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St. Mary’s brings healing power of the arts to children

Five-year-old Sophia examines a plaster mold of her legs. Photo by Phil Corso
TimesLedger Newspapers

Sophia, 5, sat perched up in a chair while Bronx sculptor John Ahearn covered her legs in bandages. Surrounded by already sculpted hands portraits from other children, she could hardly sit still as she anxiously waited for her plaster-cast portrait to be finished.

“Wee! I love it,” Sophia said as the plaster started to harden over her. “It’s messy. I like messy.”

By the time the life casting was finished, Ahearn revealed to her a hardened portrait of her legs — the same legs she was anxious to show off once she was done with a guided walk across the room before returning to her motorized chair.

“For Sophia, she is now part of something about creation and not limitation,” said Dr. Dawn Cuglietto, director of behavior health at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children in Bayside. “This is a very tangible thing. She can hold onto a piece of her history.”

With help from advisory firm Suzanne Randolph Fine Arts, St. Mary’s launched an Arts for Healing program with the goal to provide children with a complete process to rehabilitate and grow. The program, the hospital said, strives to surround patients, families and caregivers with a range of sensory experiences to act as a resource to help kids meet their objectives.

“We want this program to be able to remove the kids from the everyday realities of sickness and help them heal,” said Leslie Johnson, St. Mary’s’ director of communications and marketing. “It is really a collective effort, which is a wonderful thing for the children.”

Marcus Mitchell, an art adviser with Suzanne Randolph, said he helped organize the multi-faceted program to bring something different to a new building being built on the St. Mary’s campus, at 29-01 216th St. in Bayside. He said through donations, and by reaching out to the arts community, the group was able to secure artwork to beautify the new environment with hopes of healing by inspiring the children.

“We want the kids to feel like it is a home away from home,” Mitchell said.

Not far away from the life casting, contemporary artist Beatrice Coron remarked over a large intricate paper full of drawings inspired by a dream session with some children at the hospital. From a tree that grows fruit, money and snacks to a big-screen television, Coron helped the kids tell their own story through her artistic medium.

“We got a lot of ideas from everybody,” Coron said, surrounded by children pointing at their ideas on the large canvas.

The work, Johnson said, will be permanently installed at the new building on the campus so the children can share their best ideas.

“The right healing environment marries medicine and rehab along with complimentary care and therapeutic activities like music and art,” Johnson said. “We hope to spark creativity and imagination so the staff and kids can be completely immersed in art.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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