For the last four years, the “Celebration of Art and Life” -– an exhibition dedicated to the memory of Bernett L. Johnson, Jr., MD, HUP’s former chief medical officer -- has created a colorful but calming influence on patients, families and staff, contributing to the environment of healing. The 2014 exhibition is the largest yet, with 115 pieces of art lining the walls of the Penn Tower bridge and continuing into the upper level atrium of the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine.
Each year the exhibition has grown in popularity, with more people submitting entries, often multiple pieces. According to Rosemarie Cray, HR project manager, the first year they received 85 submissions. This year, 125 people sent in over 400 submissions! “We try to use at least one entry from everyone who submits work. We look for pieces that are peaceful, something patients would like to see,” she said, adding that “the artists themselves raise the standards every year.”
Although each year’s exhibition seems to flow effortlessly into the next, it takes months of preparation to bring it to fruition. Cray takes the lead every year, working with staff from other departments as well as the Center for Emerging and Visual Artists (CFEVA).
Between September and December, artists submit their work electronically (until two years ago it was a manual process!). Then, members of CFEVA and the review committee spend an entire day reviewing each submission blindly (the artists’ names are removed) and choosing which will go in the exhibition.
Artists are asked to drop off new art work or pick up pieces from last year’s exhibition during a three-day window, but that doesn’t always fit everyone’s schedule. Indeed, for about a month, Cray can be seen shuttling art work to and from the storage area in Penn Tower to wherever she’s meeting the artist!
Once the exhibition pieces are chosen comes the hard part -– choosing the Best in Show. Three people were involved in this year’s judging: Marsha Moss, a public arts curator who advised and guided the integration of arts into both the Perelman Center and the Smilow Research Center; Bob Siefert, the artist who painted the portrait of Bernett Johnson that is displayed in the Ravdin Mezzanine and was a long-time friend of Johnson; and Mary Martha Johnson, who shares works of art from her husband's collection each year as part of the exhibit.
“The panel of jurors who select ‘best of show’ have a deep rooted presence in the public arts and with the family of Dr. Bernett Johnson,” said Judy Schueler, former VP Organizational Development, who was the driving force behind the Celebration of Art and Life exhibit.
Selecting the "Best of Show" is a responsibility not to be taken lightly, said Moss. “There were so many outstanding and creative directions from which to choose in this year's exhibition. We walked though the exhibition several times before making decisions. We were looking for creativity and originality from a variety of media, forms and styles.”
Because this exhibition is viewed by patients and caregivers, they look for images and narratives that reflect positive feelings, while still being well planned and skillfully rendered.
Although professional installers remove the old exhibit (and carefully wrap the pieces) and put up the new, members of HUP’s Physical Plant are very much involved. As soon as the old exhibit is down, they quickly patch holes and paint the Penn Tower Bridge walls and prepare the walls in the Perelman Center for the new exhibit.
“The last four years have enriched and enhanced the lives of those who pass through,” Moss said at the exhibit's official opening. “I have no doubt that art inspires hope, and that images reflecting life's joyful experiences in either representational or abstract forms, warm the spirit and soothe the soul.”