Recent research suggests art may prove a healing experience for those who produce it. Many hospitals today go one step further, and claim art as a healing experience for those who view it.
For this, the science is lacking.
Nonetheless, more than half of U.S. hospitals now collect original artwork, according to the Society for Arts in Healthcare.
Stanford Hospital and the Mayo Clinic are noted for their art collections. Visitors to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center walk past original art by Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró.
In 2011, for example, Cedars-Sinai reported that it had accepted 34 additions to its 4,000-piece collection of fine art, but declined to tell the I.R.S. value of the donations.
The purpose of the collection, according to Cedars-Sinai’s annual I.R.S. report: “To enhance patient care by creating a healing environment.”
Some research has shown that viewing representations of nature, such as photos or paintings, can ease patient stress. A study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing found that psychiatric patients exposed to realistic images of landscapes required less anxiety medication than those exposed to either abstract art or no art.
But 100Reporters could find no clinical evidence that displays of original fine art promote healing.
Though the art is often donated, nonprofit hospitals maintain, insure, conserve, frame and install it (occasionally through endowments for that purpose).
Some pieces end up at auction.
“We follow the I.R.S. rules,” Cedars-Sinai spokesman Sally Stewart said in an email. “The I.R.S. does not require us to report art donations. This is because we are custodians of the art for the benefit of our patients, their families, our staff, and future generations. We do not sell the art as a business and do not include it as an asset.”
At the Mayo Clinic, the policy is “to neither capitalize contributed works of art nor record the related contribution revenue,” according to its I.R.S. return.
Tourists from throughout the world may take Mayo’s 90-minute tours in groups of 25 to view such priceless treasures as a Rodin sculpture, Tiffany, Chihuly and Tagliapietra glass, Miró lithographs, and a mother of pearl box and book donated by Jordan’s King Hussein and Queen Noor. Even an employee cafeteria once had its own Alexander Calder mobile, although the clinic’s curator says the Calder is no longer there.
Tiny Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, completed in 2010, has acquired an abundance of island-related art. The collection is so overwhelming that, “Some will always be relatively — if not entirely — off limits for public viewing,” a local magazine reported. Yet the hospital has reported no art collections to the I.R.S. The hospital did not respond to a request for comment.