Children’s Hospitals Today: In-House Artist Brings Fun to the Hospital Environment
Meet Donald "Scribe" Ross, who fills Children's Mercy Kansas City with artwork as in-house artist.
I think my role is more of a supportive role to the incredible staff we have that works with our families. My goals are to spark a little imagination, bring out a smile, and help our kids' guardians and staff create a distraction. I'd like to think that with help from our staff we change how someone sees a hospital visit. While we're doing this together, it has to be something that can be maintained, safe and economically responsible.
It's a touch of the familiar for people who grew up on Saturday morning cartoons, a dash of modern street art, and a heartfelt attempt at putting real emotions into characters so people want to get to know them.
I don't know of any other hospitals with an artist on staff. Over the last 14 years, I've been lucky to meet people from other facilities, and we have not found a counterpart yet. It's a testament to how Children's Mercy is committed to the whole patient experience.
I watch a lot of cartoons and stay current on what kids are into. This gets me excited and sparks my imagination. I start with the staff members in the area we are working on. Sometimes they have a goal in mind, and other times they want me to start that part for them. I sketch, take lots of calls, help people figure out creative solutions to things, and my typical day changes directions a lot. This can make coming up with ideas hard, but a lot of it comes to me when I'm away from work, and I just write it in my sketchbook that rarely leaves my side.
It takes time
I do large projects, which can take as long as a couple months, but that can partially be because I'm in many meetings for other projects all the time while also doing small projects in Radiology rooms, illustrations for others, and numerous other requests.
The most recent large piece celebrating our relationship with Federico Gomez in Mexico City is a favorite of mine along with a piece I did at a satellite location. Both of these pieces feel like you are inside the mural with a full surround and flooring. This is my favorite type of work—I feel like it transports you somewhere else for a moment.
I did my first mural when I was a senior in high school. I painted on the roof of a small hospital in the Boston area. It was so patients had something more interesting and cheerful to see outside their windows. More than 10 years later, I ended up at Children's Mercy doing sign installation, which lead to me getting a job there. If you asked me when I was a senior if I wanted to work at a hospital doing artwork, I'm not sure how I would have answered. I'm sure glad it came together that way.
A big part of my job is done at hours when people are not around for low impact on the space. With the help of social media and people reaching out to me, I get to see how artwork helps people and hear those stories. Feedback and seeing kids stop in a space and look around in awe helps me grow. Uplifting people creates so much motivation to do the next project even better. These things, and employee and administrative support, makes a person feel loved.
The hardest part
Working in health care environments has a lot of rules and for good reason. But to a creative that can be intimidating, and it was at the beginning. Over time I learned how to creatively work in a much needed box. The marriage of creative ideas, safety, maintenance and a large audience is tough. Thanks to our administration, Child Life, Facilities and many more, I've learned so much and it has helped me look at projects in a different way. Some of the learning was hard but totally worth it.
This might sound cheesy, but it's inspiring to see multiple generations enjoying a cartoon. I look at this closely in my work in the hospital and my artwork outside of the hospital. Seeing people share something together in enjoyment inspires me to take that to the next level if I can. Besides that, my family and the large-scale murals of street art around the world also inspire me.
One more thing
I'm blessed I get to work my creative muscle at work, but there is always a team of people that help out in so many ways. Children's Mercy is lucky to have creative and skilled people on staff every day. Our Facilities staff makes so many things happen that are taken for granted on a day-to-day basis. That whole crew is behind making pieces of my projects come together—I can't do it alone, and I have learned a lot from them.