Interfaith uses art and medicine to promote healing

Eulene Inniss | 10/2/2014, 4:21 p.m.

Interfaith Medical Center, located on Atlantic Avenue in Crown Heights, was created in 1983 through the merging of St. John’s Episcopal Hospital and Jewish Hospital Medical Center. Recently, it has had a tough period of pulling and swaying between those who advocated for closure and those who felt it had staying power. Its foundation, at times, was shaken to the core by a foreboding forecast.

And then it happened! With a court order to stay open and the installation of new leadership, the once-toxic environment has been replaced by smiles and a willingness to work in collaboration with the community and its leaders. Melanie L. Cyganowski, Interfaith’s chief restructuring officer, and her team have been implementing a new and bold strategy of using art to enhance quality health care for the community. With this new philosophy, they hope to steadily create a vibrant community hospital—the process beginning with staff, patients and visitors being introduced to an art exhibit ceremony Friday, Sept. 19.

An oasis of lights illuminate the lobby and waiting area, which have now come alive with the colorful work of professional local artists. It is believed that art forces us to think and it can help solve one’s intimate and ordinary dilemmas. Experts say that it can provide powerful solutions as we ask ordinary questions, and to this end, Interfaith used a series of art across all genres. Bed-Stuy native and renowned artist Joseph Grant, along with other African-American artists, including A. Badi, Annie E.E. and Bryan Laford, brought some of their most elegant pieces to be placed permanently in Interfaith.

This groundbreaking event unfolded in an evening of splendor and tantalizing conversations, as each community resident brought his or her own interpretation to each piece of art. The young and talented master musician Hasani Arthur skillfully played his trumpet in the background to create the perfect ambiance.

Each artist told a story of his journey from obscurity to fame. They all survived educational environments in which Black artists are in the minority, and with their acquired fame, they have chosen to support their community and share their talents with those who enter Interfaith bringing or visiting the sick.

Councilman Robert Cornegy shared in the excitement of the new venture. He was glad to see the “hospital reflect the community and become an extended part of the community through arts and culture. The event was an opportunity to marry the community back to the hospital. The staff is excited. The administration wants to change the image, and now that the staff has it in their belly, it will generate a feeling of inclusion— the byproduct of which cannot be measured,” he said.

Dr. Peter Nnaemeka, a surgeon, said that “the hospital went through a period of stagnation, but the new leadership crew brings enthusiasm, a desire to listen and act. There is new energy and we excel.”

Lorenza Steel Jr. and his young daughters Zaire, 8, and Ashante, 6, who reside on Long Island, came to meet the artists and view the exhibit. Zaire said she liked the art because “it calms me down.” This is exactly the type of effect Interfaith hopes this permanent art exhibit will have on all those who pass through its doors.