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NYC Health + Hospitals Presents First-Ever Exhibition to Showcase Art from Both Rikers Island and Its Own Collection

Creating Within – presented at NYC Health + Hospitals/Woodhull and on Bloomberg Connects – invites viewers to reflect on, and to celebrate, the power of creative expression to sustain health and wellness, to support self-empowerment, and to transcend literal and abstract boundaries

NYC Health + Hospitals/Correctional Health Services’ Creative Arts Therapy program is the oldest and largest jail-based arts therapy program in the nation

Dec 05, 2023

Upper left: “October Kimono,” by William Greenwood, a selection from the NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine collection on display in Creating Within; bottom left: “Untitled,” by Audencio N., a former patient of NYC Health + Hospitals/Correctional Health Services on Rikers Island

Brooklyn, NY — Beginning today, NYC Health + Hospitals presents Creating Within: Art from Rikers and the NYC Health + Hospitals Art Collection, the health system’s first-ever exhibition to showcase creative works by individuals detained on Rikers Island alongside selections from its own art collection. Creating Within invites viewers to reflect on, and to celebrate, the power of creative expression to sustain health and wellness, to support self-empowerment and to transcend literal and abstract restraints under even the most challenging conditions. It features art, songs, and writing by participants in NYC Health + Hospitals/Correctional Health Services’ (CHS) Creative Arts Therapy program – the oldest and largest jail-based arts therapy program in the nation – and complementary works from the health system’s art collection, one of the largest public art collections in New York City. The exhibition is on display at NYC Health + Hospitals/Woodhull for staff and patients through March 2025. It is accessible to the public indefinitely internationally through the Bloomberg Connects app and CHS website.

“We know that CHS patients in mental observation units on Rikers experience significant therapeutic benefits from working with our dedicated team of creative arts therapists,” said Barbara Bethea, Associate Director of the NYC Health + Hospitals/Correctional Health Services Creative Arts Therapy Department. “But the art they create is more than an outlet for their emotions and a way for them to learn about themselves. On display for members of the Woodhull community and the public, alongside works from the NYC Health + Hospitals collection, it is a testament to their creativity and resilience.”

“By intertwining works from the NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine collection with the artwork from CHS patients in New York City jails, Creating Within demonstrates that the language and healing benefits of the arts are universal, linking individuals, cultures, and communities,” said Naomi Huth, Director of Art Collection for NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine. “This exhibition asks viewers to experience the world from the perspective of people detained on Rikers and to appreciate the transformative, humanizing, and connective power of art—not just in therapeutic spaces, but in all environments.”

“NYC Health + Hospitals’ Arts in Medicine department is proud to offer exhibitions as another way to support our patients and staff,” said NYC Health + Hospitals Assistant Vice President of Arts in Medicine Larissa Trinder.“Creating Within, which includes patient and staff artwork alongside the historic art collection that the health system stewards, will further deepen the diversity and accessibility of all works and contributes to healing environments. Today’s exhibition demonstrates a stellar collaboration between Woodhull Hospital, Correctional Health Services, Arts in Medicine and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.”

Creating Within is a collaboration between NYC Health + Hospitals’ Arts in Medicine and CHS’ Creative Arts Therapy, two programs that use creative practices to foster emotional well-being and promote healing for the health system’s patients. The exhibition is supported operationally by Woodhull Hospital, which provides inpatient and outpatient care for residents of North Brooklyn, and is funded by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, a New York City-based foundation that strives to improve access and opportunity for all New Yorkers and to foster healthy and vibrant communities.

The vast majority of people that CHS cares for in the City’s jails identify as Black and/or Latinx and are being detained pre-trial; more than half have a mental health diagnosis. CHS’ Creative Arts Therapy participants attend individual and group sessions with licensed creative arts therapists as part of their mental health treatment while they are detained on Rikers; their works comprise more than half of the exhibition’s display and speak to the healing nature of the artmaking process. These garments, drawings, collages, songs, and other creations explore a wide range of feelings—including loss, regret, defiance, hope, and love—and transcend the geographical, architectural, social, and psychological restrictions of incarceration.

“Art expands the imagination and sets you free,” said CHS patient Mitchell R. “It’s a way of expressing yourself. It’s good for your health.” Extensive research demonstrates that arts programs for incarcerated individuals lead to improved self-confidence, self-esteem, emotional stability, and well-being, and decreased hopelessness and anger.  Exhibitions of their artwork have also helped them feel “seen” by people in the community, serving as a bridge between those inside and outside carceral facilities.

Creating Within honors the inherent value of CHS patients’ art and their perspectives by showcasing it among analogous selections from the diverse and inclusive NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine collection. These include paintings and mixed media works by Charles Abramson, Martha Boyden, Cynthia Carlson, Manuel Garcia, William Gatewood, Lloyd McNeill, and Antonio Navia. Many of these artists, like their incarcerated counterparts, have explored their marginalized identities and unique artistic perspectives by repurposing unconventional forms of media, including buttons, pre-fabricated garments, price tags, and vellum paper.

