From the Newsroom

Local Identities

Jim Hourigan is pictured with Kyogle Memorial Multi Purpose Service (MPS) staff, who are holding pictures donated by Healing Photo Art. Image: courtesy Northern Rivers Talking Turkey fortnightly newspaper

The healing art

Geoff Helisma Jim Hourigan loves to paint; however, he plays down whatever artistic ability he might possess, preferring to focus on what his works mean to those who appreciate them. “I get a great kick out of people buying my pictures,” he says, “I paint differently to others; that’s what I’m told.” Jim reveals that he sells his paintings for about what it costs him to produce them and, if he makes a profit, he’s likely to donate it to “Maclean hospital auxiliary or something like that”. Meanwhile, he has spent many years facilitating the placement of photographs, Healing Art Photos, in Australian hospitals. “The welfare of our patients is our highest priority and these beautiful images will be a valuable resource in boosting the morale and general wellbeing of patients, family, visitors and staff alike,” wrote Ann Farrell, then nurse manager at Maclean Hospital in 2015. But this story is not really about Jim; at least that’s his desire. “I just want to talk about what Elaine does for the rest of the world, including Australia,” he says. Photographer Elaine Poggi is the founder of The Foundation for Photo/Art in Hospitals, which is based in the USA and Italy (where Poggi resides). “The unique mission of the foundation is to place large, framed photographs of nature and beautiful places from around the world in hospitals, to give comfort and hope to patients and their families, visitors, and caregivers,” the foundation’s website states. Back in 2015, Jim was facilitating an exhibition of paintings at the North Coast Cancer Institute (oncology unit), at Lismore Base Hospital – it was the third of its type and Jim had put out a call to other artists to donate or consign their works to the exhibition, with the profits aiding patients. Elaine says, “Jim found Healing Photo Art on the internet [and] in February 2015 he wrote to me: ‘I am delighted to find [your] ‘Art in Hospitals’. Although not as big a concern as yours, I find great delight in what myself and friends do. [It’s] called Art for Oncology … we have been operating for two years; we help finance those that can’t afford to travel for treatment, usually around $700, [and] we have purchased freezers for oncology use.’” Jim soon took on distributing the large unframed photos, which Elaine sent him in tubes. “He worked quite hard to find funding for the framing of the photos,” Elaine says. “He contacted various Lions clubs … at times he funded the framing with his own money. “After framing the photos, he drove many kilometres to deliver the framed photos to the hospitals; this went on for a year.” The onerous tasks for which Jim volunteered were ameliorated by mid 2016 when Elaine arranged support through the Boston Foundation’s Fay Slover Fund, which “supports start-up or program grants to organizations looking to increase access to art in underserved communities”. “When I received word of the funding, I suggested to Jim that I could send the photos already framed, which would save him a lot of time, driving, and money,” says Elaine. “I started sending boxes of framed photos from Italy to Australia. “If the hospital was near to Jim’s home, he would oversee the instalment of the photos. If it was too far, he would contact the hospitals through email and calling. “He has been a very busy volunteer during these past five-plus years of working with the foundation. “Without Jim’s coordination of all these projects, we could never have placed 888 photos in [29 hospitals in] Australia. It’s because of him that many patients and healthcare staff have something beautiful and colourful to view.” As it turns out, Jim is the only volunteer assisting Elaine in Australia. “I do have a wonderful volunteer in Nigeria, who coordinates photos not only in Nigeria but other African countries as well,” she says. “I also work with college student interns in the USA and Florence, Italy, who coordinate photo projects in their local hospitals.” Elaine reveals that she and Jim have exchanged “at least 700 emails” over the past years. “Most of our conversations were about the business of placing photos to help others; but the beautiful thing about all these emails is that we got to know each other well and became friends. “We talked about our children; our grandchildren and shared photos, of course; about Jim’s health and my health; about his family history and mine; about the fires in Australia; and now still we are discussing the Covid-19. “Jim is a gem, he cares about others, he is an amazing artist in his own right, and he is quite humorous, too. “I think he deserves a medal of honour or appreciation from his country for what he has accomplished in these past five years.” Says Elaine Poggi, founder of Healing Photo Art: “I have been given a gift: I am aware of and can see the world’s beauty all around me. I capture this beauty with my camera, and then my greatest joy is to share it with those who are suffering in hospitals. When I am scuba diving, I see incredibly colored fish and coral. When I am driving around the Tuscan hills, I feel the peace and tranquility of this land. When I am hiking in the Dolomite mountains with my husband and my little dog, I smell the fresh, crisp air. My hope is that my photos transmit these colors, feelings and scents to all the patients who view them.” Image: Healing Photo Art