As an elementary school teacher, Debbie Baylin loved show-and-tell with her students. She liked how her students learned and interacted with each other through stories and pictures that meant something to them outside of the classroom.

It was while Baylin spent many days sitting in the Foothills Hospital with her close friend Patti Hronek, who was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of bone cancer, that she realized the hospital room they resided in for so long could benefit from a little show-and-tell.

“And that was my lightbulb moment … because how many choices do patients, particularly patients who are terminal, have in the hospital setting? Not their treatment, not their environment, not even what they eat at that point,” Baylin said. “It’s so limiting.”

Baylin brought in photographs her husband had shot that she believed would mean something to her bedridden friend, as well as represent who Hronek was as a person. These pictures varied from landscapes that reminded her of hometown in Stettler, Alta., portraits of girls that reminded her of her grandchildren and places she had once travelled.  

It was a selfless act to support a friend, but little did Baylin know it would lead to a career change starting a whole new non-profit organization, Art a la Carte.

Baylin realized she had a vision and began working on her organization. As she noticed posters all over the city — she believed with a little imagination, art could be created.

Baylin began to gather a small art collection.

Baylin progressed by reaching out to museums and galleries across North America. The organization received more than 500 posters announcing exhibitions that were donated to the program.

Baylin, her family and a group of volunteers cropped, pasted and placed these posters on an old-fashioned black mounted press for sterile purposes and began building a larger collection.

With the program underway, Baylin made a visit to the Stettler hospital that Hronek had been transferred to during her final weeks. During this visit, Baylin wanted to dedicate the organization to Hronek’s honour and tell her of the great news. The Canadian Cancer Society gave 3,500 dollars in the form of a grant to enable them to put original art installations at the foot of every bed on a 40-bed unit at the Foothills Hospital.

Hronek felt unworthy of this honour, but Baylin insisted that she couldn’t have done it without her.

“I said, ‘Patty this is about you and me and helping all these people and I cannot do this without your approval.’ So she took my hand, I took hers and I said, ‘If you will consent to this program bearing your name and your story, squeeze my hand.’ And she did. And that was her goodbye.”

As the program continued to build, new programs developed including the Bedside Art program, where art is brought to the rooms of critically ill patients helping them to heal through images. A Create While You Wait program lets patients create art while their waiting to be admitted to a room.

Art La Body 2The Bedside Art program offers patients the ability to heal through visual imagination. The artwork also offers something to talk about when conversation gets tough.  Photo courtesy of Art a la Carte.

Opening Minds Through Art is where patients with dementia participate in a series of art creating sessions.

“I wanted to give something back without expecting anything in return,” co-facilitator Assunta Dale said when she realized she wanted to volunteer to make a difference.

“But in reality, the gifts that we have received are far greater than anything that I could ever offer. And they’re mostly intangible gifts, things like lifting someone’s spirit.”

“I just kind of get a snapshot of how fragile life is and if we can somehow make it a little more enjoyable or memorable then it’s a very good place to be in,” Dale said.

Despite the wonders that the program brings, funding is still an issue in sustaining the program, the hope is to increase its volunteer numbers. Donations can be made towards the program and new volunteers are always welcome.

Another way to get involved would be through the OMA program art show that takes place after their six-week session of creating art. All purchase proceeds go directly back into the program.

The money goes towards new materials for the patients allowing them to continue their path towards creative relief.  

Regardless of funding difficulties, Baylin has continued to be an inspiration to patients and volunteers throughout the entire program.

“Her interactions with patients are really special. I’ve never seen that level of compassion before in other people. I see a lot of medical interactions being a medical student and she’s just a level beyond. A very inspirational person and that’s something I definitely want to work towards,” said volunteer and medical student, Michael Korostensky.

The many programs Art a la Carte offers allows patients to sustain positivity in their rooms, giving them comfort and bringing them back to times of storytelling. Their mission is to provide hope for a better day as well remembrance of a happy memory to help them channel their strength.

Editor: Abby LaRocque |

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