How medical murals have a bodily effect on patients and are actual means of better health and recovery
Interview with British Artistic Entrepreneur, Laura Cotton
by Darie Nani
For British artist Laura Cotton, facing white walls while recovering from a tragic car crash in a hospital in the Bahamas, marked the beginning of a new journey into her artistic genius. After fifteen years of unbearable memories, physical pain and emotional trauma, Laura decided to transform pain into joy, helping patients reboot the healing process through the power
of colour. When she established the Paint a Smile Foundation in Geneva, little did she know that her new approach to medical murals was not only a bridge between the medical care and the artistic flair but a holistic solution to healing, better health, joyful living and a therapeutic tool widely recognised by the medical world.
Laura’s inspiration comes from many years of suffering and each project is a powerful synthesis of colours and hope emanating effortlessly within the
hospitals’ once white walls. Her vision has already turned around 191 hospital wards, retirement homes and specialised institutions throughout 18 countries, into vivid and compelling art that has overawed, to the delight of patients, residents, medical teams and visitors alike.
The 52 years old, born in London, raised and educated in Switzerland (where she has now settled with her children), Laura will celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Paint a Smile by aiming to complete 200 projects in 20 countries, in 2020.
“Make your difference colourful!”
Why Paint A Smile?
Surviving the car crash that took my sister’s life in 1985 lead me down a path of despair for 15 years. Survivor’s syndrome, guilt, incapacity to find space within to grieve and move on…the works. I was traumatised and gravely haunted by the long white corridor my sister was rushed down on that gurney, surrounded by doctors running in white gowns in the dark of the night.
Since 2000, Paint a Smile permanently transforms the bleak bareness of medical environments into worlds of colourful therapeutic surroundings. To date, 191 projects are completed in hospitals, retirement homes and specialised institutions throughout 18 countries worldwide. Our trained artists carry out the work without disturbing the daily routine. Caran d’Ache is our worldwide colour partner. Our goal in 2020 is to celebrate our 20th anniversary by completing our 200th project in the 20th country.
What led you to the decision to start this foundation?
Looking for a corner in a round room to put down my load obviously wasn’t working. One day, I opened my kitchen cupboard to make lunch; all the products where staring at me with their colours, shapes, logos and marketing power. Which ones would I mix? And suddenly I knew. I had to transform the surroundings for others in hospital to transcend my memory. I had to surpass my story and change it for others. Giving them what I didn’t have was my salvation. No one in hospital should be staring at white walls.
What’s the top challenge you have faced so far?
Firstly, linking the artistic, medical and finance worlds at Paint a Smile’s core was a definite challenge! Secondly, meeting unethical people who claim to work to help others when sadly there is no real empathy within them, in a work area made for honourable people. Thirdly, in 2009 when my daughter died, I fed my grief to empower Paint a Smile further and not relive what I’d already known. Although I always miss my sister and daughter, I now think of them in a colourful way. It strengthens me to help others.
Today I am beyond my own “colourful therapy”. Paint a Smile’s recognition as a therapeutic tool by the medical world is tribute to my initial goal. I am solving an existing problem and insufflating humanity back into corporations. It’s exhilarating to know that Paint a Smile impacts thousands of people I will never meet. Seeing a CEO cry during a project inauguration is evidence that Paint a Smile sends us all back to Humanity.
How does Pain a Smile work?
When I began in 2000, little research existed on how hospital stays impact the mind, no matter the length of stay. I was told Paint a Smile was “a sweet idea” as back in those days the focus was solely on the illness, not the patient’s state of mind and how they could actually work together for faster recovery. Today, paediatric wards take surroundings into consideration though sadly too often still, many architects care more for their creation over its impact on those who will spend time in it (patients, families and staff). In an ideal world, when designing hospitals, retirement homes or specialised institutions, medical staff, altruistic architects and Paint a Smile should sit together around the same table.
What is the biggest impact Pain a Smile makes?
Paint a Smile’s work is, beyond the obvious, specifically designed to facilitate communication between staff and families, alleviate fear and reassure. Custom made to suit the needs of each ward and its specific pathology with precise medical directives, our creations are light, fun, educational, interactive and colourful. For our elders they stimulate in order to revive senses, memory and dignity. In specialised institutions, designs are closely and carefully created to help prevent crisis, to soothe, bridging the often non communicative world patients are facing for life.
What motivates contributors to take part?
When inspiration is built on trusting those you delegate to, you can build anything. Our amazing trained artists share their gift and are rewarded with an immense sense of worth. Sponsors and donors, private or corporate, are overwhelmed by the impact of their donations.
Paint a Smile’s out of the box personalised “à la carte” functioning brings a CSR initiative to a powerful marketing, communication level well beyond expectations. It federates employees and bosses on the same level. I admire every single sponsor or donor, regardless of their initial motivation, for taking part in bridging our individualistic modern money making industrial society with the simple reality of all being human equals when in hospital, with one simple ingredient: colours. Keeping Paint a Smile in check as the middle tool between the white walls and the funding is equally inspirational, creating more space to personalise each project. Funders may choose the hospital or ward to offer their project to, and equally remain anonymous. The motivation can be personal, CSR, publicity or all in one. Either way Paint a Smile’s goal is reached.
Who is the person you admire most and why?
Paint a Smile’s President, Nicolas Killen, directs my personal story along a constructive path, enabling me to share Paint a Smile worldwide with strength, honour and ethics. I couldn’t turn the 191 locations’ barren walls
to life or deliver the last two decades of healing, recovery and growing without him.
Have a project in mind? Why not connect with Laura directly!
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