I could just stay in this dressing room forever,” “This is the most calming space,” “I feel at peace here,” “This place is truly beautiful.” These words come from women who have visited the newly-renovated Breast Center, located inside of University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

 

UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute serves as the state’s only academic cancer treatment and research facility. In an effort to continue to improve cancer care for Arkansans and beyond, the cancer institute treats many forms of cancer.

 

The institute’s expanded Breast Center opened its doors April 5, 2021, following a lengthy renovation with Hrand DuValian, senior architect at Cromwell Architects Engineers, leading the process. The new space encompasses about 12,000 square feet, complete with 14 dressing rooms, five mammography rooms, five ultrasound rooms, an MRI suite and more amenities.

 

Breast Center Women

Sunsoaked by Catherine Burton

 

Following the renovated facility’s opening, a well-known name set out to make sure the space was decorated in a way beneficial for all patients, creating an environment as inviting as it was medically and technologically advanced. Natalie Rockefeller began this effort following an appointment she had in March 2021.

 

“I went for a mammogram at UAMS when it was still in the outpatient building and while I was there, Dr. Bryant-Smith had gotten permission to show me the new center in the cancer institute,” Rockefeller said. “Even before it was finished, it was like going from two totally different experiences. Walking from the old space to the new, I was floored. The windows, light and the hardwood floors – it was just beautiful, and you could tell the space was designed by women for women.”

 

Seashowers then Sun by Catherine Burton

 

The space was put together with finishing touches that make it more welcoming, said Rockefeller, with prep and exams rooms featuring frosted-glass, mirrors, storage space in changing areas, soundproofing and more. And yet, there was something missing.

 

“They put a lot of thought and planning inside the space, and I remembered looking at Dr. Bryant- Smith and saying ‘This place needs really good art,’” Rockefeller said.

 

Dr. Gwendolyn Bryant-Smith, director of UAMS Breast Center

 

Dr. Gwendolyn Bryant- Smith, director of The Breast Center, is enthusiastic in her work, with a positive attitude and immense gratitude, she describes the space as being built intentionally, with patients’ peace-of-mind in the background of every decision. In working with Rockefeller, Bryant-Smith was ardent about a way to help women while creating a serene space. The serenity Bryant-Smith was hoping for is apparent for more than 250 patients, who reported that the new space was overwhelming, beautiful and a complete transformation, in a UAMS-conducted survey.

 

“At UAMS we have always prided ourselves on having excellent patient care. Now, our facility matches the effort we put into creating a calming environment for our patients,” Bryant-Smith said. “We’ve had several patients comment on how calming the facility is, a lot of which is thanks to the amazing art that is showcased in the dressing rooms, waiting rooms and exam rooms.”

 

Just for Joy by Emily Laughlin Cobb

 

Upon returning home from touring the facility, Rockefeller began brainstorming ways to fill the walls with cohesion and creativity. Rockefeller wanted to showcase art from local artists but did not want the artists themselves to have to donate their pieces. Upon calling Dr. Bryant-Smith back, Rockefeller pitched the idea of local artists creating work specifically for the space, but instead of donating the pieces, they set their price and outside buyers could purchase the art in dedication of a cancer survivor or warrior. It was an initiative that would allow women to help women.

 

“Artists get asked to donate pieces all of the time, but I wanted this to not just benefit the space, but also benefit the artists,” Rockefeller said. “It was really centered around the thought of women helping women– which became the title of this project.”

 

Inception by Kathryn Daniel Sixbey

 

With this plan underway, Rockefeller called on a few members from the cancer institute’s board of advisors, of which she has been chairman since 2018. She asked for nominations of women artists and combined those suggestions with her own. She then reached out to the artists, who were all local to Arkansas, and once more pitched her idea.

 

Unsure of the magnitude the project would come to hold, Rockefeller originally thought she would maybe receive 10 or 12 paintings. By late April 2021, she’d secured eight pieces from four artists. Announcing the project via an Instagram post (@whwartproject) she left for a tennis class and when she returned home, was shocked to see all the pieces were already sold. In that moment, she knew Women Helping Women was going to be far greater than she originally anticipated.

 

“Not only were all of the paintings sold, but people were reaching out to see how they could get involved with the project,” she said. “We got to work.”

 

Fortunately, The Breast Center offered plenty of space for artwork between its multiple dressing rooms, mammography rooms, ultrasound rooms and imaging suites.  It also offered space in the large waiting areas, filled with natural light. This provided the new art program with ready and available space to grow the collection.

