Artwork is hung at the Arkell Pavilion on the campus of the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester. The exhibit will be on display on June 11 and 12
Artwork is hung at the Arkell Pavilion on the campus of the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester. The exhibit will be on display on June 11 and 12 then moved into 54 inpatient rooms at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. (submitted photo)

MANCHESTER >> After this weekend, inpatients at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, and at all state hospitals, will be more comfortable with art hanging on the walls.

Done by Vermont artists, over 100 pieces were submitted to be used at SVMC, 54 of which will be selected and purchased by the Susan Sebastian Foundation. On June 11 and 12 an exhibit at the Arkell Pavilion at the Southern Vermont Arts Center will display the artwork. Dr. Esther Sternberg will talk at the exhibit on Saturday at 4 p.m.

Sternberg is a renowned researcher and just published her second book, "Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Wellbeing," in which she'll share some concepts from regarding how experiencing the five senses in certain ways can help one heal from fear, pain or anxiety, and the science behind it.

The Susan Sebastian Foundation was formed in honor of Susan Sebastian, who suffered from a long illness looking at the bare walls of hospital rooms, and she wished every hospital room in Vermont be hung with inspiring art done by Vermont artists, according to a release from SVMC. She passed in 2009 and her mother Elise Braun works to fulfill her daughter's wish.

"I'm in awe of the impact that [foundation] created," Sternberg said. "They took my words and put it in practice and it'll improve the quality of life of so many people."

The foundation used the principles in Sternberg's book to fund the purchase of art for permanent display in the patient rooms of every Vermont hospital and this summer, the mission will be complete.


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The doctor is the founding director of the University of Arizona Institute on Place and Wellbeing and professor of medicine and research director at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, and University of Arizona at Tucson.

Sternberg cited studies that proves beautiful views trigger a part of the human brain that connects to positivity, and in the long run, encourages healing. If a patient is in a hospital that is a maze, has loud noises, foul odor and awful views, it'll trigger a stress response and impair the immune system's ability to heal. By reversing these factors and bringing a home-like feel to the hospital, patients will be able to rest comfortably and heal more efficiently.

"The artwork the foundation shows does reflect the views of nature. The science behind it says [the artwork] beneficial," she said. "What's amazing about this project is the scope. I don't think I've heard the similar project of the mission of putting artwork in every hospital room of Vermont. It's not only good for the patients but for the art. You're supporting the artists in Vermont and has a double whammy effect of helping patients heal."

Studies that prove nature helps the immune system partially has to do with fractal patterns, Sternberg said. They are repeated geometries that exist within our familiar dimensions, similar to snowflakes, leaves, rivers, coastlines, trees and mountains, to name a few.

"There is that part of the brain that becomes active when you look at a beautiful view of a preferred scene," she said. "We don't know why, but we prefer to look at fractal rich images and other kinds of images that have been analyzed by their fractal patterns. Exposure to light can improve moods, seasonal affectiveness disorder .any depression. Sunlight improves moods. There's also an element that when you're looking at something that reminds you of a place or time of peace, that's like meditation and puts you in the moment and takes you away from your pain."

SVMC is the only hospital to have Sternberg and the last in the chain for the foundation's mission.

"We're pretty excited by all of that," Ray Smith, SVMC director of communications said. "It'll be a show that moves the mind and spirit of what's here in Vermont. They live here and are creating here and are inspired by the world around them. I'm very moved by the whole scenario."

The exhibit is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 11 and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday at the Arkell Pavilion on the campus of the Southern Vermont Arts Center. Reservations for Sternberg's talk can be made at www.svhealthcare.org/healingpower.

—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.