Students, teachers, and leaders watch as the ribbon is cut

Students, teachers, and local officials cut a ribbon during a mural unveiling July 19 at St. Luke’s Easton Campus

By Stephen Wilson

Seconds feel longer when waiting for a loved one who’s in an operating room. Any comfort available at a hospital in those moments is relied on.

Lafayette, in partnership with Easton and Phillipsburg High Schools, increased the comfort at St. Luke’s Hospital–Easton Campus through an arts project that transformed a waiting room into a space of respite.

Jim Toia speaks with parents at the mural event

Jim Toia

The project lasted an entire school year (and beyond) as area students participated in The Lafayette Experience, an accredited course for select area high school students led by Jim Toia, the program’s director.

Each year, after a vigorous selection process within their respective high schools, about 20 students enroll in the course. Not all make it to the finish line as the group faces a complex assignment and conceptual challenges that push students to develop analytical thinking and problem-solving in the visual arts.

It began in the fall as students met with hospital executives on, what Linda Grass, president at St. Luke’s Hospital–Easton Campus, called “an exciting journey of discovery.”

Their task was to design a mural in a waiting room that would bring comfort during a difficult time. 

“Something that would bring healing and wellness by combining art ideas with clinical needs,” says Grass.

Students went through various stages such a project would demand: understanding hospital design, generating artistic ideas, pitching approaches, hearing constructive feedback, and going back to the literal drawing board.

Students and teachers pose in front of their artwork

Program participants included Jim Toia; Loren Marquardt, Easton Area High School art teacher; Jason Horvath, Phillipsburg High School art teacher; Sage Brotzman, Alexandra DuBose, Ciara Quiñonez, Jaritza Rosaria, Ella Gagliardi, and Hannah Beck.

Sage Brotzman, a rising senior at Easton Area High School (EAHS), talked about the collaborative nature of the project that involved multiple sketches and lots of revising where students would incorporate a variety of ideas.

EAHS art teacher Loren Marquardt said this was an opportunity for students to gain “perspective beyond the classroom by working with the corporate community and each other to help ideas to evolve into something creative and amazing.”

The wall combines natural elements like honeycomb patterns, bubbles, and lotus blossoms. On the wall and several acrylic panels are the words: “Like the lotus we can rise from the mud, bloom out of the darkness and radiate into the world.”

Decorating a space near the chapel, the wall uses warm colors to soothe as double doors swing open and gurneys roll past as patients move from surgery to recovery.

“We put something in a public place that can help people in the hospital to look forward, beyond this moment,” says Brotzman. “We are proud that we could play this part.”

St. Luke’s took the moment to thank students with certificates as well as scholarship checks for college. The money for the project is part of the health network’s community-based grant in honor of its 150th anniversary.

Words and patterns decorate mural at local hospital

Local officials were also on hand, including Sal Panto, mayor of Easton, and Todd Tersigni, mayor of Phillipsburg. Pennsylvania State Rep. Bob Freeman presented certificates to each student and commendation to St. Luke’s.

Toia, who has led this program for 21 years, is proud of this project. “It is one of the most challenging and rewarding, and the students who worked on it were mature enough to understand and deliver on what it demanded,” he says.

It demanded more than expected as the finishing touches happened well into summer for many students who graduated in early June. But they continued to be on hand and see it through completion.

“They really created something bigger than themselves,” says Toia.

And demonstrated the transformational strength of the lotus in the process.

Lafayette's Community-Based Teaching Program

Providing inspiration, guidance, collaboration opportunities for local artists

The Community-Based Teaching Program serves as a source of engagement and dialogue among Easton’s burgeoning artist population, the College, and the local community

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