all this art in the city, and lots of space in hos­pi­tals to put it. But these in­sti­tu­tions had so much to do al­ready. What was needed was an or­ga­ni­za­tion to find the art and bring it to them.”

Both he and Blair branched out from their fam­ily busi­nesses – Pinchuk in tex­tiles (his fam­ily makes com­forters), Blair in telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions (pagers and call cen­tres) – to make their art project work.

Art for Heal­ing Foundation has pros­pered ever since.

Its thou­sands of works are now on dis­play in hos­pi­tals and other in­sti­tu­tions in health-care and so­cial ser­vices in Mon­treal, Laval, St. Jérôme, Toronto, Brant­ford, Van­cou­ver and St. John’s.

One of the hos­pi­tals, Maison­neuve-rose­mont, boasts the best art col­lec­tion of any hos­pi­tal in Canada: more than 500 pieces by such lu­mi­nar­ies of Que­bec mod­ern art as Françoise Sul­li­van, Mar­cel Bar­beau, Geneviève Cadieux and Marc Séguin.

“Be­fore we came along, art had al­ways been trick­ling into hos­pi­tals, Pinchuk re­called. “Some­body would call up the hos­pi­tal’s foundation, say they have a cou­ple of paint­ings to do­nate, and over they’d go.

“We wanted to do things dif­fer­ently, we wanted to cre­ate in­stal­la­tions. So we launched the idea in 2002, only with re­pro­duc­tions at first – the Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal were the first to agree – and we never stopped.”

Un­like other non-profit ven­tures like the Que­bec Arts and Crafts Foundation’s Ar­tothèque, which loans paint­ings out for a fee, the works Pinchuk deals in are do­nated per­ma­nently.

At Portage’s fam­ily cen­tre in Lit­tle Bur­gundy, home to 25 moth­ers and 25 chil­dren, the new art­work of­fers a splash of colour that bright­ens lives.

The 80 works were do­nated by seven estab­lished artists, a col­lec­tor, a bank, 10 stu­dents of Con­cor­dia Uni­ver­sity’s pho­tog­ra­phy de­part­ment and seven Gazette staff pho­tog­ra­phers and free­lancers. The young moth­ers love the makeover. “Art puts more life in the place,” said Stephanie (she asked her fam­ily name not be used), who spent the win­ter months at Portage and sat on its res­i­dents’ com­mit­tee.

“We’d been lob­by­ing for changes and im­prove­ments to make it more homey,” she said. “It was pretty in­sti­tu­tional around here – plain, ster­ile. We wanted a lit­tle more life.”

To that end, Pinchuk showed up with a cat­a­logue of art he thought might work for Portage, and the women – in a high­light of their six-month stay – helped choose.

“We went with any­thing that moved, that was colour­ful, pho­tos the kids would like,” Stephanie said, in­clud­ing ones of sports fig­ures taken by Gazette pho­tog­ra­phers.

Lin­ing the cor­ri­dors, and in­side bed­rooms and com­mon rooms and of­fices, the art “starts con­ver­sa­tions, makes peo­ple smile, in­spires us,” she said.

Portage direc­tor Caro­line Géli­nas likes it, too. She has al­ready talk­ing with Pinchuk about in­stalling paint­ings at Portage’s big new cen­tre in New Brunswick, which now has very lit­tle art in it.

“It’s warmer here now,” she said at the Lit­tle Bur­gundy cen­tre. “It’s more like I’m in my apart­ment, dec­o­rated the way I like it. It’s beau­ti­ful, it goes well on the walls, it just give us a new vi­sion of things.”

The art­works com­ple­ment the art work­shops the cen­tre of­fers its res­i­dents and their chil­dren, where they paint and draw and make col­lages, as well as go on out­ings to mu­se­ums. Both ap­proaches – view­ing and mak­ing art – are a kind of ther­apy that bring peo­ple out of their shell and have them par­tic­i­pate more in the world around them, Géli­nas said. “It’s two sides of the same thing: tak­ing peo­ple fur­ther.”

