I introduced this project in a previous post about new MFA work at Pratt. For the last week or so, I’ve been reading, visiting, and exploring what is left of St. Vincent’s Hospital in NYC. As someone that has only lived in New York for a year and a half, I honestly don’t feel very connected to many places in the city. Yet again, we are asked to pick a place of significance in New York as an inspiration for a self-initiated project. I actually like doing this, don’t get me wrong, I just wish I lived here longer, so I’d know more about the places I’m investigating. I’d recently read an article in NY Magazine about St. Vincent’s closing and NYC’s (in my view) fucked health care system. My only knowledge about the hospital was that it was the center of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. It is literally around the corner from Pratt Manhattan, yet I didn’t hear about the actual closing until months later.
Thankfully, I don’t have much experience with hospitals. My brother had to go a few times due to head injuries, but besides that, I’m not used to visiting or staying in hospitals. I feel uncomfortable in them, but I think that’s normal. I do have a memory of one of my brother’s hospital trips: I didn’t want to go along b/c I’d miss Dawson’s Creek (priorities!) and I was making a pasta salad (it was in the freezer to get cold quicker). My brother ended up being fine, but I spent all night missing Dawson’s Creek, and my pasta salad was totally frozen.
What strikes me about St. Vincent’s is, how can a hospital fail? How can a hospital be aloud to go bankrupt? St. Vincent’s was nearly 160 years old, it treated patients from a cholera outbreak in the 1800’s, survivors of the Titanic, diagnosed the first cases of AIDS in the US, and survived 9-11. Yet it couldn’t save itself. Our country has a strange relationship with health care. Many wealthy nations view it as a human right, while in the US, health care is a booming profit-driven industry, based upon NOT providing care and help to those that need it. The idea of companies gaining profit on the ill-health of their customers is sickening to me, but that’s another issue.
So why St. Vincent’s … why do I feel a connection to a hospital I never visited? After reading the NY magazine article, I felt really sad. It made St. Vincent’s seem like a living thing. An aging, broken, and sad thing … but still something once living. This hospital in particular holds so much history, and if the towers are turned into condos, or if the buildings are torn down, what happens to all that history? Shouldn’t we (and by that I mean NYC) thank the hospital for all its done for the city? Our government will bail out auto makers, banks, wall street, give huge tax breaks to corporations, but why didn’t they save the hospital … a business dedicated to delivering and saving lives? There were a lot of problems with St. Vincent’s, and it didn’t happen over night, but I want to save the stories of the place, even if the hospital itself is beyond repair.
Here’s an example of what I mean, from the Save St. Vincent’s facebook page:
There is a digital memorial, or archive of this type for stories about 9-11. It’s called the September 11th Digital Archive. St. Vincent’s deserves the same. Something alive online, where previous patients, workers, politicians, etc can add stories and images, so that history will be preserved. That is what I propose for my final project. I’ve reached out to a few people, but I’d really like this project to be bigger than the class if I can talk to the right people.
Here are some photos I took last week exploring the site.