BY DEAN MOSES
Parties have become a nearly nonexistent affair thanks to COVID-19, yet on Friday, Oct. 23, that is exactly what Elmhurst Hospital held.
The Elmhurst Hospital Paint Party saw essential workers, patients and elected officials clutch paint brushes as they collaborated to color in a gigantic mural.
A portion of Elmhurst Hospital’s lobby was sectioned off from the coming and goings of staff and visitors where three desks were erected, each tabletop displaying an outline of a mural depicting the diverse Elmhurst neighborhood. To ensure the safety of all participants and to keep in accordance with social distancing guidelines, only a small number of masked painters were permitted to decorate the piece at one time, equaling to about 65 people over the course of the day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The mural — named “Elmhurst Strong” — was designed by Luis Fernando Lechón and portrays classic Queens staples such as the 7 train and the hospital itself, while also incorporating the diversity of the people who live and work in the area, and, of course, the threat of COVID-19 that the iconic hospital has fought hard to overcome.
“The principle [of this project] is the diversity. All the workers in Elmhurst Hospital are from all over the world, and so is the community. I tried to represent that diversity,” Lechón said.
As much as it was important for Lechón to represent the multinational Queens neighborhood in his artwork, it was equally important for the Ecuadorian native to see the community he now calls home working together, bringing the mural to life.
“It is not just me; all the people are doing the work. They will see the mural every day and will feel they are a part of it. Everybody is enjoying and having a moment where they can forget about all the bad times. One nurse told me that she felt very relaxed after she painted, and that’s what we need,” Lechón added.
The Art in Medicine project selected Lechón as one of 11 individuals chosen from a list of close to 200 artists to work with every public hospital in New York City, each mural illustrating elements from their respective locations. The goal of this initiative is to help alleviate stress and anxiety for both staff and patients who face the strain in hospital settings by using art as an act of therapeutic treatment.
Once completed, the mural will be prominently displayed in the hospital foyer for visitors to enjoy for years to come. In an effort to show support for this program, elected officials including Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee, and Councilman Francisco Moya each left their mark on the mural.
“Art is often an expression of happiness, of grief, of the love we have for our community. The minute I saw this, I knew I had to go,” Cruz said.