A smash opening for ArtFirst!

Halls of University Medical Center at Princeton transformed into an art gallery

   The public spaces of University Medical Center at Princeton were transformed into an art gallery on Saturday, with hospital corridors hosting colorful expanses of paintings occasionally punctuated by dynamic mixed media works and a series of photographs.
   At 6 p.m., the first of several hundred guests began arriving for the ArtFirst! Patrons Preview Party — the official opening for the annual international exhibition and sale of art and fine crafts by artists with disabilities, presented by the Auxiliary of UMCP. Not long after the doors opened, the hospital was crowded and buzzing with excitement as patrons made their way through the exhibit.
   This year’s ArtFirst! exhibition features 320 works by nearly 100 artists. More than a dozen of the artists attended Saturday evening’s Patrons Preview Party, coming from as far away as Montana, Florida and Quebec City.
   "It is such an honor to be a part of this exhibit," says Roger Hardy, a Canadian artist who paints vivid oil landscapes. Mr. Hardy has post-polio syndrome and relies on a wheelchair for mobility. He and his wife, Yoko Leung, drove 10 hours the previous day to attend the party. "This is my first time seeing it and I’m so happy to be here and to be included with these very talented artists."
   Several of the New Jersey-based artists attended the preview, as well, taking the opportunity to see the work of their peers and talk with the patrons about their craft. West Windsor resident and first-time ArtFirst! participant Frances Yen, who has Parkinson’s disease, enjoyed a favorable response to her watercolors, selling two paintings and winning third place in the watercolor category.
   The exuberance and enthusiasm expressed by attending artists was matched or exceeded by the preview guests who mingled with one another, conversed with the artists, and experienced the art with a soundtrack set by Bo Child and the Stringzville Quartet. They feasted on a sumptuous buffet in the reception room of sirloin, crab martinis, shrimp shooters, and pasta and enjoyed passed hors d’oeuvres of duck, tuna, and a variety of cheeses. Gorgeous floral arrangements defied the reluctant spring weather with bursts of white snap dragons, roses, tulips and hydrangea.
   "It was a wonderful evening and event and everyone seemed so pleased with both the art work and the party," says Mary Kenyon of Montgomery, ArtFirst! honorary chair along with her husband, Regan.
   Though the ArtFirst! Patrons Preview Party is over, the exhibition will remain installed at University Medical Center for five weeks. And while the work brings the public spaces of the hospital alive, it serves more than an aesthetic purpose.
   ArtFirst! is co-chaired this year by Sue Burton of Montgomery and Ringoes resident Barbara Curtis. Exhibition curators are Courtenay Harton and Ellen Maranca. The exhibit is open to the public daily, free of charge, from 11 a.m to 8 p.m. until May 18. All work is for sale and artists receive 80 percent of the sale price.
   Proceeds from the Patrons Preview Party and the hospital’s art sales commission benefit Maternal Health programs at UMCP.
   For more information, visit www.ArtFirstUMCP.com.