“I want you to think about someone who might not be feeling well, and what they might want to look at that might help them feel better.”
Cynthia Perlis, grandparent of Reid B. ’29 and founder of UCSF’s Art for Recovery
As the Sixth Grade Art class considered this prompt from Cynthia Perlis, each student carefully took one 6x6" blank canvas and painting supplies back to their desk. The students were asked to reflect on the theme of “Hope, Healing, and Gratitude” and what symbols, colors, and images might be uplifting to a patient sitting in a waiting room. They might be scared, perhaps tired, and most likely both. One by one, students created an original painting to be hung en masse as part of an art installation in the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at Mission Bay in San Francisco.
“After retiring after 32 years as Director of Art for Recovery program at UCSF,” the visiting Ms. Perlis explains, “I was recently asked by the UCSF interior architects if I would help facilitate painting workshops with patients and the community for one of UCSF’s new buildings to be completed by February 2024. After meeting [Middle School Art Teacher] Sally Houston, I thought it would be a great service opportunity for San Domenico students to create canvases that would have meaning to the cancer patients who will view them.” The paintings will be hung in patient waiting rooms, where they may provide patients and their loved ones some relief from their anxieties.
“I asked the students to let their creativity flow,” says Ms. Perlis, “and told them they were free to use prayers, images, words, flowers, whatever they think might help people feel trusting and inspired while facing their appointments at the Cancer Center.”
The students loved this assignment, and many created more than one canvas. “I loved doing this so much, I did two!” exclaimed Nora P. ’29. “What was fun was thinking about the people and what would make them smile.”
“I thought of the most peaceful place I could imagine—Alaska—so I drew an aurora borealis,” shared Braelyn R. ’29.
“We worked together on ours,” declared Rawlings S. ’29 and Belle R. ’29, “and used all the symbols of peace.”
Leona B. shared about her deep reflection and process. “I wrote peace in Sanskrit, Ukrainian, Hawaiian, Spanish, and Chinese. And I used green, blue, and purple for new beginnings, calm, and prosperity. I didn’t use just one skin color on the hands holding the heart, because we are all different skin colors, and I wanted it to be inclusive.”
More about Cynthia Perlis and Art for Recovery: In 2004, as Director of UCSF Ernest H. Rosenbaum Art for Recovery Program (a program that offers the expressive arts including music, artmaking, and writing to adults dealing with cancer and life-threatening illness), Cindy Perlis began an innovative community-building program to provide original art for UCSF medical buildings. She began by offering canvas painting workshops (at that time they used 4’x4’ canvases) to UCSF patients, physicians, housekeeping and security staff, medical students, and our medical staff. With inspiration, and the guarantee that everyone could make art, over 400 canvases were created and are permanently displayed to this day at the UCSF Mount Zion Campus. “As we say, the rest is history,” shared Perlis, “as all UCSF departments wanted to build community through the canvas workshops.”
Over the years, and throughout all UCSF campuses, hundreds of canvas workshops have been offered, and thousands of 6x6” canvases have been created. These canvases are displayed in the UCSF Helen Diller Family Cancer Center at Mission Bay, in the Adult Hospital, in UCSF Mount Zion, and in patient exam rooms at our UCSF Berkeley Cancer Center, and many other sites.