Overworked, ill-equipped, and exposed to sickness, healthcare workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic need every bit of encouragement they can get. Joining other tributes pouring from the art world, a group of more than 70 artists are expressing their support and gratitude to these medical workers with uplifting posters installed on the walls of Intensive Care Units’ (ICU) break rooms in various hospitals in New York.
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This initiative is organized by Elizabeth Jaeger, a New York-based artist, and her friend Cady Chaplin, a nurse at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. The two started their project on March 16, the night before Chaplin was due to go back to work as an ICU nurse at the hospital after a vacation for her 30th birthday. It was to be her first shift since the ICU unit became dedicated to COVID-19 patients.
Chaplin proposed the idea in a text conversation with Jaeger, suggesting to create a “guerrilla gallery of support from the community” at her hospital’s ICU. Jaeger told Hyperallergic she was excited to take on the project and started working immediately. “I thought it was a great idea and sent the request out by email to a group-list-serve of artists and on my Instagram,” she explained.
As responses started pouring in, Jaeger set up a Google drive for artists to upload their posters and for hospital workers to easily download and print them. The Google folder now contains dozens of posters, and more are being added every day. Those include artists like Aidan Koch, Emma Kohlman, KK Gile, Amy Sillman, Pam Lins, Halsey Rodman, and Karen Cunnigham, among many others.
The posters vary between illustrations, paintings, and digital edits with some featuring inspirational quotes and many repeating the phrases “Thank You” and “You Are Our Heroes” in various formulations.
The first poster, designed by Jaeger, was printed in black and white from Chaplin’s office printer. But now, Chaplin’s father, who works in the paper industry, and Wallpaper Projects, a design studio in Brooklyn, have stepped up to the plate, volunteering materials and equipment to print large adhesive copies of the posters in color.
“Cady is doing most all of the physical legwork,” Jaeger explained. “I bring her the adhesive posters that Wallpaper Projects has printed and she carries them to the hospital and installs them in her time off. We are also facetiming on her days off picking which posters to reprint, as nurses from adjacent ICU’s are asking for posters for their own break rooms.”
The word quickly spread to other hospitals across the globe, according to Jaeger. “People have messaged me they have shared the posters with other hospitals and nurses with strong positive feedback both around the USA and abroad,” she said.
The project, Jaeger said, is her way to battle the “feeling of helplessness” she’s experiencing during the quarantine.
“It’s overwhelming how much our federal government is failing people, and especially the people that work in hospitals with the lack of PPE, ventilators, dialysis machines and lack of general centralized organization,” she said. “My hopes is that the posters bring some lightness to people going through hard days.”
“I know for Cady it’s a welcomed distraction for the overwhelming fear that accompanies her job right now,” she added. “Talking to her about it in some small way makes me feel like I’m being helpful.”