Photographer David Maroney knows what it is like to sit in the waiting room chairs at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. He has been a patient of Ronald Takvorian, MD, for 10 years.

A piece on display at the Cancer Center by artist Silvina Mizrahi, who says “I am delighted to exhibit at the Cancer Center and I wish and hope with all my heart to be able to bring some joy through my work to all the patients touched by cancer.” | Artists’ Work Helps Cancer
A piece that had been on display at the Cancer Center by artist Silvina Mizrahi. The artists had said, “I am delighted to exhibit at the Cancer Center and I wish and hope with all my heart to be able to bring some joy through my work to all the patients touched by cancer.”

David is in his third remission of follicular B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. As a patient, he appreciated the waiting room artwork. When he learned the pieces are loaned by artists who want patients in the hospital to have something pleasant and comforting to see, he decided to share his photographs.

His work captures soothing, reflective and inspirational images — for him exploring the world with his camera is a welcome distraction from cancer.

“The artwork at Mass General creates a serene atmosphere that, in my view, enables the mind, spirit and body to become more receptive to medical treatment,” he says.

Mass General’s rotating exhibit, “Illuminations,” features about 120 paintings, photographs, mixed media and sculptures throughout cancer center waiting rooms. Some artists have experienced cancer themselves while others have helped friends and families deal with the disease. Other artists have no personal experience with cancer but want to display their art to help the Mass General Cancer Center community.

Linda Ramsden’s My Son Set Collection captures nature’s beauty in honor of her son who died from a rare form of pediatric cancer. | Artists’ Work Helps Cancer
Linda Ramsden’s “My Son Set Collection” captures nature’s beauty in honor of her son who died from a rare form of pediatric cancer.

A committee comprised of art lovers, staff members, doctors and former patients selects pieces for display. Each work is considered with the audience in mind — patients and families. Potentially disturbing or confusing images are not chosen. And although many contributors are patients or former patients, the artwork selected symbolizes life and hope, rather than chronicling illness or struggle. Many artists live in the Boston area and some have local, regional or national recognition.

“We want the art to put patients at ease and give them a chance to reflect on the larger world and its possibilities,” says Bruce Chabner, MD.

In the exhibit running through early September 2013, photographer Linda Ramsden captures the natural beauty of local seashores and beaches in “My Son Set Collection” in honor of her son who died of a rare form of pediatric cancer seven years ago. She recalls, “There was a wonderfully fiery sunset on the last night he was here, and he told me then that he would one day paint the sky for me.” Always a photographer, after her son’s death, Linda’s artistic inspiration had a new, life-affirming focus.

George Taylor, MD, artist and radiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, uses a high-resolution digital X-ray machine to take photogram images of plants and flowers. “Quite often in my work, I am faced with images of disease when reading the X-ray films,” he explains, “but when capturing the images of nature, I am able to reveal the stunning detail, grace, continuity and captivating beauty of these organisms.”

Artist David Maroney brings the experience of viewing the Tall Ships to the Cancer Center waiting room. | Artists’ Work Helps Cancer
Artist David Maroney brings the experience of viewing the Tall Ships to the Cancer Center waiting room in the exhibit running through early September 2013.

“Art is one of the many sources that illuminates a pathway to healing at the Mass General Cancer Center,” says Megan Carleton, a licensed mental health counselor and registered art therapist. She leads the Illuminations exhibit review committee and spearheads the hanging and rotation of waiting room art.

“Our rotating exhibit gives patients the opportunity to explore a variety of art that they might see while meandering in Newbury Street galleries or a community open studio,” Ms. Carleton explains. “When engaged in viewing a dynamic piece of art, the four walls of the waiting room dissolve, and the viewer is invited into that alternate reality.”

The exhibit strives to help patients feel welcome, says Bruce Chabner, MD, director of clinical research at the cancer center and Illuminations co-founder. “We want the art to put patients at ease and give them a chance to reflect on the larger world and its possibilities, and tell them that we care about them and the diverse communities from which they come,” Dr. Chabner says.

George Taylor, MD, of Boston Children’s Hospital, captures the grace and beauty of nature through his photogram images, part of a rotating collection of work at the Mass General Cancer Center by local artists. | Artists’ Work Helps Cancer
George Taylor, MD, of Boston Children’s Hospital, captures the grace and beauty of nature through his photogram images.

During periods when Ms. Carleton is hanging new pieces, patients have the opportunity to share their thoughts. She remembers a day when her work drew the interest of a man who had been sitting in his wheelchair staring at the floor. His eyes locked on the paintings lined up against the wall she was preparing for display.

Slowly and deliberately, using the little strength he could muster, he pointed his finger and told Ms. Carleton how he would hang the pieces. She arranged the art according to the patient’s vision. He nodded his head in quiet approval.

For more information on how to exhibit in Illuminations, please visit www.massgeneral.org/cancer/illuminations.

The Illuminations Program is funded through philanthropy. Make a gift today to support the program.

To learn about other ways you can support the Illuminations Program, please contact us.