As the Greek philosopher Aristotle said, "The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance."
It's in that spirit Michelle Chavez found the inspiration to create masterpieces recycling COVID-19 screening stickers.
"Each of these little stickers represents a day someone came into work and did something that maybe wasn't the easiest—it's hard right now," says Chavez, art therapist, University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital (UH Rainbow), in Cleveland, Ohio. "I thought we should make some art with them, and we should do it as community art."
COVID-19 screening process leads to creative outlet
When staff and visitors at UH Rainbow completed daily COVID-19 screening at its entrances they receive a small, circular, colorful sticker with a number indicating the day of the month. This system creates an easy and visible way for staff to know who has completed the screening process.
But Chavez soon noticed the used stickers appearing all over the building—on lamp posts, in the elevator and stacked on desks. She says she felt the colorful stickers were "calling out to be hung somewhere," so she drew an outline for a mural and placed it outside the creative arts team's office at the hospital. She invited staff to fill in the mural with their stickers, and—roughly 1,200 stickers later—the first COVID-19 inspired community art piece, "Hope in the Garden of Quarantine," was complete. From there, other units around the organization requested their own murals; Chavez says there are now at least seven sticker collages on display around the halls of UH Rainbow.
Sticker art helps staff members cope with stress
The colorful posters brighten up the hallways, but they serve a higher purpose.
"Making art with something that might represent adversity can be very therapeutic," Chavez says. She adds it's a practice common to art therapy—for example, pediatric cancer patients and women undergoing fertility treatment often create art from their discarded mouth swabs and syringes.
For UH Rainbow staff members, the artwork also represents their individual victories—each sticker symbolizes another day working through a pandemic. "It feels like the best form of self-care," Chavez says. "Our work now is very emotionally draining; at the end of the day, we have this little sticker to show for it."
Collaborative process underscores art's importance
The posters are currently displayed in staff-only areas of the hospital, but Chavez and her team have invited patient families to contribute their stickers. And that strikes at the heart of the artwork's significance, according to Chavez—symbolizing the trials and tribulations of days shared in the hospital amidst the pandemic.
"The urge to create things even when we're going through really tough things is the core of human nature," Chavez says. "If it were just one person creating the art it wouldn't feel as meaningful, but even something small like putting a sticker on a poster with your colleagues feels really good—it's the community aspect that makes it so meaningful."