In Need of a Break: Art in Action
SANTA Cruz, Calif — Tawnya Gilbert, R.N., C.C.R.N. is normally the picture of positivity: upbeat and energetic. But one day in late March, after a shift and a week that all felt especially long and challenging, she felt down. Like all of us Gilbert was concerned about the spread of coronavirus, but unlike most of us, she faced the challenge daily, working as a nurse for Sutter in Santa Cruz County.
“It’s moments like that when I usually go to our staff breakroom and just take a minute to get back in touch with myself, my heart,” said Gilbert, who is also a yoga instructor. “I can usually use the quiet room to recharge and clear my head, but this time was different.”
That’s when she had an idea
“I looked around – at the magazines, the picture window, our little bulletin board – and realized that there wasn’t any art.” Though not an artist herself, Gilbert has always admired the generous amount of art on the walls of Sutter Maternity and Surgery Center. She even helped choose the art in the hospital’s post-anesthesia care unit where she has worked for the past six years.
“I just knew that if we could get some art in the breakroom, and especially if it depicted how healthcare workers are fighting this pandemic, it would inspire staff and lift their spirits.”
The “Surviving COVID” art project began
Gilbert wrote to all the artists she knew, and several she was introduced to, and asked for art that was funny, profound, or uplifting. She encouraged themes of beating coronavirus and thanking healthcare workers, and soon she had 14 original pieces to display in the breakroom at the hospital. The art was an instant hit with staff, and the project has since spread to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) medical buildings in Watsonville and Santa Cruz, the emergency room of neighboring Dominican Hospital and the halls of nearby Watsonville Community Hospital.
Babs Kingsley, M.A., R.N., manager of emergency services at Dominican Hospital said “the staff are incredibly grateful for the donated artwork and sentiment from the community that it represents. The art is providing staff with motivation and strength, and the collaboration between healthcare networks reminds us that we are not fighting this battle alone. Many thanks to Tawnya for helping us turn an uncertain time into one of collaboration and pride.”
Art is an antidote to fear
“Art comforts and connects us; when a doctor, nurse or housekeeper views these images I hope they see an entire community of artists who are supporting them and helping them process emotions that are hard to put into words,” said Gilbert.
Creativity and positivity abound in the works collected to-date. “Glove Conquers All,” for example, is a take on the raised fist, a symbol of solidarity that is used to express unity and strength. In this original work by Andi Mellon, the fist is encased in a glove and surrounded by Gladiolas which symbolize bravery.
Another piece that features gloves is “Creation” by artist Michael Lane. The work imagines an update of the classic “Creation of Adam” for our modern moment. “With all the precautions required for coronavirus, I thought it would be interesting to add a twist on safety to this iconic piece,” said Lane.
“The Brave Nurse” depicts the importance of sheltering-in-place and the bravery of a nurse who protects her community from COVID-19, represented as attacking balls with sharp teeth and angry eyes. Seamlessly blending literal and figurative references, artist Lily K. has been able to include several key elements of the pandemic in one uplifting scene.
Calling all artists
Little more than a week after her idea-inspiring low point, Gilbert feels energized by the entirely volunteer-led and donation-dependent project.
“Today I worked 10 hours, ate dinner, read to my daughter, spoke to two artists about sharing their art and applied for a grant. I’m going to bed, rest well Santa Cruz,” she wrote to friends and family.
Gilbert has been overwhelmed by the response from the community, in the form of art and framing supplies, and she encourages anyone who wants to help to email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org