Front Page

Next Story

NIH Record

Children's Art Graces CRC Construction Fence

By Rich McManus

Photos by Ernie Branson

On the Front Page...

Student artists cut ribbon opening
fence art project around CRC.

What getting a paper published in a major journal is to a scientist, what landing a fellowship in a prestigious laboratory is to a postdoc, what winning an NIH Director's Award is to an employee here — these successes approximate the pride exhibited by a dozen or so youngsters who visited NIH Apr. 30 for the official unveiling of their artworks, which now grace a small fraction of the extensive construction fencing around the new Clinical Research Center. Twenty colorful illustrations, selected from a pool of some 100 contributions from kids, now decorate a 50-foot segment of the fencing, hinting at the esteem art will have in the new hospital.


The notion of gaining some relief from the eyesore of construction fencing had been a concern of the Division of Engineering Services for a long time. Coincidentally, three important parties were independently considering solutions to the problem: Stella Fiotes, an architect and master planner with the Office of Research Services, had recently joined the Leadership Montgomery Class of 1999, and was expected to craft a community service project as part of her leadership training experience. She and her colleagues, who included the director of the Pathways Schools, seized on the idea of children's art as decor for the fencing, and soon sold the idea to the Children's Inn at NIH.

At the same time, Scott Robinson, Clinical Center construction coordinator, had an idea to involve CC pediatric patients in an art-as-relief project at the CRC. Robinson learned of Fiotes' interest in the project once Fiotes had the support of Leadership Montgomery and was holding brainstorming sessions. Their group expanded to include some CC recreational therapists, and, perhaps most importantly, graphic designer Rayne Ann Wood of the Medical Arts and Photography Branch, ORS, who had also noticed the near-ubiquity of construction barriers on campus and said she "wanted to use this idea for the past 3 years."

NIH deputy director Dr. Ruth Kirschstein (l) meets one of the artists as Rev. Sharon Peters of Pathways Schools looks on.

Together they enlisted the aid, most crucially, of some creative kids at both the Children's Inn and at the Pathways Schools, which operate six therapeutic educational programs in metropolitan Washington, to do the art. Noted Fiotes, "The biggest challenge was having the children, many of them quite ill, prepare the art at different times and different locations" over a 6-week period. The easy part was securing support from Clinical Center director Dr. John Gallin, ORS Director Steve Ficca and other authorities; the project charmed them from the start. They wanted the kids to have a chance to put their mark on a project of great significance to them.

Wood's responsibility was to capture the kids' creations — done in paint, crayon, magic marker, papier mache, and other media — on four mesh panels measuring 6 by 12 feet. Boasted her boss, MAPB Design Section Chief Linda Brown, "You name it, she can do it."

Architect and master planner Stella Fiotes

Wood selected 20 illustrations from some 100 submissions of children's art ("Some of it was kind of scary," she laughs). Using a digital scanner, she made computer layouts with the color images, then sent them to a specialty house in New York City for conversion into the mesh panels, durable enough to last a couple of years in any weather. Leadership Montgomery also asked Wood to link a vocabulary of innocence and optimism to the murals; she used terms such as "friends," "health," "happy," and "life," which appear both horizontally and vertically amid the images, "to connect the various elements, and indicate what we're about."

The overall effect is so appealing that NIH wants more. "Everyone feels the uplifting, heartwarming spirit of this project," said Ficca, who applauded the partnering of various community groups with NIH in bringing the project to completion. Arriving late at the ribboncutting due to an emergency meeting, NIH deputy director Dr. Ruth Kirschstein added her kudos: "It's absolutely terrific," she told the young artists. "Please come back and do some more."

Fiotes, an architect who has been involved in master planning and community relations for many years, acknowledged that construction cranes are becoming landmarks of the campus nowadays, and that fences are sprouting up everywhere. She said the project was about "adding beauty for patients, employees, visitors and neighbors. It's about people coming together to make things happen. But mainly it's about children, and their creativity. This is the first of what we hope will be many phases" of children's art decorating public spaces at NIH.

Gil Brown, executive director of Children's Inn

Gil Brown, executive director of the Children's Inn, said, "This is a tremendous opportunity for kids to express themselves through visual art...and an outlet for those youngsters in medical crisis." He also laughingly applauded the project as improving the view from his office window.

Rev. Sharon Peters, executive director of Pathways Schools, which enroll students ages 9 to 21 who have emotional and behavioral disabilities, said she was honored that students from her school were chosen for the initial part of the project. "We got a videotape from the inn describing how it evolved on the NIH campus. Most of our students didn't know what NIH was. There were some very moving stories in that video, which inspired our student-artists." The project also enlightened Pathways students about careers at NIH, she said. "It was a very significant project for our students," she concluded. "They learned that they can contribute to the beauty of the world."

Rev. Sharon Peters of Pathways Schools

The NIH and community partners said they are looking forward to more children's art on the CRC fence, and Wood hopes one day to expand her vision indoors at NIH: "I'd like to do something with the Visitor Information Center — that's a dynamic space just begging to be filled with something, using a similar kind of two-sided fabric hung from the ceiling."


Graphic designer Rayne Ann Wood (c) poses with artists Clifton Williams and Maria Mendoza.

Those interested in supporting the effort to install more vibrant children's art — including the beach scenes, fantastic faces, animals, flora and fauna currently on display — may contact Jan Mayes, director of development at the inn, 496-5672.

Up to Top