NYC Health + Hospitals/Woodhull offers an ideal setting for Creating Within as a place of healing, the future site of a secure, clinical unit for CHS patients with serious health conditions, and the home of two Keith Haring murals. The mural lining the exhibition walls represents the artist’s lifelong commitment to the principles of inclusivity and social justice through his advocacy around HIV/AIDS. While painting the mural in 1986 as a gift to the hospital, Haring socialized with staff, patients, and visitors. In his project proposal, he wrote that “the work should be positive, uplifting, unaggressive, imaginative, and comforting.” As a frame for the exhibition, it reminds Woodhull staff and visitors of the enduring impact that art can have in advocating for positive change and in fostering a sense of community.

“Woodhull is honored to host the Creating Within exhibition and to provide a forum for our patients, staff and community members to view these pieces that demonstrate the creative spirit of these talented artists,” said NYC Health + Hospitals/Woodhull COO Dr. Lisa Scott-McKenzie. “Art has a way of transforming minds and hearts while promoting a greater sense of deep reflection and connectivity with the world around us.  To offer these works in an active healing environment will help to foster healthy minds and bodies.  Woodhull Hospital has a reputation for supporting our local artists, as well as displaying such prominent works as our Keith Haring mural.  We are grateful to have the opportunity to do our part in conjunction with Arts in Medicine, CHS, and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. We look forward to continuing our great partnership.”

“We are proud to support the Arts in Medicine program at NYC Health + Hospitals,” said founder and president of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund Laurie Tisch. “Woodhull hospital has long been a pioneer in connecting with the arts community in Brooklyn and it holds some of the most exciting works in the NYC Health + Hospitals collection. Creating Within invites people to think about the ways the arts can bring about profound change for the better.”

Creating Within is also accessible to the public internationally in a print catalog and through the Bloomberg Connects app. The app features an expansive digital gallery of additional artworks and a collection of immersive songs and poignant written compositions inspired by CHS patients’ experiences. Each piece tells its own unique story of creative expression and resilience in the face of adversity. Use the QR code to go directly to the NYC Health + Hospitals section of the app:

Members of the public interested in arranging a private tour of the exhibition in person can email ArtsinMedicine@nychhc.org.

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MEDIA CONTACT: Nicole Levy, NYC Health + Hospitals/Correctional Health Services, levyn4@nychhc.org

Jan Rothschild, Rothschild & Associates, Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, 917-891-1126

About NYC Health + Hospitals/Correctional Health Services
Correctional Health Services (CHS), a division of NYC Health + Hospitals, is the direct provider of health care in New York City’s jails. Our in-jail services include: medical, nursing, and mental health care; social work services; substance-use treatment; dental and vision care; discharge planning; and reentry support. In addition to providing direct patient care, CHS leverages the resources of the nation’s largest municipal health care system to help discharged patients successfully return to their communities. CHS is also a pivotal partner in New York City’s criminal-legal reform efforts.

About NYC Health + Hospitals’ Arts in Medicine Program
The Arts in Medicine department at NYC Health + Hospitals seeks to foster the emotional well-being and promote healing and wellness for all patients and their families, employees, and the greater community by utilizing the arts, including literary, visual, and performing arts throughout the health care system. In addition to managing the system’s significant visual arts collection, the Arts in Medicine department encourages evidenced based practices and provides technical assistance to all of the system’s health care facilities and clinics. This is accomplished by combining artistic innovation and education into a comprehensive health care continuum that supports the healing benefits of the arts. For more information, visit https://www.nychealthandhospitals.org/artsinmedicine/.

About NYC Health + Hospitals/Woodhull
NYC Health + Hospitals/Woodhull, part of the NYC Health + Hospitals health care system, is the major tertiary care provider in the borough of Brooklyn. It is a premiere health care organization for key specialties, including surgery, cardiology, women’s health, pediatrics, rehabilitation medicine, renal services, and behavioral health services. Last year, the hospital received close to 300,000 ambulatory care visits and close to 100,000 emergency room visits. For more information, visit www.nychealthandhospitals.org and stay connected on Facebook.

About the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund
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 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 role of the arts in addressing mental illness stigma, trauma, and aging-related diseases. In 2019 the Illumination Fund supported the creation of NYC Health + Hospitals Arts in Medicine Program, expanding programs serving health care staff, patients, and communities in sites across the City. The partnership 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. The Illumination Fund’s support to organizations goes beyond funding, as it serves as a connector and convener to enable robust collaboration across the City. In 2021, in part due to the Covid 19 Pandemic, the Illumination Fund expanded its focus areas to include the arts in mental health. For more information, visit www.lmtif.org or follow @LMTischFund on Twitter.

About NYC Health + Hospitals
NYC Health + Hospitals is the largest municipal health care system in the nation. We are a network of 11 hospitals, trauma centers, neighborhood health centers, nursing homes, and post-acute care centers. We are a home care agency and a health plan, MetroPlus. Our health system provides essential services to more than one million New Yorkers every year in more than 50 locations across the city’s five boroughs. Our diverse workforce of more than 43,000 employees is uniquely focused on empowering New Yorkers, without exception, to live the healthiest life possible. For more information, visit www.nychealthandhospitals.org and stay connected on FacebookTwitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.