Wilhelmina Grant is known as Miss Happy by her patients. Recently, she was honored with the United Hospital Fund’s 2014 Hospital Auxilian and Volunteer Achievement Awards. Since 2011, Wilhelmina has been a Creative Center at University Settlement Artist-In-Residence (AIR) at the Cancer Center at Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn. She is both a Materials for the Arts donor and recipient through SISTAAH: Survivors Inspiring Sisters Through Art & Advocacy for Health.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994. “I am a breast cancer survivor myself, [but] I never took the time to enjoy the The Creative Center at University Settlement’s free arts workshops for people with cancer and other chronic illnesses until about five years ago when I became concurrently became ill and unemployed.”
Wilhelmina was trained by and is employed as an AIR by The Creative Center as a member of the Hospital Artist-In-Residence Program, which she first learned about while working as an Outreach Director at SHARE (Self Help For Women With Breast or Ovarian Cancer). She completed the AIR training and began working with patients at Woodhull shortly afterward. Materials for the Arts’ workshops easily translate into projects that are acceptable in the hospital setting.
Wilhelmina has attended many of our workshops including: jewelry wire wrapping, book making, hat making, and stop motion video with doll figures. She then brings these project ideas to her patients. Here, Wilhelmina shared with us the kind of work she does at the hospital:
MFTA: What kind of work do you do with the patients?
WG: I do chair-side arts activities with cancer patients, their families, and caregivers while they receive their chemo treatments in the Infusion Suite and while they wait in the clinic waiting room to see the doctor. I do periodic lunchtime art workshops for different hospital staff groups.
MFTA: Who do you work with at the hospital?
WG: Since I work in a city hospital, the patients and families are often Medicaid recipients. The population is comprised of immigrants — eastern European, Asian, Caribbean, Latina, African-American and Middle Eastern. I work primarily with adult patients, but I will give their accompanying children a project. I have found that there is a sense of community that has emerged at the hospital in that patients drop in to make art with me even when they do not have medical appointments.
MFTA: How does your work differ from that of an art therapist?
WG: As an AIR I bring an arts experience which does not involve any psychology credentials that an art therapist would. We simply expose the participants to art and encourage them to make the arts a permanent part of their lives. I am not an art therapist, but it has been proven that the work that AIRs do can be very pleasant, relaxing, fun, and healing for the patient.
MFTA: How does being an AIR in this context influence your work?
WG: My art work before becoming an AIR had been large assemblage pieces which are built using found objects on wood with power tools, nails, screws, and construction adhesives. Once I became an AIR I was compelled to learn how to work on a much smaller scale that used non-dangerous materials. Being an AIR has impacted my art life in a positive…I must continually do research and take workshops to gain new skills and get new art ideas in order to bring something fresh and interesting to the patients. I usually home-test art projects before presenting them to the patients. This allows me to ensure that the project can be completed in a certain time frame. This also results in the production of a sample piece. The side benefit for me is that I am constantly making art!
Thanks for sharing your work with us Wilhelmina!
The Creative Center at University Settlement trains and employs artists to work in numerous programs for people living with cancer, other chronic illness and throughout the aging process. Interested artists should send a brief statement and resume to Robin Glazer, Director, rglazer [at ] thecreativecenter.org.