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Art for Healing brings pleasure to Mount Sinai

Wendy Corn, Gary Blair and Earl Pinchuk pose with a Rita Briansky that’s part of a new Art for Healing installation HEATHER SOLOMON PHOTO
Wendy Corn, Gary Blair and Earl Pinchuk pose with a Rita Briansky that’s part of a new Art for Healing installation HEATHER SOLOMON PHOTO

Earl Pinchuk and Gary Blair were convinced they could improve the views at the Mount Sinai Hospital Centre. It took them three years to do so. Earlier this year marked the vernissage of their newest installations in the hospital at 5690 Cavendish Blvd., where Wendy Corn has her office as CEO of the foundation.

She gave the go-ahead to the two progenitors of Art for Healing (AfH), a foundation in its own right that not only places donated art in health institutions, but curates the pieces during a selection process. AfH also frames the artworks, plans their arrangement on the walls, hires installers to bolt the pieces on, has display cards printed with titles, media and the artist’s and donor’s names, and honours those donors with inaugural ceremonies. 

It’s an onerous but passionate occupation for the duo, and Pinchuk gave up his day job to devote himself to it full-time.

“Circumstances led to our founding AfH in February of 2002,” says Pinchuk, who recounts how one of their friends passed away in the old Royal Victoria Hospital, where he stared at a bare wall. “We felt that Montreal needed an organization to help bring art into health-care institutions. Art heals us. We need more of it everywhere.”

Pinchuk and Blair realized that there was an unused pool of art to be had from artists who “can’t possibly sell everything they produce. It sits in storage with the idea that someday it will see the light of day again and it never does,” Pinchuk says.

Artists’ families, who often inherit thousands of works, are more than willing to preserve their loved one’s legacy through AfH. Then there are the collectors who have an overflow or, as in the case of Irwin and Freda Browns, donated their collection of original Wendy Simon prints from a Toronto pied-à-terre that they gave up. It adorns Mount Sinai’s second-floor sleep clinic, where patients are tested overnight for sleep apnea.

“Before they go to bed, there are so many starts and stops to the testing that they are idle for a while, and the Simons are light and airy to look at,” Corn says.

Corn was introduced to AfH at the holiday party of one of its board members. “I had a hospital and they had art, and it was a shidduch. In past years, the hospital made do with what we got, like old needlepoints and puzzles that had been glued together,” she says.

What Corn received instead from AfH are museum-quality, eye-pleasing and soul-satisfying works that people would want in their own home, including works by such names as Jack Beder, Rita Briansky and Anita Ein Shapiro.

Home is the key word here, since Mount Sinai deals not only with respiratory cases but also with long-term patients who live on the fourth floor and those in palliative care on the third floor who hold their own challenges for image selection.

“There are shapes and colours that can actually be disturbing for people. We want to soothe and brighten their lives, and in palliative, we worked with the art therapist here,” says Blair, who notes that the panoramic Tibor K. Thomas paintings of the Montreal harbour and a summer beach, for example, give long-term patients “windows to the outside world again.”

“Along with long-term care comes the concept of milieu de vie, that if this is their home you have to create an environment that’s home-like, comfortable and intimate,” Corn says.

The results have made a huge difference in the lives of patients, staff and visitors to the facility.  In their experience hanging art now in five provinces across the country, Pinchuk and Blair have witnessed, for example, an elderly woman speaking for the first time in six months as she related to a piece. 

For more information on AfH, check out their website here