One of the reasons for creating of The Healing Power of ART & ARTISTS website is to share inspiring stories by compassionate and creative individuals like Allie O’Hanley. She is one of our chosen world changers as founder and director of Rxhibition, an organization dedicated to “Building a new type of museum space: transforming chemotherapy rooms into immersive healing environments.” She has previously worked in curatorial and exhibition design positions at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, both in New York, NY. After her aunt, Suzanne, was diagnosed with Leukemia she made a vow to “kick Leukemia’s ass” in every way possible. That included her decision to change careers and create Rxhibition. We are honored to share her story with you and encourage you to visit the Rxhibition website. ~ Renee Phillips
Since college, I had every intention of working my way up the ranks in the museum industry. I majored in Art History with a concentration in Ancient Civilizations, and went on to work at various large institutions such as MoMA and the Met after graduating. After a few years in the industry, I became frustrated with many of the bureaucratic aspects of large museums. Often, museums are intimidating to many people. I will be the first to admit, they are not always very welcoming places. I had focused on curating for so long, I didn’t realize that there was a serious issue around accessibility and widening audiences.
I decided to return to school to get my Master’s degree in Museum Management, wanting to find ways in which I could help bring new people into museums as well as bring museum and arts education to those who may not be able to come to the museum physically through public art and exhibition design.
A New Career Path
I had intended to return to major institutions as soon as my thesis was completed. However, about a year and half ago my aunt, Suzanne, was diagnosed with Leukemia. Unfortunately, this was not the first case of cancer in my family. My grandfather passed away soon after her diagnosis last February after having struggled with cancer off and on for over a decade. Several other family members have also dealt with cancer in its various forms throughout my whole life. The hardest part about Suzanne’s diagnosis however, was that I was at an age where I could understand the disease and the treatment process fully. I wanted to help, and I began working with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to fundraise for research on blood cancers.
The Birth of Rxhibition
However, each month I would hear from Suzanne about chemotherapy, and it was heartbreaking to hear someone so vibrant sound so tired and depleted. I began to feel frustrated with the idea of fundraising ‘for a cure’. While finding a cure is extremely crucial to ending this terrible disease, I felt like I needed to be doing something to help those who are fighting cancer now. Until there is a cure, chemotherapy is still going to be a necessary – but long and tedious – part of treatment. I wanted to find a way to make this process just a little easier. All I needed to do was figure out a way to use my personal skill set to do this. Thus, Rxhibition was born.
I founded Rxhibition to bring the immersive nature of the art exhibition into chemotherapy treatment areas, creating an out-of-hospital atmosphere where patients can heal in a beautiful and engaging space. We design environments that creatively engage patients and also provide an escape from the traditional hospital atmosphere. Exhibition design is all about moving the viewer through an experience and transporting them away from their daily life. Exhibitions are designed to engage and make you feel something.
How Rxhibition Benefits Patients, Visitors and Staff
While several hospitals possess their own art collections and exhibitions, these are often displayed in public and waiting areas. Many people talk about the healing power of art, so why isn’t the art where most of the healing is done? Cancer fighters are constantly reminded of their status as patients in hospitals, displaying art only in the public areas further separates them from the rest of the hospital community.
Rxhibition works in collaboration with host hospitals to curate and design immersive, yet non-intrusive, exhibitions inside patient treatment areas. Chemotherapy rooms are ideally situated to benefit from this program, as they are low-traffic, low-emergency spaces in which patients typically spend several hours undergoing treatment. Rxhibition is designed to transform this time into something positive and productive using visual, audio, and tactile components.
Studies have shown that the amount of visitors as well as the length of their visits to family or friends undergoing chemotherapy is strongly influenced by the treatment environment. Research has also shown that light, color, and engaging environments affect productivity and morale among nurses and hospital staff. Creating a cohesive and immersive space is not only for the benefit of those undergoing treatment, but for the entire hospital community: visitors, doctors, nurses, and staff. The exhibition is something for each viewer to experience in their own way, but it is also something that they all experience together as people.
An Important Collaboration
We have built a team that is well positioned to begin this endeavor. In addition to myself, I have brought on two curators, Emily Counihan and Esther Michaels, both with experience in the art market and exhibition design. We also have our strategist and healthcare-liaison, Andre Bryan, who is currently completing his final year of an MD/MBA at New York University.
We are working with donated artworks from independent artists from all over, as well as musicians and composers who are composing pieces specifically for our exhibition inspired by the visual art that we collect. A key to the success of our exhibition is the type of art we collect. We are curating for a very specific audience, and there is some truly interesting research available that demonstrates the different artistic preferences of artists and art scholars versus viewers from the hospital community (visit www.rxhibition.org/research to learn more).
A Platform for Independent Artists
In addition to designing these spaces for the healthcare community, we are excited to serve as a platform for independent artists. The thing about cancer is that it affects all of us in some way – people of all ages, genders, races, religions, and economic statuses. By donating work to our organization, artists become connected to viewers in unimaginable ways.
Artists are able to reach new and unexpected audiences. The art world is small, and it takes a lot to become known outside of the artist microcosm. As an organization with a diverse set of constituents and supporters from a range of industries, we are centrally positioned to provide artists with the platform they need to gain recognition and broaden their following.
Human to Human Connection
On a more profound level, art and music have the unique ability to communicate ideas that language cannot. By displaying work in such a highly emotional and vulnerable setting, viewers are much more likely to have deeper, more visceral connections to a piece. Donor artists are given the opportunity to truly have an affect on a cancer fighter’s journey. Though they may never know each other, this is what a pure human to human connection is.
As we get ready to announce the location of the pilot exhibition, our support system has spread to artists, cancer fighters, and doctors in over sixty countries! It has truly been an amazing start to this journey.
To learn more about the organization and the research behind our concept, visit www.Rxhibition.org.
Artists who are interested in donating their artwork may visit http://www.rxhibition.org/submit for information.
Do you have a story that you would like to share with readers of The Healing Power of ART & ARTISTS? Please send an email to Renee Phillips and tell her about it.