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Finding a way into peoples’ heARTs

MGH brings diverse, joyful art to hospital

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Finding a way into peoples’ heARTs
A mural by ProBlak is currently displayed at the Yawkey Center for Outpatient Care at MGH. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL

Dr. Daniel Chonde has spent the  last year working to make Mass General Hospital’s spaces less cold and less white. As the executive director of “The Peoples’ heART” (Health Equity x Art) program, he brings local artists into the hospital to replace the typical corporate abstracts and landscapes with vibrant, inclusive art pieces.

Dr. Daniel Chonde. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL

“The whole point of The Peoples’ heART project is reimagining that experience of the hospital space, so it is colorful, and it is joyful, and you feel at home,” says Chonde. “We spend so much time and mental energy at MGH on developing new cures and diagnostic tools, why don’t we spend the same amount of intentionality on developing the spaces that patients use?”

The most recent addition to the project is “The Peoples’ heART Project,” by street artist and Roxbury native ProBlak. Painted on canvas and currently displayed at the Yawkey Center for Outpatient Care at MGH, the piece depicts a Black female health care worker masked up and ready to help her community. A line tracking vital signs forms a heart next to her. The piece will stay at this location for a month and then move to Brigham and Women’s hospital and on from there. Exhibition spaces in the large hospital system are permanently reserved for this project, and the artworks will rotate to ensure communities of all kinds can experience them.

“The goal of this project is two-sided. For patients … we want to create inclusive spaces that empower patients and make them feel at home,” says Chonde. “On the other side of that coin, we need to create a workforce across the U.S. which is cross-culturally competent.” The way the project does that is by broaching diversity education in the safe space of the art world, where conversations about other cultures can be had without the tension of a political context.

The artist ProBlak with his new mural for The Peoples’ heART program at Massachusetts General Hospital. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL

Filipino American artist Bren Bataclan crafted a piece for Filipino American History Month, and Chonde says it worked just the way the project was meant to. Non-Filipino employees and visitors had the opportunity to learn about and appreciate the cultural traditions, while Filipino employees and visitors felt the warmth of being recognized in the health care environment. ProBlak’s mural will operate the same way.

Because this is MGH, there is of course science behind this initiative, as well as a love for art. Chonde explains that the same neurons that are activated while experiencing empathy are activated while interacting with an artwork. “Art can actually train empathy into people,” he says. “If we have ever-changing art related to issues with health equity, which is what we do with The Peoples’ heART … that provides the opportunity for people to explore the whole space of the human condition.”

Chonde hopes to scale this program into a much larger experiential design branch of MGH that can assess and diversify the hospital experience across the board. For now, visitors will be comforted by the powerful presence of ProBlak’s health care warrior at the hospital door.

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