2019 Art Project with Ginna Dowling

A Children's Hospital Patient Paints in the Dialysis Unit

The Language of Hope and Courage at the Children’s Hospital

Think about the power of children’s art and a child’s creative expression of hope.

Now, imagine children hospitalized with life-threatening illnesses, like cancer, and the power of their artistic expressions of hope and strength.

What if you could see a bright and colorful, larger-than-life installation of these creative expressions from an entire community of children? What if they were visible from the windows and walls of the hospital play and learn zone, the Intensive Care Units for the isolated patients in the stem-cell transplant area, the oncology outpatient treatment and community rooms, or in an Atrium entrance of the Hospital? 

Can you imagine an innovative artistic project that empowers these children and brings joy and comfort to them and their families? 

Consider the impact and importance the process of creating visual expressions of hope and a healthy identity will have to the inherent well-being of these children.  Will it help empower them? Will it serve to maintain a sense of worth and courage? Will it improve the child’s outlook in their battle for life? Will it affect their ability to combat disease? Will it reinforce the power of art and creativity? 

All of my education, work and experience will culminate in the creation of this installation project that is inspired by the creative outreach work of those whose daily lives revolve around, and are dependent upon, The Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City.

The power of the project will be the children. They will be facilitated to work in interactive and collaborative efforts, to create simple symbolic representations of themselves that range in meaning from character traits and tags, emotions, beliefs, aspirations, ideologies, and philosophies, to concepts, tools, and favorite objects. Family members, medical caregivers and the hospital staff will also participate in this process of play and self-discovery. 

And finally, these symbolic identities and creative representations will be merged into life-sized visual story installations about children who live with the daily struggle of illness and life-threatening diseases. It will be their story.

Considering today’s volatile social issues of health care, pre-existing conditions, and social services for those at risk, this work is poignant. It highlights the unique identities of some of our nation’s most vulnerable children. It embodies their inherent differences and similarities, their hopes and dreams, and it brings them together in a visual rendition of a safe and healthy community, empowered by the strength and creativity of visual expression.

The Interactive Project:

The participants of this powerful project will be children selected by The Children’s Hospital Child Life and Volunteers. Outreach workshops and resulting installations will occur in the following patient areas:

  1. ‘The Child Life Zone, a 6,000 square-foot play and learning center that supports more than 17,000 visits annually.
  2. The Oncology Stem Cell Transplant area for children who are confined to rooms within an isolated treatment area.
  3. The cancer outpatient care and Chemo area for patients and their families (“Tammy’s Cove”), located in the cancer ward.
  4. The hospital medical team and support staff that care for the patients in the areas listed above.
  5. The families, particularly siblings, and care teams will participate in outreach workshops and Second Saturday events at Oklahoma Contemporary (another Organizational partner).

During the workshops, we will facilitate a simple creative process, where participants create self-representational identity symbols, and add them to collaborative pop-up installations.  The individual images will then be remastered into vinyl, and placed in larger-than-life story installations that will cover the walls and windows of each correlating outreach area in the Children’s Hospital.   

The Project’s Creative Process:

The creative process of this project will primarily consist of workshops with small to medium sized groups of participants who share similar struggles of health and illness.  They will experiment with a simple, non-judgmental, tactile and collage-like creative process. 

Each participant will hand tear and create their own “identity glyph” self-representational identity symbol. Each symbol, which is similar to a visual version of a literary character tag, will then be added into a collaborative story-like pop-up installation that represents their hospital community. Part of the collaborative exercise includes sharing with the group what their respective symbol means, and how it relates to them. 

Artistically, participants will be exploring mediums, techniques, and concepts that many have never encountered. My pedagogy encourages participants to dispel preconceived ‘shoulds,’ and share in a non-judgmental, spontaneous, and experimental approach. Their willingness to abandon an editorialized voice and intuitively experiment is a primary goal of the outreach workshops. Participants will literally play with colors, shapes, and expression. Process, collaboration, and discovery are the outcomes.

