In March of 2020, when New York was leading the country in COVID-19 infections, Elmhurst Hospital in Queens was dismally dubbed the “epicenter of the epicenter” of the pandemic in the US. Overrun with ill patients, the hospital’s staff was stretched beyond capacity and exposed to disease as they lacked an adequate supply of protective gear. Most gruesomely, refrigerated trailers had to be used as a makeshift morgue because the hospital couldn’t contain the mounting numbers of dead patients. These are not distant memories for Elmurhut’s staff, who continue to grapple with the ongoing pandemic.
Two outdoor exhibitions were recently installed at the hospital to honor the work and sacrifice of its staff and raise funds for the institution. One is a portrait series organized by Pictures for Elmhurst, which previously launched a fundraiser benefitting the hospital, and the other is a light installation by Women in Lighting+Design, which also pays tribute to COVID-19 and cancer patients.
Pictures for Elmhurst is a fundraiser formed by a group of New York-based photographers. It was first launched in April of last year at the height of the pandemic in the city, and raised $1.38 million for the hospital with a 10-day print sale. The proceeds went towards purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators, which were scarce at the time. On September 22, 2021, the group debuted the second iteration of the project, Art is Healing. The outdoor display features 31 portraits of Elmhurst staff taken by the photographer Camila Falquez alongside 33 photographs from the original fundraiser. The portraits are displayed over fencing at a playground facing the hospital on Broadway at 78th Street, and also at Elmhurst’s 41st Avenue location in Queens. They are visible to anyone coming in or out of the hospital or passing by.
“COVID continues to take a toll on front-line staff and the community, yet we come in every day willing to make a difference and save as many lives as we can,” said Mamie McIndoe of Elmhurst’s Care Experience department in a statement. “Camila captured the essence of not only who we are, but what we do. May art continue to prevail and aid in our collective healing.”
Meanwhile, located on the front facade of the hospital is the installation Light for Life, featuring color-changing light bulbs illuminating photos of over 600 Elmhurst staff and COVID-19 and breast cancer patients who were treated at the hospital. Many of the photos were taken by photographer Joe Faddie, who documented Elmhurst staff and community members during the pandemic in a project called Hidden Smile.
The 90-foot-long series of panels, installed by Women in Lighting+Design, was organized in collaboration with Paddle for the Cure, an organization that supports breast cancer patients, and the city’s Public Design Commission. It will be on display throughout October, which marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
To support the hospital’s staff and breast cancer patients, the organizers are offering the light bulbs for sale for $5 each. Other suggested sponsorship levels range from $100 to $5,000. The light bulbs also programmed to spell out the names of the photographed individuals starting at 6pm every day. They also display life-affirming messages like “resilience”, “hope”, and “thank you.”