Client: Montefiore Pediatric Oncology Department
Location: Bronx, NY, United States
Completion date: 2018
Artwork budget: $25,000
Montefiore Health System
Commission of the first virtual reality painting for the purpose of opioid and pain reduction at Montefiore Hospital. Painter and classically trained artist Tom Christopher learned to use Google Tiltbrush to paint a site-specific area of the Bronx, Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse, so that our pediatric cancer patients would not only be able to walk through a work of art in VR but a work of art of their home town. Combining site-specificity with painting and technology is how we hope to help younger generations combat the opioid crises.
In 2017, as curators in a medical center, we realized that purchasing art for pediatric patients needed to start speaking a different language if we wanted to not only help distract them but interest them in culture. We saw the new forms of virtual reality and realized that no other health care facility had thought about combining the healing power of art with virtual reality. Not only that, but most of the healthcare VR available for patients was not relevant to our patient population that, for the majority, is from The Bronx. We therefore knew that commissioning scenes from the local neighborhood and having them painted by a famous NYC painter could create a whole new area of patient care. Studies have already shown that VR can help reduce pain and anxiety but our goal is to provide appropriate and site-specific content so that the patient has the power to choose and have their own needs be heard. The first painting was met with huge success by our cancer patients who were literally able to walk through the brush strokes of an artist while simultaneously walking down the street of their own local neighborhood.
When we conceived of the project, we wanted to find an artist who had never used digital technology to create art ever before. Our purpose was to ensure there was no intervention between the hand of the artist and the experience, i.e. no programmer. We decided that Google Tiltbrush was the best way to achieve this and were able to purchase an HTC Vive system that was placed in the artists' own studio for four months. Before starting the painting, the artist and three fine art interns spent a month sketching, photographing, and experiencing Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse in person. These documentary images are what allowed the artist to return to his studio and paint the scene. The amount of detail and artistry that followed were beyond our wildest dreams. You truly feel as if you are walking down the street but in a world of paint. Because of this success, we also commissioned Tom Christopher to create the New York Botanical Gardens and the Bronx Zoo in virtual reality for our growing VR Fine Art Library available to patients.
To help us provide these experiences to patients, we have teamed up with technology company Glimpse Group to create the Montefiore Virtual Reality App that will hold Tom Christopher's paintings as well as experiences curated by our Fine Art Department alongside clinicians and patients. We want the equivalent of a VR Pharmacy where staff and patients can use these experiences as a first line of defense against opioids. Lastly, our project with Tom Christopher was featured in Forbes Magazine in June 2018 by writer Charlie Fink.