Muralist and childThe children in the 5 South playroom closed their eyes. The soft beat of a music therapist’s drum set the mood. “Picture yourself in a jungle,” said the voice of Philadelphia artist David Guinn. “You’re walking through the jungle, and suddenly you see an animal. What animal is it?”

When they opened their eyes, the children began to draw. For some it was a monkey, for one an ant and for one imaginative boy, a dinosaur. One drew a lion with an IV. And beginning next month, every visitor to 5 South, a unit for gastroenterology inpatients, will see the product of the children’s imaginations. 

Guinn, whose murals appear on buildings both locally and internationally, incorporated all 37 drawings from three separate sessions into a vivid 52-color jungle scene running 38 feet long and nearly eight feet high. In July, some of the 5 South patients had an opportunity to help Guinn paint the mural.

The project began two years ago as child life specialists Caitlin Novelli and Kathleen Policastro debated how to brighten up their unit in a way that would involve the patients, many of whom are “frequent flyers.” An art therapist introduced them to Guinn, who was excited by the idea. Policastro and Novelli surveyed families to come up with the jungle theme and worked with environmental safety experts to identify materials that were hospital-safe and cleanable. As the final piece of the puzzle, the mural was made possible by an anonymous donation.  

The mural has been designed to be interactive. Clear frames embedded in it will allow the unit’s future patients to display their own artwork for the duration of their stay. There are also 15 objects hidden within the mural, and finding them is an activity meant to get patients up and out of bed, which is important for their health.

“Including the kids’ drawings gives it a meaning and depth that just painting a wall somewhere doesn’t,” says Guinn. “It has been special to contribute to this environment where everyone really cares about the kids and their experience.”

— Julie Sloane