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Republic Children's Hospital, We Are Finished, 4/16/06
"Are we finished?" said Olga Kutnetsova, vice president of academics at the East Siberian Academy of Culture as she sat back in her chair in the Republic Children's Hospital in-patient cafeteria watching me place the painting she, Ayuna, Nicholi and I had been working on up against the wall. It was Saturday evening about 8:30 P.M.
"Yes," I said. "Both patient rooms and the cafeteria are done, and we are now finished with the paintings that will be installed on the ceilings above the beds of the four intensive care rooms at the Ulan Ude Children's Hospital No. 2. The paintings and photographs for the two waiting rooms were approved and accepted and the fourteen door images have been sealed in plastic and will be installed by the staff tomorrow."
"I am glad. Each day I think, will today be the last day. But of course it isn't. I now dream of fish in my sleep."
"Each hospital added more work. The nurses at Hospital No. 2 wanted the small hall by the orphan rooms included and here we were asked to do another patient room. As people see the difference the art makes to the hospital environment they want more."
"What about the TB Hospital and Maternity Hospital?" said Ayuna.
"The work at these two hospitals ended up being more complex, and with going to Orlik and Vladivostok, plus wrapping up the Academy work and the lectures for the Forestry College, it wasn't possible to work at the TB and Maternity hospitals as well. I felt it better to do a good job at these hospitals and work on the others in the future. These now serve as models and we have many trained people who can carry the work forward."
Indeed we did. Many had talents they never realized. Olga started from never using a roller to paint walls to balancing between two ladders arm out stretched delicately painting decorative details near a ceiling and leading a team of volunteers painting a complex motif for the cafeteria wall. She was one of many who contributed their time and skills that included fellow administrators at the academy, hospital cooks, nurses, doctors and patients, and people from throughout Ulan Ude. The past week, since my return from Vladivostok, was particularly intense with decorative arts professor Galena Solntseva, Larisa Andreeva, who works with Olga in academic planning, Elena Kuznetsova, the coordinator of the Academy rector's office, Nicholi Bartanov (Yanzhima's husband) and Aynua, from with Buryatia History Museum, especially putting in many hours, much to the great interest of the young patients. Children often watched for hours on end and with avid fascination every brush stroke laid down by Galena and Elena. Several of the older patients, such as Tanya Maximova, also took brush in hand and joined Larisa, Ayuna and Olga up on the ladders working on the border trim.
Our work at the Republic Children's Hospital took the longest to get off the ground, although it was one of the hospitals I contacted earliest. In many ways, from the standpoint of hospital director Dr. Ayur Zhargalovich, the greater pity was that I had not come much earlier as he had been struggling with the architects responsible for renovating and expanding the hospital to be more bold with color and design, ideas that he had in mind, in part, after having visited medical centers in the United States, Europe and Asia. He often expressed a wish to have had my input in helping to develop an overall aesthetic plan that would unify the sprawling facility of clinics, laboratories, emergency service and in-patient care units and at the same time make it easier to differentiate and find the various services offered, and to improve the atmosphere within each. In addition, he felt that I could have helped bolster his efforts with the architects.
He, hospital vice director Irena Feorovna, and others agreed early on in November to bring in the arts, but looming end of year term demands and January exams at the Academy, and efforts to extend my Fulbright grant, all combined to delay work until at least February. Then it was a question of setting priorities and delegating decision-making - activities that took time. The Ulan Ude Children's Hospital No.2 and the Orlik Hospital were able to take advantage of their more narrow focus and secure my time and our Academy team to launch activities within their facilities as the planning process at the Republic Hospital continued. Then too I had a commitment, as part of my grant extension, to go to Vladivostok. The end result was a hectic final five weeks with much shuttling between hospitals, some on a daily basis.
At the Republic Hospital we agreed to secure art work for two waiting rooms; the first would display photographs of Russian and Buryat children in traditional dress by Nicholi Tsyrempilov, a photographer who, with his wife Inga, operate a studio at the Buryat History Museum; and the second would feature a series of imaginative portraits of career dogs (dogs as a dancer, chef, driver, doctor, etc.) created by young teens in an after school arts program. We ended up with fourteen exquisite portraits. The challenge was paring them down to just seven, as that was all that the space would allow.
The hospital also wanted a series of images of wildlife to decorate the doors of inpatient rooms, fourteen in all, to serve as symbols in lieu of door numbers. We agreed that these images would feature plant and animal life found in Buryatia, some of the fish being unique to Baikal. They also wanted us to enliven the in-patient cafeteria. Galina Solntseva and her students came up with a border design based on twisted yellow banner interspersed with clusters of apples, strawberries, cherries, and flowers, which was painted between meal times.
The hospital decided on having a border based on fish - more of a colorful tropical theme - for one of the patient rooms. This was drawn and painted initially with the patients moved out of the room while we worked; an action that proved unenforceable as the young patients flocked in to watch the designs develop, indeed several pitched in and became our best artists. Many more wanted to help. Unfortunately some of their skills were not up the level we required, or we simply didn't have enough brushes or ladders, or concerns of safety, prevented some from helping. But Olga found ways of engaging many in mixing colors and bringing brushes, paints and other supplies between the patient room and cafeteria.
The first patient room completed was so well received that we were asked to do another, which we agreed to take on a mere four days before my departure for Moscow, this while still in the midst of creating paintings for the ceilings of the intensive care rooms of Children's Hospital No 2. To work as efficiently as possible, we consolidated all our painting activities at the Republic Hospital running finished work up to the other.
Another priority of the Republic Hospital was an artwork for outside the hospital entrance to help create a more welcoming atmosphere and make the hospital more obvious to those seeking it. After discussions with members of the staff of the Buryatia History Museum, Pandido Khambo Lama Damba Ayusheyev and Ganzhur Lama, head of the Buddhist University, and with design input from my Academy decorative arts class, we proposed a series of six, seven-meter tall, brightly colored hitching posts that would frame the hospital entrance; designs that would be attractive to young children, provide a sense of play, and reflect the Buryat culture expressing an image that has been used for centuries to connect the healing energy of the sky with the earth. Through the efforts of Yanzhima Vasilieva, the forestry industry agreed to donate the six required trees. Next is to find a grant to enable me to come back to supervise the carving, coloring and installation, and work with the Ivolginsky Datsan and Itigelov Institute to arrange the appropriate blessings.
"The children will miss you," said Lena Lodoeva, head of the in-patient unit looking at our completed border for cafeteria. "As will everyone else. The work is wonderful and there is so much more that we'd like to have done."
"I'll be back," I said. "I'm just not sure when."
"Yanzhima is waiting for us," said Nichoi handing me my cell phone. "She said it is time to come home for your farewell supper."
I looked at Olga and Ayuna and said, "Shall we go?"
"Yes," they said.
And we did.
2006 North Country Public Radio, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York 13617-1475