Art can teach and provoke.
It can expand horizons, open eyes and spur reflection.
But it also can relax and soothe people during some of their most trying times.
That’s the premise behind a Penn State Milton Hershey Medical Center program now featuring 24 paintings from Centre County artists.
Center Stage brings live music, theater, dance, visual arts and art-making projects to the hospital’s patients and families as comforting distractions. The programming includes displaying regional, professional art in some of the waiting areas.
“The whole idea is that the person who’s waiting for their loved ones has something calming to concentrate on,” said Marie Doll, executive director of the nonprofit Art Alliance of Central Pennsylvania.
Doll now knows all about the program because of a September call.
Center Stage wanted to know whether the Art Alliance was interested in contributing to the rotating hospital exhibitions. Doll was, and she had an idea.
The Farmland Preservation Artists of Central Pennsylvania, a group of 16 local artists who donate a portion of their sale proceeds to the Centre County Farmland Trust, belongs to the Art Alliance. Their specialty — peaceful, bucolic landscapes of Centre County farms — inspired Doll to make an inquiry.
“They’re the perfect artists to do this,” she said.
Painter Barb Pennypacker agreed.
She marshaled support among her colleagues and helped gather a collection to submit to Center Stage for consideration.
“I was so excited about the idea to show our art to a wider audience,” Pennypacker said. “We’re a central Pennsylvania group, so we exhibit within the region. I saw it as an opportunity for us to get our art to more people.”
Besides Pennypacker, Brienne Brown, Holly Fritchman, Susan Nicholas Gephart, Anne Kenyon, Cinda Kostyak, Karl Leitzel, Jeff Mathison, Jennifer Shuey and Denise Wagner have works hanging at Hershey Medical Center.
“The Farmland Preservation artists jumped on it right away,” Doll said. “I was kind of hesitant because it’s a lot of work to load up all those paintings and drive them down there, but they were happy to be a part of it. We all think it’s very important.”
Since earlier this month, the paintings have been hanging in the nuclear medicine/radiology, HIV patient, cardiovascular surgery and intensive care waiting areas, among other locations. All the works are for sale, with 30 percent of the proceeds going to Center Stage, until the exhibition ends in February.
So far, Pennypacker has been told, about 1,000 people are seeing the Farmland Preservation paintings daily.
“Which is totally mind-boggling,” she said.
But it’s not the only exposure they’re receiving.
Seven works are being highlighted in what the hospital calls its “highest profile visual arts program.” Under the Pick a Pic initiative, patients in 39 select rooms can choose from high-quality prints made from past and present Center Stage originals.
“When new patients are admitted to one of the Pick a Pic rooms, we show them the collection and they choose one for us to hang in their frame,” wrote Claire de Boer, the Center Stage coordinator, to Pennypacker.
“As you might imagine, at a time when people feel they have few choices and little control, they are very enthusiastic about this opportunity.”
Morever, de Boer added, the paintings can serve as conversation pieces for healthcare providers, patients and visitors, giving them an alternative to medical issues.
Kenyon has two of the Pick a Pic choices, “Wet Snow-Colyer” and “September at the Marsh,” as does Mathison with his “Summer Solstice” and “Snowy Bales.”
Wagner’s “Laurel Run,” Brown’s “Autumn Morning” and Pennypacker’s Autumn Flings Her Fiery Cloak” round out the print selections.
“Whether we sell anything or not is really immaterial,” Pennypacker said. “We’re helping people. It’s nice to have an opportunity to do that.”
Sometimes, art can illustrate contrast. At Hershey Medical Center, certainly, a couple dozen paintings are adding light to darkness, brightening lives in need.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea: the fact that, OK, maybe we’ll make somebody’s day a little better,” Pennypacker said. “That’s a pretty cool feeling.”