In the end, this project is designed to help children and their families cope and instill hope by sharing in a positive, meaningful, and powerful project. It will also reinforce positive bonds with their medical caregivers and empower the both the patients and the staff. 

Installation and Artistic Presentation

The presentations of the artistic installations (not including the workshop pop-up installations) will be in three tiers. It should be noted that the hospital installations will be semi-permanent and planned to remain in place for years to come.

  1. The first tier of installations will be installed after each phase of outreach is completed in the correlating areas listed above. They will go directly onto windows and walls in the units. The installations will be viewed by the patients, their families and loved ones, the hospital medical and support staff, and anyone who works in, or visits these areas. They represent the patients’ individual messages of hope, strength and courage.Small receptions will be conducted in permitted areas after the permanent artwork is installed.
  2. The second installation tier will be a public reception and premier presentation of the final project installation.This will be at The Children’s Hospital Atrium a major entrance and reception area.This will be a culmination of the complete body of work that was developed throughout the hospital project, including video documentation of the entire experience.           
  3. A third tier will consist of a touring exhibition presented at significant artistic venues throughout the region and, hopefully, the nation.It will expand the portfolio of American Art.        

The Installation Artwork:  The Portfolio of American Art is Expanded

The installations will be comprised of what I call environmental serigraphs on windows, walls, floors, ceilings, and substrates. The primary material used in this body of work is vinyl, and embodies my idea of contemporary hieroglyphs. The material was chosen because it is a modern product that represents contemporary society and the pervasive communications and images that are produced and placed on windows, cars, billboards, products, etc. When I started exploring what current-day hieroglyphs would be, how they would be manifested, and where they would be viewed, my solution was vinyl on the walls, windows, ceilings, and floors of our community centers. These materials are ideal for this colorful project at The Children’s Hospital.  The growth potential for this body of work is tremendous: it has the capability and enormous potential to progress to hospitals and medical facilities in other cities and states as well as tour to different exhibition venues. It will fulfill a true mission of artistic service.  Another potentially powerful facet of this project will be the video documentation.  This will broaden its scope, and add another creative element that can be viewed by the public.

The Artist - Ginna Dowling

Ginna_DowlingGinna Dowling is a contemporary printmaker, installation artist, and visual storyteller. An Oklahoma City native and the fifth woman artist in three consecutive generations, Dowling received her MFA from the University of Oklahoma. Her education includes a B.A. in journalism and postgraduate work in professional writing. Her visual storytelling reflects her writing and arts influence, bound together with her artistic heritage. Her current work focuses on the use of symbols and visual references that convey a story, and are related to her collaborative installation project exploring identity and community.

Dowling’s works have been exhibited internationally. She is the recipient of the 2018 Oklahoma Visual Arts (OVAC) Fellowship, an artist-in-residence in Clermont-Ferrand, France, with Norman Arts Council’s (NAC) Cultural Connections, and a 2015 artist-in-residence at Cill Rialaig Art Center in Ireland. She is a past recipient of the of an OVAC Project Grant.

In Oklahoma, her work is included in the permanent collection at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.  Other exhibitions include Oklahoma Contemporary, Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, The Oklahoma Capitol, [Artspace] at Untitled, IAO, JRB Art at the Elms, MAINSITE Contemporary Art, The University of Oklahoma Lightwell Gallery, The Hardesty Art Center, and the Thomas K. McKeon Center for Creativity. Regionally, she has exhibited in New Mexico, Texas, Kansas and Arkansas. She is an art educator, and experience includes teaching classes and workshops for children and adults, public schools and higher education. She has also initiated and facilitated collaborative community art projects and worked with educational grants. As of 2019, she serves on The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art Association Board.

Dowling’s current work focuses on an on-going, progressive, and interactive installation project about individual identities within community. These installations are influenced by the creative and collaborative work of hundreds of community participants from around the world: both children and adults; homeless populations; a multitude of races, ethnicities, sexual identities and genders; those with abilities, disabilities and illnesses; and from all education levels. Each installation represents the diversity of identities within a community, examines the strength and character of the people, and imparts powerful stories of individual worth and empowerment.