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Artists make gallery out of Elmhurst hospital wing

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An Elmhurst hospital has found the solution to a problem plaguing tons of New York artists: space — space to hang their works.

Elmhurst Hospital Center staff, volunteers and artists unveiled a permanent exhibit of donated art last Thursday on the once nearly barren walls of the geriatric acute care center of the hospital’s Community Medical Center.

The “Corridors of Hope” exhibit — paintings, photographs and even drawings by students from nearby St. Mary’s elementary school —- takes its title from a poem by Elliot Bassman, a local artist who contributed to the installation.

“The whole point was that we wanted to do this for the patients, only for the patients,” said third-year medical resident Alfredo Astua, who organized the exhibit along with CUNY art history doctoral student Hyewon Yi.

“We don’t need visual and mental stimulation like (elderly patients) do,” Astua said. “To them (the artwork) is actually a type of therapy.” He added that it also gives the patients a plausible excuse to stop walking without embarrassment if they become winded.

About a year and half ago, Astua did a rotation in the geriatric acute care ward. While he was there, Astua noticed that although the walls of the ground-level reception area were stacked with works of art on loan, the patients who were admitted had little to look at.

“It was depressing,” he said. “We didn’t have enough paintings.”

He tapped Yi, a former roommate with an interest in art and social medicine, to help organize the project, picking up where hospital organizers left off years ago after money for another decoration initiative ran out.

Hospitals and artists are a great match, Yi said, because “all that empty space can be filled.”

Astua and Yi started by putting up fliers looking for people to donate their works.

The response was overwhelming, said Astua, who along with Yi, assembled the handcrafted wooden frames in his spare time. “I couldn’t make frames fast enough,” he said.

In total, about 20 local artists donated around 45 works, Astua said.

Bassman responded to one of Astua and Yi’s fliers posted outside a library. “It said, ‘artist wanted,’ and I said, ‘I’m an artist,’” Bassman said.

Rhonda Roth, another local artist, donated five paintings to the exhibit. “I think there’s just something very different when somebody sees things that an artist invested in,” Roth said of patients in a hospital setting.

“It has transformed the area,” said Pete Velez, senior vice president of the Queens Health Network, after he took a tour on the fly of the revamped facilities. “Even though I walked through quickly, it has totally changed the perception of the place.”

Astua said he hopes the exhibit will set a precedent for the rest of the hospital’s floors.

“Hopefully, this will be a start and people will see that you don’t need money,” Astua said. “All you need is time.”

Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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