health care

Five Questions With: Nancy Gaucher-Thomas

FROM LEFT: Nancy Gaucher-Thomas, Merle Mainelli Poulton and Kenn Speiser
Posted 6/17/13

If you’ve recently walked or driven through the tunnel on Eddy Street underneath the Interstate 95 overpass at the entrance of the hospital campuses of Rhode Island Hospital, Hasbro Children’s Hospital and Women & Infants Hospital, you may have been surprised. What was once a dark, dank space has been transformed into a mural of white walls and colorful 300-foot waves of blues and violets.

The mural is a project in honor of Rhode Island Hospital’s 150th anniversary. It was created by Public Art Works, a nonprofit artists’ collaborative that bills itself as “artists creating environments.” Its principals are Nancy Gaucher-Thomas, Merle Mainelli Poulton and Kenn Speiser.

Providence Business News asked Gaucher-Thomas to talk about their recently completed public art installation and its relationship to the power of healing.

PBN: What is the role of public art in health?

GAUCHER-THOMAS: The power of arts in healing is demonstrated by compelling patient histories and validated by remarkable evidence-research. As defined by the National Endowment for the Arts, it is “an international movement that works to infuse the full spectrum of the arts into health care settings, including design, visual, performing and literary arts, resulting in programs and healthcare environments that are welcoming and uplifting for caregivers, patients, their families and visitors.”

Public Art Works seeks to enhance the quality of life by making art accessible to all by way of public and private art installations.

PBN: What has made the art inside the tunnel on Eddy Street an inspiration of doctors and patients alike?

GAUCHER-THOMAS: The original design created by Merle Mainelli Poulton. The new mural inside the Eddy Street Tunnel has transformed the area into what was once a dark, dank and visually unappealing site to one bright with color, movement and energy. During the day the white walls and bright colors create an uplifting and cheerful atmosphere. The waves (300 feet on either side) that span the wall give a sense of motion as colors shift from cool blues into violet.

During our time painting the tunnel, passersby frequently gave their thumbs up and verbal approvals on a daily basis.

Many of the hospital staff would walk during their lunch break and stop to let us know how much of a difference the imagery made in brightening up the area. During the evening, the newly installed tunnel lighting, combined with the white walls, illuminate and light up the surrounding area as you approach the tunnel.

PBN: For the medical staff, how has the artwork changed their perceptions of the campus?

GAUCHER-THOMAS: What we've heard from them is anecdotal and those spontaneous comments, smiles, and even honking of horns and thumbs up as medical staff have passed through the tunnel on their way to work, reflect how this art has touched the common bond of humanity between those who are ill and those who are caring for them.

This passage through light and art is a transition for the medical staff, especially, as they go into work, and leave work each day, returning to their personal lives.

For the Brown medical school docs who are just beginning their lives as caregivers, we hope this mural and transformation of a dark and forbidding tunnel brings them a feeling of warmth and optimism – with a touch of wonder and even humor – that we offer.

PBN: What other kinds of projects has Public Art Works been involved with in the health care field?

GAUCHER-THOMAS: Public Art Works has worked on many projects throughout Hasbro Children's Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital. Working with Paula Most, Lifespan’s arts coordinator, Public Art Works has created murals in many areas of the hospitals including: MRI, CT Scan, Pediatric Surgical Waiting Area, Pediatric Imaging Waiting Area and Rhode Island Hospital’s Diagnostic Imaging Center.

Public Art Works also works with Home & Hospice Care of Rhode Island providing art installations on a rotating basis, three-four times per year.

Local and regional artists are selected to exhibit their work for three months in the first floor gallery at Home & Hospice.

Public Art Works and Lifespan were selected as presenters at the Society for the Arts in Health Care’s 23rd Conference in Detroit in 2012.

PBN: Are there other public installations in the works for you?

GAUCHER-THOMAS: Public Art Works are always interested in being part of new and dynamic ways in bringing art to the public. We have a few proposals in the works, so I am sure you'll be seeing more of us – and some of the artwork that we believe makes a difference in our everyday lives and that of our community.

For more information about the collaborative, go to

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