A handful of frontline doctors and nurses who received art supplies. Not all were photographed.

Giving frontline heroes tools to make art

Bethany Halbreich
Jun 1, 2020 · 5 min read

Can art really make a difference during a critical time? Is art, and the process of making it, critical to our progress?

On April 28, 2020, I began a three week journey to deliver art supplies to frontline doctors and nurses across America. The trip confirmed that the answer to these questions is a resounding YES. It is time for us to take the arts seriously, and to prioritize investing in the arts as a critical tool for economic progress. Yes, I went there; There is a huge correlation between the arts and economic health.

For the past five years, I’ve run a nonprofit called Paint the World, whose mission is to make opportunity for artistic expression accessible by sprinkling the world with blank canvases. We typically secure these large blank canvases and art supplies in underserved communities around the world to not only enable a domino effect of creative confidence, but to also inspire creative problem solving. Beautiful, cohesive collaborative paintings often result (view examples here).

After speaking with a handful of hospital staff on the front-lines of the COVID19 pandemic, and learning that they’re working double time even as they experience pay cuts, it became clear that hospital employee morale is low across the board. The country has expressed appreciation for healthcare workers verbally, and has donated a ton of PPE, but we’ve left out something pretty major. It is not unknown that caring for our healthcare worker’s mental health leads to higher quality care.

And how do we care for the mental health of our frontline doctors and nurses? There are a number of low hanging fruits, but introducing simple artistic practices has the greatest ROI. It is the easiest and cheapest to implement, and it’s benefits are unmatched.

So, why not deliver art supplies to hospital staff rooms for frontline doctors and nurses to add to whenever they want a moment to pause, to reset? Even for those who might not consider themselves “artists” (and particularly so), a few brush strokes can make a world of a difference. After a few weeks, these collaborative paintings can serve as a visual storyboard for the experience of medical workers on the frontline of the COVID19 pandemic.

So we did it! We raised some money, and have now delivered blank canvases and art supplies to over 25 hospitals across America:

Along the way, I connected with a number of larger hospital conglomerates, but also smaller community clinics, ERs and mental health facilities. View the entire journey on Paint the World’s instagram highlight here:

When I began this journey, I was unsure what the reception might be, and assumed hospitals might prefer a PPE delivery. But frontline doctors and nurses have been thrilled to receive art supplies to brighten their staff rooms, and even police blocking off areas on lockdown have let me through, deeming art supplies an “essential” donation.

We’ve even started receiving some photos of finished collaborative paintings! This was sent in from frontline staff at Hopi Health Care Center on the Hopi Reservation:

“Hongvi” means “be strong” in Hopi.

We also formed a private facebook group where frontline doctors and nurses across the country can connect and share the art that they created. Already, they are coming together to support each other’s process throughout this trying time. We’ve also received overwhelming positive feedback from hospital staff, which makes us want to find ways to keep the art supplies coming!

And the ER staff at UCLA took the supplies we gave them to a whole new level! They filled syringes with paint and then set the canvas up at a much-need staff get together (see below).

One set for the ER staff and one set for the ambulance team at Standing Rock Indian Health Service in Fort Yates, North Dakota.

The response to this project has really blown me away. It’s simple, easy to deliver, and has tremendous impact potential. The aim is to deliver collaborative painting kits to every hospital staff room in the country. Better yet, every school, every nursing home, every prison.. we have a long way to go. But it’s clear that this project can give voice to the voiceless while providing an abundant creative outlet for emotional expression during an emotionally-draining time.

We have an incredible opportunity here to respond immediately to these urgent needs and truly change the course of history.

Let’s make more happen together. A little goes a long way. If you feel inspired, please donate here, so we can keep making the magic happen! →

And please reach out to me at Bethany@PaintTheWorld.com if you’re interested in becoming further involved in scaling our mission.

Paint the World

Collective creativity

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