Creating a Beautiful Healing Environment for Cancer Patients
7 min. read
Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute
When physician-leaders at Baptist Health Cancer Care were planning Miami Cancer Institute, which opened its doors in 2017, they were determined to create a beautiful and welcoming space for patients and their families as well as their own physicians and staff.
Thanks to their vision, and aided by a dedicated group of donors, a global private bank and an advisory council comprised of some of the leading names in the South Florida art world, the cancer center assembled a collection of art that now graces its hallways and grounds as part of the Institute’s Art and Design Program.
While the focus here is on the visual arts, particularly textile art, the companion Arts in Medicine Program brings the performing arts to patients, families and staff at Miami Cancer Institute, where every day talented artists-in-residence perform for and work with patients undergoing treatment there.
(Watch now: Physician-leaders and donors behind Miami Cancer Institute’s Art and Design Program talk about the importance of the visual arts for cancer patients and their families. Video by Carol Higgins, Homestretch Creative.)
Art is critical to a cancer center because it makes people feel better and it brings beauty into their lives, according to oncologist Leonard Kalman, M.D., executive deputy director and chief medical officer of Miami Cancer Institute.
Leonard Kalman, M.D., executive deputy director and chief medical officer of Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute
“Art and beauty are essential to the treatment of the entire patient,” observes Dr. Kalman. “The Art and Design Program at Miami Cancer Institute is designed to bring that beauty to the building and to lighten the spirit of all of our patients as they walk through these halls.”
Dr. Kalman adds, “I think it’s uplifting spiritually to have beautiful art that can both transport patients and distract them from their cancer care. It also engenders conversations between patients that probably wouldn’t happen otherwise.”
The 395,000-square-foot building that houses Miami Cancer Institute is itself impressive, with its soaring, natural-light-filled lobby, its patient-centric clinical spaces, unique Cancer Patient Support Center and specially designed Symptom Management and Palliative Care area among its many features.
Dr. Kalman says the Institute has attracted many accomplished physician-researchers who have come to Miami in their quest to advance cancer care and develop new ways to treat the world’s most common and problematic cancers.
Outside the Institute, on grounds overlooking a tranquil lake, one can find a number of large contemporary art sculptures. “They were donated by [former Pinecrest residents] Earl and Christy Powell when they moved to North Carolina,” says Michael Zinner, M.D., CEO and executive medical director of Miami Cancer Institute and Baptist Health Cancer Care. “And now they’re beautifully displayed all around the outside of the Institute.”
Curating the collection
Dr. Kalman and Dr. Zinner both share an affinity for the visual arts and have built their own private collections over the years. They and the advisory council were looking for original pieces by artists from South Florida, Latin America and around the globe.
With that goal squarely in their sights, the physicians engaged Suzanne Delahanty, one of the most prominent names in the South Florida art world, to help curate Miami Cancer Institute’s collection.
Michael Zinner, M.D., CEO and executive medical director of Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute and Baptist Health Cancer Care
“Suzanne is a wonderful, very well-known art curator who has been involved with the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) and a lot of well-known collectors in the area,” says Dr. Zinner. “She has been enormously helpful in getting us started.”
A tour of Miami Cancer Institute’s art collection is incomplete without a stop at the Shaham Family Gallery, located in the lobby of the Institute’s proton therapy wing. Currently on display here are works by famed local artist Lynne Golob Gelfman (1944-2020), who was acclaimed for her groundbreaking experimentation with abstract painting techniques.
Mrs. Gelfman, a patient of Dr. Kalman’s for more than 30 years, was very well known in Miami and New York art circles and had her own show at PAMM in 2018, he says. “When you see her paintings, they almost look like textiles,” he points out, which is why the exhibit perfectly complements the collection of textile arts displayed elsewhere throughout the Institute.
