The power of art?

“One of the team members came up and gave me a hug,” said artist Will Puckett, who painted a mural at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte. It’s one of more than 21 murals that have been painted across Novant Health’s territory.

“She had tears in her eyes when she thanked me for painting the mural,” Puckett added. “She said it meant so much to walk out after a shift and see it. She had me crying, too.”

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His point of reference for this design “begins with a quote by Elizabeth Blackwell, MD – the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States,” Puckett said in his artist statement. "For what is done or learned by one class of women becomes, by virtue of their common womanhood, the property of all women," Blackwell said. Her quote is inscribed in a curved ribbon design that surrounds the mural, which features images of women in health care.

Novant Health is harnessing the power of art to bring color and vibrancy to places that could use it – hospital parking decks. “At Novant Health, we approach health humanities – or healing arts, as some refer to it – as a way to improve the patient, family and team member experience using all forms of art,” said Candace Williams, Novant Health director of patient advocacy and health humanities. “We believe adding art to our decks creates a more welcoming environment for everyone. We have been intentional about inviting artists from a variety of backgrounds and styles to share their gifts with us.”

Throughout Novant Health’s footprint in North Carolina, the walls in parking decks have been enlivened by the large-scale works of local artists and muralists. It’s having a positive – even emotional – impact on patients, their families and staff.

Some of the artists have a personal connection to Novant Health.

APP BRG mural
The advanced practice providers BRG mural painted by Sharon Dowell and Christopher Holston and located in Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center.

Sharon (Dowell) and I gave birth to our son, Sage, at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte last December,” said artist/muralist Christopher Holston. “We chose Novant Health because of many factors. The proximity to our house and the new wing in the birthing center were bonuses, but most important were the people there. From the ob-gyns to the RNs to the part-time, traveling RNs – everyone was wonderful. They not only took care of us by guiding and monitoring, they also listened to us.

“Our son’s birth was considered high risk,” he added. “So, it meant a lot that everyone seemed to take extra time in guiding and explaining what we could expect.”

It’s artists such as Holston and Dowell that Novant Health sought out for this project. “There are a lot of artists living in our communities,” said Marci Leonard, manager of patient rights and information at Novant Health, who helped oversee the project. “We wanted to support them – and brighten a space that’s often neglected.” All artists were paid for their work.

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The murals started popping up across Novant Health territory at the end of 2021. More have been added throughout the spring and summer in Winston-Salem, Salisbury and Charlotte. Even more are planned, including a super-sized mural for the catwalk at Novant Health New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, North Carolina. Novant Health was chosen by the Brand the Moth META residency program as the site for two of their murals. One is at Presbyterian Medical Center; the other is at Novant Health Charlotte Orthopedic Hospital. The residency is a 10-week program that teaches professional artists the craft and techniques of mural making.

Most were sponsored by various business resource groups (BRGs) at Novant Health, whose members chose the theme and/or artist for “their” parking deck wall. The BRGs gave the artists a theme and the Novant Health color palette as a suggestion, but the artists had a lot of creative freedom to use the colors they wanted.

There are even more murals than those sponsored by BRGs. Artist Nony CLT painted a tribute wall to the late Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown at the Novant Health Heart & Vascular Institute of Charlotte - Elizabeth that was funded by a grant to the artist from the Blumenthal Foundation. Nony CLT selected Novant Health as the recipient of his work. Garmon-Brown had been a family physician and long-time leader at Novant Health and in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community.

Veterans BRG mural
Veterans BRG mural painted by Irisol Gonzalez and located in Novant Health Rowan Medical Center.

The Novant Health Innovation Center, which facilitates engagement with providers, team members, vendors and community partners to develop solutions that improve both the quality of and access to care, also commissioned and funded a mural inside the Charlotte center by Irisol Gonzalez.

A volunteer council-sponsored wall was recently installed at the team member entrance to Presbyterian Medical Center. And, the team at Novant Health worked with the Winston-Salem Arts Council for mural proposals to be painted at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center. The Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center Foundation is funding this mural.

Other groups and artists who contributed their work include Ricky Singh with Charlotte Lab School, Bree Stallings and Robin Stallings, Angel Phipps, Ingrid Swanson, Laurie Smithwick, Scott Nurkin, Amanda Lackey, Chelsea Locklear and Gracie Wall. (See sidebar for more information on each of these murals.)

Native BRG mural
Native American BRG Mural painted by Chelsea Locklear and located in Novant Health Rowan Medical Center.

Art with a message

For new parents Holston and Dowell, their mural is especially personal. “We wanted to reflect certain elements of our experience, and we imagine many others' experiences as well,” Holston said.

