Roosevelt House opens New Exhibition:
Healing Walls: Health and Art in New Deal New York
Celebrates Federal Art Project hospital murals funded by the New Deal;
Marks new book about the hospital murals created by NYC Health + Hospitals
with support from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund
Exhibition runs November 23, 2022-February 24, 2023
Exhibition Preview and Public Program Tuesday November 22
Preview begins at 5:30 pm. Program begins at 6:30 pm
(NEW YORK, NOVEMBER 21, 2022)—To mark the publication of Healing Walls: New York City Health + Hospitals Community Mural Project 2019-2021, the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College is presenting a new exhibition: Healing Walls: Health and Art in New Deal New York. The book and exhibition are supported by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. The exhibition and book will be previewed at an event at Roosevelt House on November 22 from 5:30-7:30 pm.
The exhibition features the display—for the first time in more than 40 years—of two rescued, surviving panels from the original Alice in Wonderland Visiting New York mural series. They graced the walls of Gouverneur Hospital in Lower Manhattan from the New Deal era until the facility’s demolition in 1981. All of the restored murals from the series are reproduced for the first time in the publication Healing Walls.
The exhibition focuses through text and images on the major New Deal program that hired artists to paint murals in a wide variety of public buildings, including 18 hospitals in New York City. Funding was allocated through the Federal Art Program, a signature project of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal to restore the American economy by employing Americans from every walk of life. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt proved a key figure in persuading the President to approve a wide-ranging public art project. It was the first time that the government financed a national program to support the arts, including music, dance, theater, and writers as well as the painters and sculptors.
On November 22 at 5:30 pm Roosevelt House will preview the exhibition and then present the free program Healing Walls: Historic and Collaborative Murals at New York City’s Public Hospitals. The program features the book’s co-editor Rick Luftglass, the Executive Director of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, in conversation with Dr. Eric Wei, the hospital system’s Senior Vice President; Barbara Haskell, Whitney Museum curator; and Larissa Trinder, Senior Director of the NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine program. (Online reservations required, and online viewing available.)
“We are proud of the role that the Illumination Fund has played in the creation of the 26 new murals at New York City Health + Hospitals, the largest public hospital system in our country. The Community Mural Project is the largest mural project in a public hospital system since the WPA.” said Laurie Tisch, founder and president of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. “We created this book to bring all of the murals together in one place—not only to document them and tell a little more of their history, but also to thank the artists and more than 1500 hospital employees, community members, healthcare workers, and others who gave their time and offered their creative energy to bring the murals to fruition. We hope that Healing Walls will be a source of pride and a reminder of the ways that art can enliven and improve hospital settings.”
Commented Jennifer J. Raab, President of Hunter College: “We are honored to salute both FDR’s legacy and our generous friend Laurie Tisch’s imaginative philanthropy with this new exhibit focused on New York City hospital murals. When FDR’s New Deal programs helped fund the city’s hospital murals, it marked the first time government had ever sponsored the fine arts at that scale. Similarly, in its own art program, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund has been sponsoring a new generation of murals for the benefit of patients, health care workers, and the communities they serve. We are proud to mark this continuity of purpose at Roosevelt House.”
Harold Holzer, Jonathan F. Fanton Director at Roosevelt House, noted: “It is a particular privilege to exhibit the murals that once adorned Gouverneur Hospital before it was closed in 1970. Roosevelt House is committed to remembering FDR’s legacy in many ways: by offering Hunter students undergraduate education in public policy and human rights, by hosting public programs on these topics along with Roosevelt-era history, and by exhibiting art and relics that illuminate our mission. This new exhibit reflects our commitments beautifully—and reminds us of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s belief that art should be respected and supported in good and challenging times alike.”
The exhibition of Healing Walls is made possible at Roosevelt House thanks to a grant from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.
The introductory section of Healing Walls introduces visitors to the New Deal’s programs to improve public health and to provide employment for artists. Federal funds dispersed through the Public Works Program and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) paid for new hospitals, community health clinics, public health research, and the services of numerous health professionals. This made health care available to more New Yorkers, leading to declines in disease and deaths. Public health campaigns widely disseminated information about nutrition, childcare, vaccination, treatment, and medical care. The bridge between these health initiatives and art evolved when Eleanor Roosevelt and others approached President Roosevelt to recommend expanding New Deal employment programs to artists. He was persuaded to agree with Harry Hopkins, head of the WPA reminded him that “even artists have to eat.”