Mon­treal pho­tog­ra­pher Heidi Hollinger do­nated three big por­traits of her­self preg­nant, hold­ing her swollen belly. Taken in 2005, they were last shown in the ma­ter­nity wing of the Jewish Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal. A sec­ond set – also taken by her pho­tog­ra­pher friend Melissa Dinel – hangs in Maison­neuve-rose­mont Hos­pi­tal, also cour­tesy of Art for Heal­ing.

“I’m happy if art can heal,” said Hollinger, best known for her por­traits of celebrity Rus­sian politi­cians in the 1990s. “I be­lieve in the power of pho­tog­ra­phy to trans­mit emo­tions and ideas.”

Added Hollinger, who plans to visit Portage to talk about the pho­tos to the young moth­ers: “Gary and Earl help so many peo­ple. I’ve had so much pos­i­tive feed­back about their in­stal­la­tions.

“I hope the pho­tos at Portage will help the women there change the course of their life, by re­fo­cus­ing their imag­i­na­tions, maybe even in­spire them to get in­ter­ested in pho­tog­ra­phy.”

Mon­treal artist Mel Boy­aner, 88, also do­nated works for the Portage ex­hibit: five prints he did long ago when he was liv­ing and teach­ing in Eng­land. They’d been stored in his base­ment in St. Lam­bert.

“When you’re wait­ing ... art can have a def­i­nite calm­ing – even ther­a­peu­tic – ef­fect.”

Chris­tine Lussier, Maison­neuve-rose­mont Hos­pi­tal

Boy­aner has been in­volved with Art for Heal­ing al­most from the be­gin­ning.

“I think very, very highly of it,” he said. “It helps the in­sti­tu­tions and it helps the artists as well, many of whom are left with an aw­ful lot of sur­plus art they can’t show.

“By do­nat­ing it, we also get some sort of tax re­lief.”

Art can be a risky propo­si­tion for some in­sti­tu­tions – es­pe­cially in psy­chi­a­try, where who knows what re­ac­tions an im­age on the wall can touch off ?

That’s why Pinchuk has only man­aged to place two paint­ings in the in­sti­tu­tion for male ad­dicts on the floor above the Portage women’s cen­tre – one in a gen­eral area, one hid­den away in a meet­ing room.

The “heal­ing” can be a bit of a mis­nomer, too. Art in pal­lia­tive care cen­tres, for ex­am­ple, isn’t in­tended to help peo­ple get health­ier, it’s to im­prove their qual­ity of life as they lie dy­ing.

At the Don­ald Ber­man Mai­monides Geri­atric Cen­tre in Côte St. Luc, close to 900 works – paint­ings and pho­tos, mainly – are on dis­play through all seven floors, of­ten in mini-gal­leries ded­i­cated to one artist.

They’ve reawak­ened the spir­its of the el­derly res­i­dents there.

Ann Na­gley, de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer of the cen­tre’s foundation, re­mem­bers the day a few years ago when she stopped in on an old lady who, nor­mally, never spoke.

A new gallery was be­ing ded­i­cated on her floor that morn­ing, and out­side the lady’s door a photo had been hung that evoked such a strong mem­ory she broke her si­lence.

Part of a se­ries on Mon­treal Jewish land­marks by Eve­lyn Gold, the photo showed the en­trance to Baron Byng High School on St. Ur­bain St.

“I said ‘Good morn­ing, how are you?’ – not ex­pect­ing any re­sponse what­so­ever,” Na­gley re­called. “And this lady looked at the pic­ture and said, ‘I went to Baron Byng.’

“I al­most had a heart at­tack,” said Na­gley. “As fate would have it, the one piece that was mean­ing­ful to her was right out­side her door. Just re­mem­ber­ing that day brings chills to my bones and tears to my eyes.”

Other Mon­treal health-care in­sti­tu­tions have taken the Art for Heal­ing plunge in a big way, too.

Maison­neuve-rose­mont’s 500-odd pieces are on dis­play in wait­ing rooms, main cor­ri­dors, vis­i­tors’ ar­eas and the cancer cen­tre, where they can be best seen and pro­tected.

