Twenty-four works of art from the University of Victoria's Art Collection are on display at The Cool Aid Community Health Centre. Each room in the clinic features a different work of art, which will remain at Access Health in perpetuity; the pieces were selected in consultation with Dr. Carolyn Butler-Palmer, UVic’s Williams Legacy Chair, and her students in UVic’s History in Art department. This art installation is part of a larger project that examines the use of art for community building.

“There’s an emerging trend of using art to humanize hospitals,” says Butler-Palmer. “Originally, this was just a way of creating a more pleasing environment—if you’re in a nice place, you feel better. But what’s coming out now, unexpectedly, is that many of the Health Centre’s clients have an art background, so the staff is now starting to talk to them about art, and about their own artistic practices.”

This display is intended to draw attention to the possible benefits art can have in daily life. Your experience can start with your own personal reaction to the artwork you encounter, and it may continue into a brief conversation or a shared experience over an artwork.

Access Health Centre is located in a fully restored designated heritage building in downtown Victoria, and the art now hangs in therapy and examination rooms, as well as offices and corridors. “It’s a fabulous idea,” says Irene Haigh-Gidora, Cool Aid’s manager of health services, “not only because we now have art on previously bare walls but also because we were able to work with the students at the University of Victoria to strengthen the link between health, wellness and art. Art is for everyone, and everyone should be able to see it and appreciate it.”

ACCESS Art, Health, and Community is a collaborative project of The Cool Aid Community Health Care Centre staff and history in art students at the University of Victoria, led by their professor, Williams Legacy Chair, Dr. Carolyn Butler Palmer. The late Michael Williams, namesake of the Williams Legacy Chair, had a long commitment to both downtown heritage buildings and issues surrounding homelessness.

Haigh-Gidora agrees with Butler-Palmer about the impact of art on a health clinic. “Not only does it further the idea of ‘caring for caregivers’ by improving the surroundings for our staff, but we’re also hoping that this encourages our clients who are artists: we’re designating a huge wall here for our clients to put their own art up, so we’ll soon have their art alongside the UVic collection.”

“It’s like putting a piece of art up at home,” concludes Haigh-Gidora. “You see something and it just feels so good to look at it.”

It is the hope of all involved that this art positively affects everyone’s experience at The Cool Aid Community Health Centre.

A Williams Legacy Chair Project

Review, Times Colonist


Art has been added to the walls of the Access Health Centre in downtown Victoria.

Opened in October, 2009, the centre offers medical, dental and counselling services, and houses a variety of organizations that help people deal with issues including mental health, addictions and poverty. Now, courtesy of the University of Victoria's Art Collections, there is added vibrancy from 24 pieces of art selected for permanent display in therapy areas and examination rooms.

Carolyn Butler-Palmer, an assistant professor in UVic's history-in-art department, helped to choose the pieces with help from her students. The process tied in with Butler-Palmer's position as UVic's Williams Legacy Chair, which honours the late Michael Williams and his passion for the arts, as well as his attention to homelessness and other community concerns.

Williams bequeathed most of his estate and a large art collection to the university.

Butler-Palmer said that bringing art to the health centre ties in with a trend to "humanize" hospitals and similar settings. Irene Haigh-Gidora, manager of health services at the centre, said the installed pieces not only covered previously bare walls but also allowed staff to work with UVic students "to strengthen the link between health, wellness and art."