Artist and CSU Monterey Bay professor Enid Baxter Ryce is no stranger to hospitals. Before the pandemic, her mother was suddenly diagnosed with a rare disease. She flew over to Albany, New York to be with her. The hospital was the last place Ryce wanted to be. “It was a dreary place, very institutional architecture with drab colors,” she says. “There was no art on the walls.”
The experience was stark difference for Ryce when she was pregnant with her youngest child and being attended to at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. “Our hospitals here have incredible art. At CHOMP there’s art on the walls, there’s a koi pond. People go there to drink milkshakes. It’s a very different experience,” she says.
It’s common for people to hate hospitals – the look of them, the smell of them, the waiting, the connotations of ailments. Locally, facilities like CHOMP and Natividad Medical Center put in the effort of making the experience a little more artistic.
For Natividad, the push to adorn walls and walkways came about a decade after a major renovation. “Ten years is a long time to have empty walls,” says Natividad spokesperson Hillary Fish, who helped install and coordinate many of the current pieces of art. It’s not just for art’s sake – there is a psychological benefit to beautifying hospitals, Fish adds: “We choose colors according to color psychology. In the waiting area for surgery patients, it’s calming colors like greens and blues.”
Another reason is to take advantage of the gallery-like layout. “It’s full of windows so there’s lots of natural light, and it’s pretty well-designed,” Fish adds. “If you think about museums, what are they anyway? They’re similar in architecture.”
Natividad’s art is partly thanks to the nonprofit Natividad Foundation’s Art of Better Health program, aiming to make hospitals places that can heal, nurture and calm in practice and through art. The foundation continues the program, partnering with Monterey Bay Plein Air Association for an annual fundraiser as well as considering and installing new works of art, like Ryce’s series, Salinas Fog.
Before the pandemic, Ryce would commute from Marina to CSUMB Salinas City Center in Oldtown. On massive linen panels, she re-created the images of her morning drive, sketching the landscape – fog included – from memory.
It’s in the process of being installed in the Outpatient Waiting room at Natividad (currently closed to visitors). Ryce hopes her work inspires not just patients, but artists. “Museums are moving toward a more participatory model,” she says. “I think artists should be excited to show their work in everyday places.”