At the Intersection of Art and Healing

Art creates moments of connection that enhance the healing environment.

by Anna R. Buehrer, Methodist College
"Untitled,” a digital collage by graphic artist Lawrence Keach
“Untitled,” a digital collage by graphic artist Lawrence Keach, now resides in a corridor at Methodist College.

When a former big box retail store was purchased to become the new campus of Methodist College, the space was a blank canvas for the architectural design team at Farnsworth Group. When its doors opened to the public in July 2016, visitors were greeted by a vibrant palette of blue, green and yellow hues. In describing the project, Farnsworth Group states, “The bright, energetic tones lead students in their journey to great knowledge and purpose.” This is just one example of how the arts and healing go hand in hand at Methodist College.

Moments Of Connection
The students here are studying to become nurses, healthcare managers, social workers, medical assistants and nursing assistants—all careers focused on providing care to others. In addition to courses in their major, they are able to take general education arts and sciences courses, as needed, to complete their degree. 

Sara Diemer, adjunct art instructor, takes students in her art classes to Heartis Village, a retirement community near the college. During these sessions, the students and residents work collaboratively to create a variety of art projects. One printmaking project, for example, aimed at visually celebrating the lives of the residents. Through interviews, studio time and a brief “art show,” the students were able to gain a unique perspective into the lives of the residents while constructing two finished art pieces—one to keep for themselves, and one to send with their resident partner. 

“Our students get to know the residents on a more personal level,” Diemer says, “and get to explore how art and creativity can open the pathway for meaningful dialogue and create moments of connection.”

New Perspectives Of Beauty
ArtPop Peoria is a collaboration between Adams Outdoor Advertising and ArtsPartners of Central Illinois which places the work of local artists on billboards around the region. Within a year of the new campus opening, former Dean of Arts and Sciences Dr. Kip Strasma presented the idea to college leadership of repurposing those billboards—bringing them inside the building as art installations. 

The first two billboards, Untitled by Lawrence Keach and Three Red Barns by James Burnham, were acquired through a donation by Dr. Strasma, his wife Ann and an anonymous donor. Their framing and installation were funded through a grant from the UnityPoint Health Methodist | Proctor Foundation. The vinyl from each billboard was cut into four sections, stretched onto large wooden frames, and installed on the walls of the campus, which were well-suited for these oversized installations. They also offer a new perspective on the artwork itself. 

Up high on billboards, drivers and passengers can get a fleeting view of the art passing by at 55-plus miles an hour. On the walls at Methodist College, however, one can get nose to canvas with the art and get an ant’s view of the intricate details—from the individual fibers in Dana Baldwin’s Dreams Unwind, to the delicate beads of Merrell Hickey’s Beaded Tapestry.

Since that first installation, seven additional ArtPop Peoria billboards have been installed on campus. “The addition of the billboards honors the foundation of the arts and sciences and celebrates individual expression,” explains Dr. Deborah Garrison, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “Art is used in education to enhance the powers of observation and critical thinking—both important skills for healthcare professionals.”

In recent months, the college has acquired several original paintings by local artist Suzette Boulais, as well as a large installation by the late Greg DePauw which now hangs in the library. Michelle Nielsen Ott is director of library services and serves on the board of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois. “Art has a positive effect on wellbeing,” she notes. “It is not just for beautification, but for looking holistically at health and increasing hope through art.” PM

Anna R. Buehrer is vice chancellor for strategic marketing and external affairs at Methodist College, a four-year, not-for-profit college affiliated with UnityPoint Health. To learn more, visit