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Project brings art to young Summerlin-area patients

When a child is in the hospital, distractions often are a plus. A visit from the fairy art princess is one such distraction.

That’s how Diane Mifsud often introduces herself. She began Project Imagine, which brings art to the bedsides of children who have cancer or other life-threatening illnesses, seven years ago.

The project involves telling a story of an adventure through pictures.

“First and foremost, it’s about empowerment,” Mifsud said. “Just choosing their medium, or what paintbrush they’re going to use, what they’re going to draw. The kids are being told what to do constantly when they’re in the hospital. ‘You need to take this pill.’ ‘Cough for me.’ We’re allowing them to make their own choices.”

Artoberfest, an event to benefit Project Imagine, is set for 6-10 p.m. Oct. 14 at Domsky Glass, 2758 S. Highland Drive, Unit A. Admission is $40. The evening includes a hot-glass demonstration, one beverage, dinner, a raffle and a silent auction. Visit artoberfestlv.eventbrite.com.

Kristina Bijelic, a registered nurse at Summerlin Hospital, said she sees patients’ moods change when a Project Imagine artist comes by.

“It just changes their whole (outlook) and brightens their day,” she said. “It’s so nice to see the finished project. They’re so proud of what they’ve made.”

The nurses will put the drawings up around the hospital for everyone to see.

Tanya Thow was there with her son Cole, 10, who has been sick since Christmas. He was at Summerlin Hospital for his fifth round of chemotherapy. This was their first session with Mifsud.

Cole’s mom said he entertains himself well, using his iPad to play games. Or they will challenge each other to a video game or watch a movie. If his brother or sisters come down, they’ll go play basketball or go into the playroom.

But art? Not so much.

“But I like to see him explore that creative side that I know he has and just get away from the hospital feel,” Thow said.

Cole was less talkative but agreed to make a drawing of his name. It was similar to a project his class did at school, using cards for each letter, done as he sat in his hospital bed.

His favorite art project at school: Making a self-portrait.

“It’s kind of difficult to draw yourself,” he said. “I had to use a mirror.”

There is a benefit to caregivers, too. When the artist is in the room, the nurses get a break or, once Project Imagine establishes a relationship with the family, Mom or Dad gets the chance to step out and take a private moment.

Project has a skeleton crew — just four artists, including Mifsud. Artists are paid a stipend. A $1,000 donation, for example, provides 40 sessions with the children.

Empowering the patients means letting the child decide what to draw and how to draw it.

When Mifsud began the nonprofit, she had lofty goals. The pictures that children created were put into a professionally bound book and presented to the child a couple of weeks later. That became too costly, so the book binding was dropped in favor of a simpler goal: a session creating art.

Also the first year, Project Imagine went into Sunrise, Summerlin, UMC and St. Rose Dominican hospitals. Now, it’s just at two, Summerlin and Sunrise, as most of the pediatric patients end up in those places, Mifsud said.

“We’re more effective that way,” Mifsud said. “As we’ve pioneered this, being the only arts-in-medicine program, I think that is the biggest change we’re seeing, being accepted. That and getting a nonprofit 503(c) status.”

The nonprofit status has allowed her team to broaden programming and qualify for more funding. She’s looking to include children’s performance artists and musicians in the upcoming months.

Project Imagine has reached more than 1,500 children, Mifsud said.

“It’s not about the art or the product; it’s about the human connection, being present in that moment,” she said. ” … It’s giving children a voice through art.”

Visit projectimaginelv.org.

Contact Jan Hogan at jhogan@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2949.

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