By Cameron Rasmusson
Plenty of people can attest to the healing power of art. In that sense, it’s fitting that one of the largest galleries for miles around is located in Bonner General Health.
Since 1999, the Art For The Soul program has lined the hospital walls with artwork of all shapes and sizes. For nearly half that time, the effort has been championed by Polly Mire, who ensures staff and patients alike have a vibrant and colorful environment to spur the healing process.
“I’ve been doing it myself for eight years,” Mire said. “It’s too important to let it drop.”
Throughout the offices, hallways and medical rooms of the BGH campus are scattered around 540 pieces of artwork by 120 individual artists. The mediums range from paintings of all varieties to photographs to scratchboard and much more. With just under 20 years worth of work by artists—some still active locally and others moved away or retired—it is one of the strongest showcases for local art in town. While the Art For The Soul program has taken untold hours of work and effort, Mire feels a powerful motivation to keep seeking new pieces, and there are still plenty of spaces on the hospital walls left to fill.
“I have loved art since I was a young girl,” she said. “I enjoy meeting the artists, so I attend as many art openings as possible. I am probably a wanna-be gallery owner who now has a huge gallery to look after.”
Mire has received no shortage of comments from patients who appreciate the hospital’s commitment to providing a colorful, positive, artistic environment. The selected art is largely of a style designed to put patients in an engaged and positive frame of mind.
“I hear many comments from patients and their family and visitors about the art helping them to fill long hours of waiting,” Mire said. “The employees also enjoy when a new painting appears in or near their workplace.”
Mire’s efforts to liven up the cafeteria with some new art, for instance, drew praise from the hospital staff. They appreciate her efforts to imbue their workplace with so much local flavor and personality.
“It’s inspiring,” said BGH employee Miguel Vasquez. “I think for every room I’ve walked into, [the art] resonates with what you’re going through in that area.”
Much of the artwork is donated by the artists themselves, and those pieces are never sold to raise money for the program. Occasional sales of purchased artwork or pieces offered for that purpose open up options to acquire fresh art or repair frame glass damaged in accidents.
Organization is also key. A master list of the 540 pieces keeps track of each entry, and most of the pieces have a card that includes a photograph and donation history.
“This takes the most time,” Mire said. “I print the cards that identify each item.”
If anything can be described as a labor of love, it’s the Art For The Soul program. Since 1999, a clear mission and a commitment to the creativity that makes Sandpoint special have brightened the hospital. Mire expects that to be the case for many years to come.
“My vision and goal has been to provide a display of art by local artists that is colorful and easy to look at and hopefully inspirational,” she said.