Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 3, 2020 | °F in Baltimore

What Art Cart taught me about the power of crafts

By KAYLEE ZOU | March 12, 2020

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COURTESY OF KAYLEE ZOU

Nita Nair has been volunteering with the Art Cart since freshman year. 

Every Monday morning, before I wake up for my first class, I hear the sound of soft footsteps shuffling and the creak of the apartment front door — this is when I know my roommate, Nita Nair, is up bright and early for her shift at the Hopkins Hospital for the Art Cart, an organization on campus that allows volunteers to deliver arts and crafts to admitted patients and their families. 

I had asked her about the Art Cart several times before, knowing she’d been involved with it since her freshman year. I finally decided to tag along with her to her shift to see what it’s all about.

As Nita has been my best friend since freshman orientation, I’d always heard tender stories from her about the Believe in Art club (which is a Hopkins club that organizes and runs the Art Cart). I’d also heard from her about the time she made tons of crafts with a patient, hoping to fill Easter baskets for their grandkids.

Since learning about this organization, I’ve always admired the contributions of the Art Cart in brightening up the experiences of those at Hopkins Hospital. It is an incredible demonstration of the mutually supportive relationship between Homewood undergraduate students and Hopkins Hospital. 

Nita’s weekly commitment to the Art Cart began her freshmen fall, and her college experience would not have been the same without it. 

As an active member of the project, she has regularly organized opportunities for people to make handmade cards and letters for their loved ones who are undergoing surgery. She has entertained and comforted children while they wait for their appointments or wait on a sibling in an appointment. 

Believe in Art at Hopkins University actually began out of the “Art Cart Project,” known now as the Art Cart. The project has expanded in scope through the years to cover a larger range of locations in Hopkins Hospital, broadening its impact on patients, with the principles of art therapy as its focus. 

According to the description of the organization on the Hopkins Groups page, “Patients will engage in artistic activities that are meant to aid them in times of suffering, while volunteers will exercise artistic skills and will be given the opportunity to analyze the positive impacts that art can deliver in non-artistic settings. The club ultimately increases awareness of the importance of the art in our community.” 

On the Monday that I shadowed Nita to learn more about the Art Cart, we took the 8:30 a.m. JHMI down to the med campus. I fell asleep on the ride there and woke up to Nita fervently tapping my shoulder to get off now, which explains why on my way back I really struggled to find the JHMI stop without her.

At the Hospital, the first thing we did was check in to the Volunteer Services office and then head to the back room with the physical art cart. 

Nita sanitized the entire cart in preparation for her shift. She restocked the crafts that were low in stock from other volunteers’ shifts. Then we headed to the approved wings for the Art Cart. We looped through several waiting rooms and made paper flowers with different families. 

Nita usually works three-hour shifts at a time, like most of the other volunteers who work with the Art Cart. When asking a little girl, who was sitting in the waiting room, waiting for her brother, as to why she wanted to do arts and crafts with the Art Cart, she replied simply and elegantly, “Art makes me happy.” 

We could see her eyes light up as a second art cart whipped around the corner; she excitedly asked us if she could do more than one craft. Believe in Art is open to all Hopkins undergraduate students if they are interested in applying and becoming a part of the Art Cart. 

The organization has made great strides in bringing joy to the hospital setting. While shadowing Nita, I witnessed firsthand the immediate gratification and emotional relief that art awards in tense and difficult environments like the operating room or the clinic.  

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