The Lowell Community Health Center’s ArtUp Program is a Win-Win for Patients, Staff, Artists and Community.
In a newly-restored 1880s mill building, the 100,000-square-foot Lowell Community Health Center (Lowell CHC) provides services for thousands of area residents, and thanks to a creative program called ArtUp, it also serves as a gallery for the work of local artists. ArtUp was the brainstorm of Lowell attorney Michael Gallagher. “The idea was that art that was solicited by the health center and created by local artists would be purchased by generous local patrons to be donated to and hung at the health center,” Gallagher says. “The artist receives half the purchase price, the center receives the balance and the art, and the donors receive the tax benefit and acknowledgement of their generosity on a plaque.”
Local artists submitted work to an ArtUp committee chaired by interior designer Cathleen Stewart. “It was exciting to see what various artists’ visions of healing meant,” Stewart says, “and how it was expressed in their work. We edited the final selections for the online donor catalogue by content, color, size and diversity of mediums.”
Buyers can now choose the art they’d like to donate from among large and small pieces, paintings and photographs, all of which can be used to to decorate a room or the “miles” of empty Lowell CHC walls. ArtUp donations often are made in honor or memory of a loved one or as a tribute to a local business, and help Lowell CHC to fund services that health insurance doesn’t cover, such as medical interpreters, health screenings, teen programs and community outreach.
According to Stewart, “Studies have shown that art contributes to healing by affecting both the emotional and physical human systems … Colors have various effects on healing, as well. Warm colors can improve mood, while cool colors make patients [and staff] feel calm. This practice of providing art for healing has roots in history—painted murals in Greek temples, sand paintings by Native Americans, religious art in churches that inspire hope. So what we are doing is not new, just a continuation of an innate knowledge that art is ‘good for what ails us.’ ”
“This art is seen by thousands of people every week,” says Dorcas Grigg-Saito, the CEO at Lowell CHC. “People respond to art, whether in the reception area, exam room, or walking down the health center hallways. One client told me, ‘I feel like a princess. I never get to go to a place that’s this beautiful.’ ” Grigg-Saito hopes Lowell CHC will offer gallery tours to the public in the future.
Artist Jennifer Clement is second-generation Lowellian born-and-raised in the city. “I am and have always been very proud of my roots in Lowell,” she says. “I feel Lowell itself is a work of art, ever changing and evolving, a work in progress just like a painting. What I have to offer my hometown and community is the vision I create through my art. I believe art heals. Creating art, viewing art and surrounding yourself with art offers countless and immeasurable benefits. I hope viewers allow themselves a moment from their day to connect, explore, reflect and heal.”
Lowell CHC provides health services for many residents of Lowell, a city long known as a cultural center, whose motto is “Art is the Handmaid of Human Good.” The health center’s “biggest gift to its community relates to access and dignity,” Gallagher says. “Access — for many who might not otherwise have it — to a clean, functional, attractive facility where young and not so young, often in their most difficult hours, are treated by a highly competent staff with respect and dignity. Can you imagine what it would express about the character of this city if we could fill this center of healing for folks of all backgrounds with locally made art and it becomes one of the largest art galleries west of Boston — and the only health center of its kind in the country?”
Caroline Gallagher, sister to Michael and ArtUp’s videographer and Web guru, sums up the project: “It’s a respectful gesture that acknowledges the work, education, training, practice and time spent by the artist who created the piece. It shows the artist that we know that they have value in our economy and in our society. There’s a great economic and creative ecosystem at play between the artist and the health center, the creative arts and healing, the donors that support the giving that supports the artists that support the healing that supports the community. It wraps itself around again and again and everybody wins.”
Lowell Community Health Center takes all types of health insurance, including private plans. Clients don’t have to be from Lowell to use its services or pharmacy. The center soon will offer dental services.
Lowell Community Health Center ArtUp
Lowell, Mass. / (978) 746-7891 / ArtUpLowell.com
Photos by Harkins Photography.