Linda Hill is art project director at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, but she’s much more than that. She’s in charge of helping to put smiles on the faces of patients and their families. Learn more about this Memphis art lover and children’s advocate, and find out why you want to make a visit to Le Bonheur.
You have a unique role with Le Bonheur. Describe it for us, and tell us a little about how you came to the role.
My role as art director is much like a curator, in that I commission or purchase art to be placed in all Le Bonheur locations. An expanded feature finds me involved in other aesthetic decisions within the hospital.
Our CEO and President, Meri Armour, moved into our neighborhood with her family in 2007. We met, and a couple of years later she had planned the new hospital and made the determination that art would be important. She asked me to volunteer — she has a knack for getting people to do what they never thought they could do. She knew the new hospital would be state of the art, but it would have no architectural features that would be dazzling, so art would need to play a high-profile role.
Why is art such an important facet of Le Bonheur?
First of all, it was the right thing to do. Doing all that is possible for the scared, confused or even bored child is the leading mission for Le Bonheur, so the visual surroundings needed to transform the hospital experience to the highest degree affordable. Think about all the examples where the visual environment influences your reaction to it. You go into Cracker Barrel, you feel the down-home welcome; you go into an Apple Store, and the sleek décor suggests to you all the smart MIT graduates are in a room somewhere designing the next best phone or watch. You walk into Le Bonheur, and you’re aware that they did all they could do for you by providing innovative art of the highest caliber possible. Therefore, you make that connection, that they are doing the same for my child’s welfare.
When we learned—and I say “we” because (art committee volunteer) Dianne Papasan was an integral partner in putting together this collection—of the caliber of the health care at Le Bonheur, then it was patently obvious that the caliber of the art had to be on par. So it now stands to tell the story of Le Bonheur: we will do all within our power for your child, period. End of story.
How did your personal passion for art develop?
My grandmother took painting lessons from Paul Penczner. I loved the smell of oil paints and turpentine in her studio. My grandfather, when he retired from farming, began sculpting and wheel work, building a ceramics studio. I tried my hand at both art forms, and frankly the art world needs me as a supporter, not a performer.
What’s your single favorite moment you’ve experienced on the job so far?
We have an installation filling three large walls, and there are pieces of paper with the header: “Make a wish, say a prayer, share a blessing, voice a hope.” They are there for everyone to have a voice and be heard. Our chaplains take these, and they are revered and become prayer requests. I saw a teenage boy in a wheelchair unable to write on the paper, so he was dictating to a nurse, who would put his thoughts into words and place them on the wall. I saw a need and I saw the hospital meet that need with grace, innovation and heart. This trumps the countless blessed moments Le Bonheur has given me.
Talk about some of the standout pieces of art in the hospital, and the significance of their placement.
- A 17.5-foot sculpture designed by Jeanne Seagle (Lea Hollands Group handled the fabrication) greets you when you walk in the door. Its title is “I can fly,” and half a million or so pieces of vitreous glass tiles represent the fabric of our city—diverse and beautiful when arranged together. In classical sculpture, what you hold in highest regard you put on a pedestal. The piece features a child on a bird rotating on an oblique.
- Brantley Ellzey rolled over 5,000 pages of our publications on dowels, creating long, straw-shaped tubes of paper. They form a landscape with a large heart over it. The significance is that Le Bonheur is the largest children’s hospital in a five-state region … we are the heart of this vast area.
- Ben Butler has a sculpture of exotic wood blocks engraved with the names of our capital campaign donors. They made the hospital possible, but you have never seen recognition of names done like Ben did it.
- Dolph Smith is so revered that having a large space full of his work is an honor for the hospital. He heard the story that in 1952 the opening balloons were launched with keys on the ends in order to symbolize that all have a key to the hospital, whether they can afford it or not. He was so struck by that philosophy that he created a piece titled “Lift.” It has small dioramas of the life inside the hospital.
- Yvonne Bobo transformed a stark white roof into a metal garden of kinetic flowers. We don’t put TVs in our waiting rooms—kids and parents are surrounded by art. Who knew coming to the hospital would include a museum experience?
- The neuro corridor, where parents may receive a diagnosis of autism, features Joey Evangelisti’s work. He is challenged by autism, yet his silver lining is extraordinary artistic skills. Staff can reassure patients they, too, will find a silver lining.
I hope you can see the thought behind the art! There are so many, I regret leaving out any. Art serves the viewer often for face value, then the backstory is presented and the viewer moves from an intellectual interaction to one of the heart. That is the power of art we want to channel.
What projects does your team currently have in the works at Le Bonheur?
We are so excited about our new outpatient entry and the new approach from the parking garage to the hospital. Meaning, we need to immediately say to that apprehensive child and parent, “This place is different. It is here for you.” The first image they will have is a large-scale exterior sculpture designed and now being fabricated by the talented Tylur French and his team of extraordinary artisans. It will be a feat of physics, as he plans to create sections of metal heart shapes that at certain vantage points will line up to create one large heart of gradient colors.
How do you raise funds for the work you do? How can community members get involved in your mission?
The community sponsorship of art makes my job possible. Without that, we can’t harness the power of art. When people tour the hospital, they learn what an amazing jewel they have in Memphis. The pride they feel is palpable. They didn’t know the extraordinary accomplishments this hospital has achieved in the last eight years–they see how the art tells the story, and they want Le Bonheur to keep on its upward trajectory. Donating to the hospital is how they can be a part of it. I promise it is impossible not to take great pride in all that is being done by Le Bonheur in the hospital and within the community.
What do you like best about living in Memphis?
Memphis has achieved cosmopolitan status without losing its distinctive character, its personality. Each time I hear Memphis referenced in a song, it reminds me how special we are–something made that songwriter choose Memphis to include in the lyrics, because we represent a rich history, a destination, a soul.
Describe your perfect day, if you were free all day long and could do anything you wanted.
I would not wash my hair or put on makeup. I would check emails to find reports of art projects developing with inspiration—meaning the artist hits the mark of sophistication, whimsy and high caliber–and is within budget. I would build fairy houses in my garden out of driftwood, rocks, moss, shells, vines and fossils. I would swim with my German shepherd and read from that pile of publications we all have and call “when I get time.”
What are three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
My garden, my dog and my work
What’s your best piece of advice for others?
Avoid saying, “I don’t know how to do that.” Assume success and sprinkle in a little naïveté. There is always a way.
Thanks to Linda for OD-ing on Diet Coke to answer our early-morning questions, and for inspiring us all to appreciate the beauty around us. Also thanks to photographer Micki Martin for the gorgeous images.
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