A transformative gift
Dr. Zinner notes that Miami Cancer Institute’s Art and Design Program is entirely supported by philanthropy through donations to Baptist Health Foundation. “The Foundation has been fundamental to how we support many things here at the Institute,” he says of the support Miami Cancer Institute has received in assembling its art collection. “We’ve had a great response from the community and particularly the arts community.”
One of the people who has been instrumental in bringing the arts to Miami Cancer Institute is Simon Levine, a private banking executive with J.P. Morgan Private Bank, which boasts the world’s largest corporate art collection. It was Mr. Levine who arranged for the New York-based bank to first loan and then eventually donate its entire collection of textile art that it had been keeping in storage – more than 70 pieces in all, according to Dr. Kalman.
As a result of JP Morgan’s transformative gift, Dr. Kalman says, Miami Cancer Institute has made textiles the focus of its collection, with plans to continue adding works on all four floors of the Institute. “I think the art has transformed what was already a beautiful building, and softened its spaces,” he says, adding that he believes the Institute will one day be home to “one of the largest and most distinctive textile collections in the country.”
Another one of the people behind Miami Cancer Institute’s Art and Design program is Darlene Boytell Perez, wife of Related Group chairman and CEO Jorge Perez, whose name graces Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) in Downtown Miami’s Maurice A. Ferré Park.
As a licensed nurse practitioner, Mrs. Perez knows how important the arts can be for patients – especially those facing life-threatening cancer battles. And as a member of the Institute’s Art and Design Program Advisory Council, Mrs. Perez shares Dr. Zinner and Dr. Kalman’s vision for using the arts to create a beautiful healing environment for patients and their families.
A beautiful healing environment
“Whose life hasn’t been affected by cancer, whether it’s you yourself, a family member or a friend?” Mrs. Perez asks. “When you’re dealing with the unfortunate circumstances of why you’re here, being able to displace some of those feelings and engage in a creative activity – whether it’s visual or auditory – helps distract you and calm you.”
Renowned collectors of contemporary art, both Mrs. Perez and her husband are drawn to textile-based works, which she says have become the focal point of Miami Cancer Institute’s art collection.
“I believe the textile collection we have here is one of the largest anywhere. It features more than 50 pieces from artists around the world, including Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas,” says Mrs. Perez. While some are newer works by contemporary artists, she says many were made by skilled artisans and served both ceremonial and practical uses – including bedding, wall hanging and clothing. “Some of these have been passed down over generations as family heirlooms.”
Mrs. Perez says that both she and her husband appreciate the process and the collaborative nature of textile art. “The practice of making many of these objects is very tedious and repetitive, which also makes it meditative and helps with healing,” she explains, adding that the resulting works are not only beautiful but also have the ability to resonate with people.
According to Mrs. Perez, the incredibly detailed works “are oftentimes imbued with collective histories and personal narratives” that can speak to those admiring the work. “Every piece takes us on different journeys that echo our emotions and experiences as patients, art lovers and like-minded individuals,” she says.
Soothing art and music
The visual arts on display in the hallways and around the grounds of Miami Cancer Institute are complemented by the Institute’s innovative Arts in Medicine program which, according to Dr. Zinner, gives new meaning to “the healing arts.”
Led by M. Beatriz Currier, M.D., medical director of the Cancer Patient Support Center and chief of psychosocial oncology at Miami Cancer Institute, the Arts in Medicine program is also funded entirely through philanthropic gifts to Baptist Health Foundation. It features seven artists-in-residence who are on site at the Cancer Institute every day. Their only job is to soothe patients’ anxieties and let them harness the power of the musical, visual and literary arts so they can better cope with their illness and treatment.
“Everyone who goes through a cancer journey knows how difficult it can be,” says Dr. Zinner. “We want to do whatever we can do to make that journey easier – not just for patients but also their families or caregivers – and we think surrounding them with beauty makes a real difference in that journey. It gives me great joy to see the reactions of patients and their families when they see the beautiful artwork we have here.”
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