Murals By 'Changing Images' At The Imagine Center For Coping With Loss

Sean Adams/WCBS 880

Stories From Main Street: 'Changing Images' Promotes Healing Through Art

July 22, 2018 - 12:00 am
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MOUNTAINSIDE, N.J. (WCBS 880) -- Can art help heal?

As WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reported in this week’s edition of “Stories from Main Street,” Arlene Sullivan believes she has a prescription for anyone who is anxious and unsettled in a cold, sterile hospital. She says art is medicine for the soul.

And when she looks at a bland, beige hospital wall, she sees a blank canvas.

“If you’re walking down the hallway to go to a waiting room, what would you like to see? Would you like to see fish swimming down the hall, or would you like to see butterflies flying down the hallway taking you there?” Sullivan said.

Murals By 'Changing Images' At The Imagine Center For Coping With Loss
Sean Adams/WCBS 880

For the past 20 years, the high school art teacher has been painting colorful murals at hospitals, nursing homes, and shelters.

Sullivan founded her nonprofit, Changing Images, after a health scare with her newborn son.

“My youngest son was in the hospital. When he was two weeks old, a blood vessel broke in his head. We had no idea what happened. And he went into a seizure – two weeks old, you know, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh,’” she said.

They spent an agonizing two months at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson.

“You’re listening to beeps that you have no idea what they correspond to. You’re looking at wires,” Sullivan said.

She was also looking at drab, dreary walls.

“When you’re in a very sterile environment, and you’re already stressed out, and you’re listening, like I said, to these beeps and what have you, it makes a difference to see something that brings you back home,” Sullivan said.

Murals By 'Changing Images' At The Imagine Center For Coping With Loss
Sean Adams/WCBS 880

Her murals can also guide people back to their rooms.

“OK, I can go out of my room, because I’m right across from the giraffes, or I’m right across from a big garden with irises,” she said.

Sullivan draws the animals and nature scenes. People at each facility help with the painting.

“We’ll go in. We’ll talk to people, ‘What would you like to see on the walls?’” she said.

Murals By 'Changing Images' At The Imagine Center For Coping With Loss
Sean Adams/WCBS 880

Once they come up with some ideas, Sullivan will do the designs, and sometimes put on a coat of color on the wall first.

“And then people that are there, we say, here’s a brush, help us out,” she said.

At the Imagine Center for Coping with Loss in Mountainside, there is a parade of technicolor pachyderms gracing the wall thanks to Sullivan.

“We have an elephant in every room, because death is frequently the elephant that no one talks about, and here, we have to remind people that they get to talk about it,” said program director Mandy Zucker. “They get to say the name of the person that died.”

Murals By 'Changing Images' At The Imagine Center For Coping With Loss
Sean Adams/WCBS 880

Changing Images is a nonprofit. There is only one kind of payment that Sullivan requires.

“They turn the corner, and you hear, (Gasp!) And it was like, ‘Yeah! You know, we did it! You know, we did it!” she said.