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Art for mental health’s sake: Boise State donates art to a local hospital’s COVID ward

Jennifer Dunn
Jennifer Dunn, a Boise State art student and nurse at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center. Photo provided by Jennifer Dunn.

Boise State student Jennifer Dunn is pursuing her degree in painting, but has worked as a nurse since 1985. She’s been experiencing COVID-19 on the front lines, caring for patients at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise.

The hospital’s COVID area, she said, was grim with newspaper covering the glass doors to patients’ rooms. The newspaper gave the patients some privacy, and, unlike curtains, it could be replaced frequently to curb the spread of the virus. But the newspaper only made the COVID area feel more remote and impersonal, Dunn said.

One day, her boss, who knew she was a painter, approached her with an idea: replacing the newspaper with art.

Dunn was willing, even though she knew that whatever she donated eventually would have to be removed and discarded because of contamination. She gathered paintings and drawings that would fit the glass doors. She also reached out to Dan Scott, her painting professor and chair of the Department of Art, Design and Visual Studies. Scott donated six paintings, and invited more of his students to do the same. All told, Boise State donated close to 30 paintings to the hospital.

hospital doors with art
Glass doors at Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Boise. Bright, temporary art has replaced newspaper. Photo provided by Jennifer Dunn.

“People from all departments – X-ray, transport, doctors from the Intensive Care Unit – everyone has said that looking at art has decreased the stress level and lightened emotions,” said Dunn. “I have never experienced art being so important and needed in an environment. It is almost like people are seeking some semblance of hope and beauty.”

Dunn plans to continue to help her coworkers this summer by sewing and donating surgical caps. Should there be another wave of COVID-19 in the fall, she will be prepared to pick up her brush and paint again.

– By Anna Webb