“Sharon and I both usually work heavily in abstract art, but for this project, we also wanted some more realistic, identifiable motifs,” he continued. “We decided on hands that reached up – representing all the people of the medical community who work so hard to help others. Between the ‘healing hands,’ we decided to add a stethoscope – an obvious design to symbolize Novant Health’s medical community as a whole.

“Within the abstract portion of the design are circles or pods. They are meant to represent seeds. We placed these ‘seeds’ in pairs, next to one another to form infinity symbols. We want to convey the continuation of what these seeds represent, which, among many things, are growth, rehabilitation, love, trust, healing, comfort – and for us personally, birth.”

Each mural will have a QR code on a plaque beside it. Visitors can scan the code and read about each artist and their concept behind the mural.

Thanks to Novant Health and a host of talented artists, the walls in a number of hospital parking decks have gone from vacant to vibrant. A sampling of the BRGs, mural theme/title, location and artists are below.

Advanced practice providers BRG (APPs, such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners) – An abstract mural depicting a stethoscope with upwardly reaching hands. Painted at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center by Sharon Dowell and Christopher Holston.

Asian BRG – “Chou Cho Metamorphosis” (“Pretty Butterfly” in Japanese). Painted at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center by Bree Stallings and her mother, Robin Stallings, who is of Japanese heritage. This is a “wall dedicated to the feeling of flight and beauty that wings give us,” said Bree in her artist statement.

Co-exist BRG – Painted at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center by Nony CLT. “A composition of realism, color transitions, stencils and geometric patterns, each representing a deep connection to all workers within the Novant Health system,” explained the artist. “Individuals are … depicted in a way that nurses and doctors normally aren’t in the mainstream – wearing a hijab.”

Engaging white men BRG – The theme: Suicide prevention/awareness. Painted at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center by Ingrid Swanson. Called “Out of the Shadows,” this mural shines a “light upon human suffering,” according to the artist’s statement. “The hand represents hope and help that can pull the victim from the shadows. This concept illustrates the possibility of escaping the confinement of despair, and encourages the viewer to seek or offer human connection.” Note: The engaging white men BRG exists to advance the knowledge, skills and awareness of Novant Health regarding diversity, inclusion and equity (DI&E) with a focus on increasing representation and active participation of white men in DI&E efforts within the organization and the communities we serve.

Generation to generation BRG – Seasons of life, as represented by trees. Painted at Novant Health Charlotte Orthopedic Hospital by Scott Nurkin.

Hispanic BRG – Feathers of tropical birds and more painted at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center by Irisol Gonzalez. This mural contains images of feathers of birds found in Latin America, a traditional Costa Rican wagon (alluding to folk art traditions), textile patterns, a colorful fingerprint to signify the diversity of people that come from the region, a gold Meso-American artifact to hint at the rich history of the area and more.

Native American BRG – Map of North Carolina filled with flowers, representing the seals of tribal nations. Painted at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center by Chelsea Locklear.

LGBTQ+/Pride – Rainbow flag. Painted at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center by Angel Phipps.

People with disabilities BRG – A tree with plants and animals surrounding its base. Painted at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center by Angel Phipps. “This mural concept was created to honor people with different abilities and the strength we can find when we embrace our different abilities and honor the differences we have,” wrote the artist.

Veterans BRG – An American flag, bald eagle in flight, outstretched hand in hand. Painted at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center by Irisol Gonzalez.

Women physicians BRG – Images of women painted at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center by Will Puckett.

Women BRG – A selfie wall with butterfly wings painted at Novant Health Matthews Medical Center by Angel Phipps. “Women are powerful, women inspire us, women move us, women change us, and women amaze us,” wrote Phipps in her statement. “The butterfly, one of nature’s transformative marvels, reminds us of our inner strength, power and beauty.”

Novant Health Foundation – This mural, by Gracie Wall, features a Southern staple: magnolia blooms. Wall painted this in memory of her father, who passed away in 2010 from esophageal cancer and received care at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center. In his memory, the family plants a magnolia tree at each home where they have lived. Wall wanted the flowers to feel peaceful and represent comfort to every patient who receives care at Forsyth Medical Center.

Ricky Singh with Charlotte Lab School – This vibrant, multicolored mural at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center reflects the diversity of the people passing through the facility.

Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown – The mural at Novant Health Heart & Vascular Institute in Elizabeth is a tribute to Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown, a beloved Novant Health family physician and health care leader who passed away in 2021 after a long battle with cancer. The senior vice president and chief community health and wellness officer was also a physician, minister, volunteer and leader. But most of all, Garmon-Brown was a caregiver and advocate for the health and well-being of Charlotte community members and beyond. She elevated the lives of everyone she touched.