Launched in 1935, the Federal Art Program (FAP) would eventually employ over 10,000 artists. Mural painting was one of the FAP divisions and in New York, about 250 murals were commissioned for public buildings including 18 hospitals. The murals were deemed both educational and therapeutic and many doctors supported the program because they thought it benefitted their patients by creating environments that were pleasant, soothing, and even inspirational. The happiness that the nursery rhyme and circus themes brought to pediatric patients were especially valued for their contribution to the children’s recovery. Artists in the Poster Division of the FAP designed posters that were distributed by the thousands to alert people to medical services as well the free arts programs that were available at FAP funded community art centers.
The rest of the exhibition focuses on six historic, New Deal hospital mural projects — now restored for public viewing — that are representative in style and content of all that were created for the hospitals and medical services funded by the New Deal. The murals celebrated the evolution of medicine from primitive origins to modern science, amused pediatric patients with illustrations of fairy tales, documented American history, and even introduced the public to abstract art.
A highlight of the exhibition is the first public viewing of two recently restored panels from Abram Champanier’s mural, Alice in Wonderland Visiting New York (1938-40). The panels were rescued 40 years ago during the demolition of Gouverneur Hospital in Lower Manhattan in the 1980s and have not been seen in public since then. Other FAP hospital murals have been lost, but during the last three decades, the New York City Heath+Hospitals Arts in Medicine project has made a concerted effort to document and restore surviving work, and also to commission new murals—continuing an inspiring and innovative project of the New Deal.
Healing Walls is curated by Deborah Gardner, Historian/Curator at Roosevelt House. Assistance with design and production was provided by Roosevelt House staff members Daniel Culkin and Aaron Lee Fineman. Additional assistance was provided by Larissa Trinder, Senior Director New York City Health+Hospitals Arts in Medicine Program, and Rick Luftglass, Executive Director of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, along with Jan Rothschild and Barbara Haskell.
The exhibition is open for viewing beginning November 23, Monday-Friday, 10:00 am-4:00 PM, and during special evening events.
The show occupies the historic east and west galleries on the main floor of the Roosevelt family’s New York City home from 1908 to 1941, at 47-49 East 65th Street. Hunter College acquired the house from the Roosevelts in 1942 and Eleanor attended its dedication as a student center in November 1943. The Four Freedoms, enunciated by President Roosevelt and depicted by artist Norman Rockwell in 1943, are an organic part of Roosevelt House.
The original World War II-era posters are displayed continuously in the building’s Four Freedoms Room (the onetime dining rooms of the Roosevelt family); while President Roosevelt’s original words are engraved in the wall of the auditorium.
Roosevelt House and Hunter College
Roosevelt House re-opened in 2010 as a public policy institute honoring the distinguished legacy of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt by educating students in public policy and human rights, supporting faculty research, fostering creative dialogue, and making the Roosevelts’ achievements available through tours, exhibits, and public programs. The Institute provides opportunities for students to analyze public policy and experience meaningful civic engagement; for faculty to research, teach, and write about important issues of the day; and for scholarly and public audiences to participate in high-profile lectures, seminars, and conferences.
Hunter College, located in the heart of Manhattan, is the largest CUNY senior college. Founded in 1870, it is also one of the oldest public colleges in the country. More than 23,000 students currently attend Hunter, pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in 170 areas of study. Hunter’s student body is as diverse as New York City itself. For almost a century and a half, Hunter has provided educational opportunities for women and minorities, and today, students from every walk of life and every corner of the world attend Hunter.
The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund is a New York City-based foundation that strives to improve access and opportunity for all New Yorkers and foster healthy and vibrant communities. The Illumination Fund plays an active role in supporting innovative approaches across a range of issues – ensuring that the arts and arts education are accessible to all, promoting civic service, and promoting economic opportunity. In 2018, the Illumination Fund launched Arts in Health, a $10-million multi-year initiative to support organizations working on health issues that impact New York communities and that emphasize the arts as a tool for healing and building understanding. The initiative’s areas of focus include the unique role of the arts in addressing mental illness stigma, trauma, and aging-related diseases. In 2019 the Illumination Fund supported the creation of the NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine Program, expanding programs serving healthcare staff, patients and communities in sites across the City. The grant also enabled NYC Health + Hospitals to launch new programs that use the arts as a resource to promote employee wellness and resilience and to combat compassion fatigue. In 2021, in part due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Illumination Fund expanded its focus areas to include the arts in mental health targeted especially to communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic. For more information, visit www.lmtif.org or follow @LMTischFund on Twitter.
Contact: Harold Holzer (Roosevelt House): 212-396-6535 / 646-894-6902
Jan Rothschild (Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund): 917-991-1126 /215-983-2157