Behind the scenes of the Children’s of Alabama art collection

childrens of alabama art
A hospital curated like an art gallery. Photo via Children’s of Alabama

Hospitals are a scary place for everyone—especially children. The art at The Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children serves a special purpose to help patients and their families feel more at ease. Keep reading to learn more about the hospital’s artwork and just a few of the touching stories behind it.

How it started

childrens of alabama art
“I can fly” by Lila Graves of Alexander City is just one of the pieces found in patient rooms. Photo via Children’s of Alabama

The Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children was opened in 2012 as part of the Children’s of Alabama network. Not long after, Denise Dexter and a team from Hatcher Shuster Interiors set off across the state from Fort Payne to Fairhope to find artwork worthy of the new hospital.

Dexter and the Hatcher team wanted to give back by solely featuring Alabama artists in the hospital.

“We started scouting great artists in the state and were amazed at what we found. So we went from north to south to east to west. We went to junkyards and at one point, we think we were close to a meth lab. We got lost. It was an amazing time because there’s so much untapped talent in the state and found some incredible pieces.”

Denise Dexter, Director of Facilities, Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children

Unlike many children’s hospitals, Children’s of Alabama curated its impressive artwork as a true collection, carefully choosing each piece to add to the hospital-wide gallery. For a short time after the collection began, the hospital gave art tours to curious guests and visitors.

How art helps

childrens of alabama art
“Tumblers 6-8” by Hope Brannon of Wetumpka. Photo via Children’s of Alabama

When in pain or distress, art often provides solace. The art at Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children uplifts, soothes and also distracts children, families and hospital staff during times of stress and discomfort. One of Dexter’s goals when curating the art was to find pieces that are childlike, but not childish.

Each piece is chosen, either by commission, donation or purchase, for its ability to delight and distract. You can find the artwork all across the hospital. Fine art and original copies are found in common spaces like on Main Street, while copies of art are in each patient room.

“My mission is distraction. There’s nothing in this world worse than having a sick or injured child. The stress that these families, patients and sometimes our staff feel, especially this past year, it helps to have something that’s either whimsical, more calming, or just interesting to look at. If these pieces can distract from what’s going on in their lives for just a few moments, then the goal has been met.”

Denise Dexter, Director of Facilities, Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children

Locally-made art

childrens of alabama artwork
“Home” by Ameri’ca Jones of Fairhope can be found in each patient’s room, thanks to her dedication to providing art for the hospital. Photo via Tina Bolt for Bham Now

The art at Children’s of Alabama is all made by artists living in or from Alabama. This not only gives the pieces a home-grown feel, but also introduces patients and families to local art.

Some of the artists include Tres Taylor of Birmingham, Chip Cooper of Tuscaloosa, Cal Breed of Fort Payne and Ameri’ca Jones of Fairhope.

“We purposely didn’t choose pieces we liked ourselves. Instead, we tried to be so diverse in media and concept because you wanted something that would appeal to everyone.”

Denise Dexter, Director of Facilities, Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children

See the full art collection here, and take a tour of the interior of the building here.

How you can help

childrens of alabama art
The hospital collects art for and by the community. “Magic City Skyline” by Paul Looney of Tuscaloosa. Photo via Children’s of Alabama

There are several ways you can get involved to help the Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children continue to grow its art collection.

The first is by sponsoring an existing piece. Many of the works in the hospital are sponsored by generous donors, but some still do not have that support.

Another way to help is to donate to the Children’s of Alabama Art Fund. The Art Fund helps the hospital purchase new art for its collection to continue the already important work it’s doing. Call 205.638.9183 to learn more about donating to the Art Fund.

Learn more about the Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children:

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Claire Hancock
Claire Hancock
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