In 2010 the hos­pi­tal or­ga­nized a per­ma­nent ex­hibit of 65 works worth a to­tal $65,000 for its nu­clear medicine de­part­ment. Be­side big Mon­treal names like Guido Moli­nari, fa­mous for­eign artists like Stephen Con­roy are also rep­re­sented.

At the time, the new works brought the hos­pi­tal’s col­lec­tion of more than 200 art­works to a to­tal value of over $225,000 – a small but much-ap­pre­ci­ated chunk of its foundation’s bud­get.

A cat­a­logue of 55 works from the col­lec­tion is now un­der prepa­ra­tion.

“We tried to place the paint­ings where peo­ple can con­tem­plate them and ap­pre­ci­ate them,” said Chris­tine Lussier, the hos­pi­tal’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor. “When you’re wait­ing, for in­stance, art can have a def­i­nite calm­ing – even ther­a­peu­tic – ef­fect.”

Get­ting art into pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions isn’t just a char­ity af­fair. It’s of­fi­cial Que­bec gov­ern­ment pol­icy, part of a new cul­tural push called Agenda 21 that grew out of UNESCO’S 2005 treaty on cul­tural di­ver­sity.

The goal is to make art more ac­ces­si­ble to peo­ple, Cul­ture Min­is­ter Chris­tine St-pierre said at a cer­e­mony at NotreDame Hos­pi­tal in mid-march.

“With lit­tle money, a lot can be done in cul­ture,” St-pierre said, an­nounc­ing a $45,000 grant for a new “cul­ture and health” pro­gram for the hos­pi­tals of Cen­tre hos­pi­tal­ier de l’uni­ver­sité de Mon­tréal.

First re­sult: a small ex­hibit of pho­to­graphs by Ga­bor Szi­lasi and Michel Cam­peau in two ad­ja­cent cor­ri­dors in a wing of Notre Dame’s De­schamps pav­il­ion, all cu­rated by Art for Heal­ing.

On the walls of the CHUM’S other hos­pi­tals, St. Luc and Hô­tel Dieu, hang works by Jean Paul Lemieux, Jac­ques Hur­tubise, Roland Giguère and other Que­bec artists – again, thanks to Art for Heal­ing.

When the CHUM con­sol­i­dates into the new hos­pi­tal it’s build­ing on the edge of Old Mon­treal in 2016, Art for Heal­ing will also be well-po­si­tioned to in­flu­ence its in­te­rior de­sign: Pinchuk was named to the CHUM’S board of di­rec­tors in Fe­bru­ary.

“Hos­pi­tals don’t have to be just places of mor­bid­ity and death, but rather, places that have a def­i­nite link to the city, ” CHUM direc­tor-gen­eral Chris­tian Paire said at the cer­e­mony at Notre-dame in March.

“To do that, there has to be a tril­ogy at play: artists and health pro­fes­sion­als and as­so­ci­a­tions work­ing in com­mon. Ul­ti­mately, it’s for the ben­e­fit of pa­tients, by mak­ing art avail­able to ev­ery­one.”

To Pinchuk, the 10 years of ef­fort have been worth it. “I’m thrilled that we’ve been able to lift up peo­ple’s spir­its,” he said. “There’s a lack of re­gard for the vis­ual arts gen­er­ally in our so­ci­ety; art is usu­ally at the bot­tom of the lad­der. But, in fact, art hu­man­izes our lives.

“We shouldn’t ne­glect it.” For more on the Art for Heal­ing Founda

tion, go to art­forheal­ing­foun­da­


At Portage drug re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre, a res­i­dent and her son dis­cuss the works – in­clud­ing Mo­ments d’in­no­cence by Luis Lon­don – pro­vided by the Art for Heal­ing Foundation.


“We wanted to re­spond to the lack of stim­u­la­tion in the hos­pi­tal sys­tem,” says Art for Heal­ing Foundation Founder Earl Pinchuk, left, with hus­band, Gary Blair.


Three art works on dis­play at Don­ald Ber­man Mai­monides Geri­atric Cen­tre in­clude Verona (above), by Elisa Nucci, War­shaw, by Eve­lyn Gold, and Les trois frères, by Rita Bri­an­sky.

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