Lehigh Alum Heather Rodale Promotes Healing Through The Arts

Lehigh students’ art work to be showcased in juried art show, which begins Feb. 23

Photography by

Christa Neu

After having surgery for melanoma, Heather Rodale ’74 ’76G ’05P looked outside the window of her New York hospital room. She watched the waves of the East River move and the sun rise and set throughout the day.

Rodale says being in the hospital room was lonely, but she enjoyed having the serene view of nature outside her window to keep her calm and hopeful. However, Rodale noticed that not all patients had the same experience.

“As I walked through the halls, I noticed that other people didn’t have a beautiful view like I did,” Rodale says.

When her doctor cleared her to go back to work, she didn’t feel ready.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute, my body might have healed but my mind has not,’” Rodale says. “[The doctor] said I had to find the meaning of life, and he said he couldn’t help me because that is different for everybody.”

Rodale took a sabbatical from her job and focused on things that she enjoyed doing, such as painting in art classes and listening to music at concerts. She came to realize that what helped her the most throughout her healing process involved the arts. She says she thought there must be a way to help hospital patients and people who have to return to work after their surgeries to also be able to heal.

Rodale says she wanted others to have a similar inspiring view like she did outside her hospital room, but through the help of artwork.

So nine years ago, she decided to create Healing through the Arts, a nonprofit organization that donates art to hospitals after they are displayed at a Hope and Healing Juried Art Show. The organization also provides healing resources, such as meditation and color theory, on its website. The organization has provided about 800 pieces of art to more than 25 hospitals and healing facilities.

The art show will run from Feb. 23-April 14 at the Banana Factory, 25 W. 3rd St., Bethlehem.

According to the Healing through the Arts website, the donated original art from high school and college students “promotes hope and healing by communicating a message of peace, calm, comfort and inspiration.”

Rodale says nature art and mandalas usually fall into this category.

One of the most important parts about the organization, Rodale says, is that it is all about donations—the art is donated by high school and college students and then donated to hospitals. Each year there is about 150 entries. There are five colleges and nine high schools from the region participating in the art show this year.

When Rodale first started the art show, it was during the time schools were cutting funding for the arts and instead focusing on academics.

“The arts were falling behind [in recognition] and to me, art is life and art is not something that is separate from other things. It is related to everything you do. So we wanted to also honor the [students] who were doing the arts at a time when the arts were not being recognized as much as other areas,” Rodale says.

Lehigh Joins Art Show

This is the first year that Lehigh University will be involved in the art show. William Crow, director of the Lehigh University Art Galleries, will be one of four judges.

“I’m excited to be a part of it and really contribute to this effort to leverage the arts as a vehicle for healing and wellness, not just as a vehicle for young people, but everyone in the community,” Crow says.

The four judges give out awards to the top three high school submissions and the top two college submissions. This year, Crow says, the judges looked at which art “visually speaks” on wellness and healing. Crow says they will also look for artwork that is uplifting and inspiring.

“[Hospitals] are places that by their nature have to be sterile, sometimes physically and chemically sterile, but unfortunately it sometimes means they are also visually sterile... So I think there is great power in having opportunities to interact with works of art [in the hospitals] that can change our mindset and it can change our mood,” Crow says. “Artwork can be windows into another world that help us escape the body and mind, but also help us reconnect with who we are and also give us inspiration and help.”

The Hope and Healing Juried Art Show will also feature the work of three Lehigh students: Jimmy Mora ’20, an English and art double major; Giovanna Zamora ’21, an architecture and civil engineering double major; and Isabella La Rocca ’20, who is majoring in marketing with minors in graphic design and computer science.

Zamora and La Rocca’s art came out of a class taught by Jason Travers, professor of practice in the art, architecture and design department.

Travers says having Lehigh students be part of the show is a great way to build a relationship with the surrounding community.

Crow agrees that working with Healing through the Arts allows students to think beyond the campus and to connect with organizations outside of the university.

“I think sometimes in colleges and universities, there's a danger with being in a self-enclosed space, and I think by connecting to organizations, [like] Healing through the Arts, it is a great opportunity for Lehigh students and faculty and staff to be a part of something that goes beyond our campus,” Crow says.

Travers says he hopes to continue to have artwork from his classes be part of the art show.

In addition to judging awards, members of the community were able to choose a winner under the “community award” selection Feb. 9 to Feb.15 in the Healing Arts Center in Allentown.

Rodale expects a total of 20 winners this year.

Rodale says the student art submissions will not only give hope and healing to patients, but sometimes will also help the students who are donating their art.

“[The students] are not just creating art,” she says. “Some of them are working through their own healing through art, and also they want to help others by donating their art.”

Healthcare professionals can visit the art show and send Rodale a wishlist of what they would like to receive for their hospital or healing facility. The art is divided and distributed free of charge at the conclusion of the show.

Story by: Madison Hoff

Photography by

Christa Neu

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