 

With plush pink and white robes, privacy and calming wave-sculpted accent walls, the space was promising. Bryant-Smith has been successful in ensuring that women would never have to sit in a gloomy waiting room, a cramped dressing room, or in a cold exam room with a scratchy robe.

 

Rockefeller not only secured the pieces but was also involved in their display. She wanted the walls of the corridor and the waiting room to look cohesive, but the many other rooms retained their own personality, thus opening the initiative up to artists with different styles. Purchased pieces were delivered to BK Moulding Supply in Little Rock which framed the pieces and handled installation.

 

“For a while, we were doing an install every week, working with The Breast Center team and the installers to do so,” Rockefeller said. “Every piece was assigned to a certain space and the art was all truly made for the spaces.”

 

Bryant-Smith is proud of how the project has come to fruition, as a supporter of the arts, she is thrilled with the improvement to the space.

 

“I love all of the artwork, but one of my favorite pieces is featured in one of our dressing rooms, dubbed ‘The Lipstick Room,’ and  it is absolutely gorgeous, with pops of bright color,” Bryant-Smith said. “My husband commissioned a piece by the same artist, Morgan Herndon, to hang in my office.”

 

Several UAMS providers in The Breast Center have also commissioned pieces from Women Helping Women, including Dr. Scott B. Harter, who has an Arden Boyce painting in his office.

 

Though the styles and techniques used by the artists vary to a great degree, the pieces have been planned in a way that allows for cohesion and balance. Women Helping Women features work from a variety of female Arkansan artists, all of which are renowned in their own right. As of December 2022, these artists include Arden Boyce, Lauren Anderson, Catherine Burton, Emily Cobb, Linda Harding, Tracee Mathews, Amanda Southerland Owens, Vicki Kovaleski, Morgan Herndon, Katheryn Sixbey, Mary Lynn Nelson, Stephanie Ann Hutchinson, Michelle Renee and Eleanor Dickinson.

 

In a related project, Heather Jenkins donated her time to photograph the pieces for an upcoming coffee table book, targeting a Fall 2023 publish date. Upon completion of the project, the book will serve as a way for more people to enjoy the artwork featured in The Breast Center.

 

The project is close to being completed, having resulted in more than 80 paintings, with sales totaling about $90,000 as of December 2022. The result of the work provides, in the words of The Breast Center website, “a painting a woman will remember seeing the day she is told she is cancer-free, or the piece she will remember that brought her a sense of calm before her mammogram.”

 

As for Rockefeller, she comes by her passion for the institute and the work it does honestly. Her father-in-law was the late former Lieut. Governor Winthrop P. Rockefeller, who died of cancer and whose name is on the building. She said like all departments here, The Breast Center is an outstanding medical resource for women and families dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

 

Breast Center Women

Daddy’s Roses by Morgan Herndon

 

“One thing that is so unique and special about The Breast Center is how much they respect your time,” she said. “They let you know your results the same day, instead of making you wait for a letter to come days or weeks later. They always, always make sure women know the day-of.

 

“They make sure to do what is necessary. I had a friend who needed a biopsy and they gave her the option to do it that very same day. I needed an ultrasound in addition to a mammogram, and now they can use that ultrasound as a benchmark. You can do all you need to do in one day, all with the peace of mind that you won’t have to go back multiple times just to find out your results.

 

As director, Bryant-Smith is proud of how UAMS and The Breast Center have been able to serve women, with several initiatives put in place for patients. Inside the Women’s Center at UAMS, there is now a 3D digital mammography machine, so that women can get their mammograms conveniently – and be called with their results the same day. The Breast Center also has a mobile mammography van, so that women in remote and rural areas can get their mammograms without having to travel far. With extended hours on one Tuesday night a month and one Saturday a month, women who work or have other obligations during the center’s regular hours can schedule appointments around their schedules – instead of changing their schedules to get an appointment.

 

“Accessibility is everything in women’s health care,” Bryant-Smith said. “We are really proud that we are able to get same-day results to our patients.”

 

Rockefeller says she is appreciative of how The Breast Center works to ensure women are treated and seen in a timely manner.

 

“As women, our time is valuable, our lives are important and The Breast Center at UAMS allows you to get back to what you’re doing, quickly,” Rockefeller said.

 

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