Curate art for City of Hope

Photo by Emily J. Davis

I I was asked by City of Hope Orange County President Annette Walker if I would be interested in curating a rotating gallery of Orange County artists. The concept was for living, breathing artists with living, breathing work that could keep the space alive in an area that could be scary for people to be at a scary time in their lives.

I had just lost my younger sister to brain cancer, which was a shock to me. She was as healthy as anyone in our family and had just spent the summer months here. She left in August to bring her family back to school in Dallas. One morning she woke up and her speech was slurred. She couldn’t put a sentence together and they thought she had a stroke. After numerous tests, they found out that she had an inoperable glioblastoma tumor. After a year she was dead. It was so shocking to all of us. So when this opportunity came up, I immediately said yes because I understand how cancer can affect lives.

The rotating gallery really keeps the facility alive and doesn’t make it feel like a hospital. The art had to be by artists who live or work in Orange County, and it had to be about familiarity and comfort so people feel like they’re walking into their living room. It aims to remind patients of the places they love, to make them say, “Oh, I know this place! This reminds me of Crystal Cove” or “This reminds me of when I was a teenager!” or whatever their connection to art is.

My experience in the art world dates back to the 1980s when I had to find a way to provide for my three children on my own. I wanted to stay in the art world, so I got another diploma in secondary art education. I went to work as an art teacher and then the opportunity arose to be one of the founding directors of the Visual Arts Department at the Orange County School of the Arts. My career there was 18 years. I ended up teaching elsewhere, founded an art conservatory along the way, and still do consulting work at Santa Margarita Catholic High School today. I said yes because I love art and because my personality is to say yes. This sometimes causes me problems because I get overwhelmed, but I also think it makes life exciting. Sometimes you can say yes and think, “That was one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

When I got responses from my call to artists, people were so excited and saying, “I’d love to be a part of this project.” I believe that every artist has been affected by cancer, whether it’s a family member, themselves, or a loved one . They all immediately said yes when they were chosen to be part of the initial show we put on. They were so proud to be a part of the gallery, and each of them said it several times at our opening in August: “I’m so proud to be a part of this project that impacts lives every day.”

Reviews of doctors and nurses are positive. They all have favorite walls and favorite pieces, and when we told them this art was going to be (rotated), they were thrilled. All of this will be constantly changing, living and breathing with the patients who come here.
“As told to McKenna Sulick.”

Photo courtesy of City of Hope

“When designing the interior of our cancer center, we talked to hundreds of people and consulted many experts. We wanted to make sure that when patients and their families walk into this space, the only thing they feel is welcome. And after being welcomed, you too feel confident and reassured and can begin to heal. Nancy sought out artists whose work offered people comfort, reassurance and hope. She understood how to display the pieces so they could be experienced and enjoyed in the best possible setting. Now patients and their families can pause, reflect and ultimately benefit from the healing energy of the artwork that surrounds them. Nancy, we appreciate your time and talents – they are wonderful and a treasure. We can’t thank you enough for gracing these walls with your creative talents.”

Annette Walker, Orange County City President

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