"It will change your life." Powerful words.
Especially if they come from Lin Swensson, a very talented art consultant in the health care industry and a fine artist and sculptor herself. And the person who hired me to do a large recycled installation in an amazing medical center.
She said this when I asked her if I should attend the Society of the Arts in Healthcare Annual International Conference in Detroit.
She said "life changing".
I said "I will sign up and book my flight."
I am so glad I did.
She was right. I am changed.
This conference was held at the Cadillac Book Westin in the heart of Detroit. It was a perfect venue for this conference. In this glorious restored hotel, I shared ideas and business cards with amazing people in the art and healthcare industry.
Many of the stories I heard affected me on an emotional level. When I say emotional, I mean "eyes tearing" emotional.
One of the statements I heard that stayed with me was "you make the road by walking".
And there are so many people out there making amazing roads simply by doing what looks like the impossible.
One of the talks I sat in for was about storytelling. The Penelope Project, conceived by Anne Basting, made me cry because I had been in many "Luther Manors" with my mom. This project turned a facility for the aging into pure magic.
In her words, this ambitious project "aimed to build community in a long term care setting through an extended and rigorous creative engagement project. Even now, almost a year after the final performance of the play that wound its way through Luther Manor last March, I’m still overwhelmed by the emotion of the experience." Check out more on Finding Penelope here. Also, watch this video clip.
I had the chance to sit and talk with Ian Cion, who is the Director for the Arts in Medicine Program at MD Anderson
Cancer Center at Children's Cancer Hospital in Houston. Ian told me about a young cancer patient who so wanted to paint a real elephant. Ian found a real elephant to grant Aidan's wish. Watch this. Ian had more stories just like this one.
On the final morning of the conference, there was a poetry cafe and Dr. Laura Liberman, a cancer survivor and a cancer doctor at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, got up to read. I was captivated. She read a poem on cancer fighting cells she had written in college. She had only one hand-written copy and had found it recently. She was so witty and well-spoken. It was as if I was in a fun biology class where I learned while I laughed. After she finished her poem, she shared a few verses by her 80-plus-year-old mother.
Her mother had been a visual artist and recently became blind. So, she has reinvented herself as a playwright and Laura read her recent work. I was completely amazed at the strength of both Laura and her mom. I was so moved that morning, I actually got up and read in front of 100 people from the altered book I made for my mother.
Lin asked me why didn't I tell her I was going to read. I answered, "I didn't know."
Laura gave me a signed copy of her book, I Signed as the Doctor. In it, Laura writes about surviving cancer and chemo through a series of emails sent mostly to a close friend. It is very real and filled with humor and love. Read it and you will hear the voice that mesmerized me that morning.
These are just a few of the people I met. There were many more that answered my questions on the industry and pointed the way for me.
I returned home knowing that I want to continue creating art for healing spaces.
I love this part of my business. It gives meaning to everything I do.
So I am going to keep walking and making "my road".
And if an artist asks me if they should join this organization or attend this conference, I will tell them "Yes. It is life changing."