By Kevin Stewart
In 2008, after 20 years working as a designer and illustrator in the advertising industry, Colleen Darby (BFA ’85) received an email that would change her life.
It was an invitation to work for UB’s Center for the Arts’ Arts in Healthcare Initiative as an inspirational artist, and she knew immediately it was the right path for her.
Armed with pencils, paintbrushes and a positive attitude, she went to work at Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo for three years, helping patients and family members cope with the stress of a hospital stay through the power of art.
During her time in the program, Darby had another fortuitous encounter that led her down yet another unexpected path.
She had become friendly with a 16-year-old girl on the oncology floor whom she had taken to calling “The Mayor,” because, Darby says, “She ran the floor like a politician, always holding babies and making friends.” One sunny morning in spring, Darby walked into her room and sang out, ‘It’s such a beautiful day outside!’
“She looked up at me and said, ‘It always looks the same from here,’” Darby recalls. “I felt terrible. I retreated back to the playroom and sat alone for a few minutes thinking about what happened. It was in that quiet moment that the idea came to me: Every patient deserves a room with a view.”
Darby immediately rearranged her schedule and started a Kickstarter campaign that would allow her to take a one-month retreat from her job and family. She traveled to Sarasota, Fla., last November and completed a series of 20 inspirational paintings she calls LandEscapes.
With big skies, bright colors and simple landmarks against a natural background, the paintings are meant to give viewers a sense of serenity and anticipation, a feeling that they are part of a story that hasn’t reached its climax. The first of the series is dedicated to The Mayor, who died in 2011.
The paintings are being prepped for exhibition and will soon be hanging in Buffalo-area hospitals, bringing a colorful splash of the outside world to patients’ rooms, chemo infusion stations and the like. In addition to improving the environment, the works are intended to inspire patients to start painting themselves.
As a mother, Darby recognizes the impact art can have on young patients and their families. “It gives parents the chance to play with their child again,” she says.