Creative Partnership Promotes Peace and Tranquility to Genesee County Cancer Patients

Flint-area artists' pieces displayed at the McLaren Proton Therapy Center

Author: Jasmine Brown

Rose Hedge Home, Thorny Offshoots and Nesting monotype paintings by Nancy Pennell

The walls of the McLaren Proton Therapy Center are inviting, not only to the cancer patients who walk those paths every day, but also to local artists. The artwork hanging on the walls has transformed the feeling patients experience as they routinely receive cancer treatment.

“We’re always looking for ways to engage our community,” said Michele Leclaire, executive director of Buckham Gallery. “It’s part of our mission: ‘ enrich the cultural life of [the Buckham Gallery’s] surrounding communities by presenting a broad range of innovative contemporary art, both visual and performance, of the highest quality and standard.’ At a time when people are very stressed, worried, and going through treatment, this is a wonderful opportunity to fulfill our mission and add to the enjoyment of the space.”

Buckham Gallery is an artist-led co-op, ran by local artist collaborators. Karmanos Cancer Institute and McLaren Proton Therapy Center have been in partnership with the gallery since 2019, in support of the Healing Through Art program at McLaren Flint.  This art therapy program is dedicated to the promotion of healing for cancer patients through the creative visual arts process.


“The art therapy program exists to help patients process their journey and give them a safe space,” explained Erin Simonetti, M.ED. ATR, registered art therapist at Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint. “It’s not just creating artwork, but sometimes it’s about being surrounded by artwork. This is a way that we can, not only support local Flint artists, but help make the experience more comfortable for patients.”


Each piece is strategically chosen and placed to generate a spirit of hope among patients, caregivers, and staff.

“We wanted more abstract pieces, cool colors, and nature – artworks that intrigue the viewer, pieces that make you want to stare for a while, and work that brings about feelings of relaxation and calmness with purples, blues, and greens,” shared Erin. “We placed them in waiting areas, bathrooms, hallways, in the changing rooms, in the hallways as patients enter treatment and where staff frequent. There is artwork as patients and staff enter and exit rooms. The path of artwork follows patients throughout their treatment process each day.”

Nancy Pennell has been a member of Buckham Gallery for over 25 years. She says this partnership helps artists like her use their artwork for what it is made for – to be seen.

“I’m glad that someone is viewing my artwork rather than my pieces sitting at home,” said Nancy. “If it makes someone happy to see it, if it makes them feel good, if they see something in it – a lot of them have many, many layers, and sometimes you can see things within it. You might be able to see more if you come close rather than looking at it from far away.”

Nancy has multiple art pieces displayed at the McLaren Proton Therapy Center. Many of them reflect one of the categories to help comfort patients: nature. Nancy says she lives west of Swartz Creek in what she considers the country. In the Rabbit Hole is a monotype piece she created that now hangs in the hallway between proton therapy treatment rooms two and three. Nancy says a hedge on her neighbor’s property, right by her driveway, inspired her to create this piece.


Entangled and In the Rabbit Hole, monotype paintings by Nancy Pennell


“There were overgrown rose bushes and weeds mixed in,” explained Nancy. “I saw a hole in there, and it looked like it was the opening to a rabbit’s home. It was brown weeds, but I knew something lived there or used it for protection. It made me feel good.

“Sometimes people look at things like weeds, brush, and underbrush, and they don’t see the beauty in it. I love colors, so I use a lot of color in my work, and I think it portrays another view of nature that’s important.”

If a patient or staff member sees something they like, they have the option to purchase that piece. Purchasing artwork allows another artist to showcase their work in its place, giving them more exposure.

“We recently had two pieces purchased by staff members, and starting this year, Karmanos will make an annual purchase for their permanent collection. This shows that they are supporting the artists in our community,” said Michele.

There are three pieces donated by individuals who have direct ties to the cancer program on permanent display at the McLaren Proton Therapy Center. Finding Beauty in the Transformation is an acrylic collage painting with pinks, blues, greens, purples, and yellows. This piece, painted by the Healing Through Art Therapy patients, hangs at the end of the first hallway in the McLaren Proton Therapy Center. Patients see this piece as they are leaving for the day.


Finding Beauty in the Transformation acrylic painting by Healing Through Art program participants

The Petals That Shape Me is an acrylic painting created and donated by Erin. This piece illustrates a blooming pink flower with different shades of pink and purple outlining the shadows. It sits on the wall between proton therapy treatment rooms two and three.


"Nature is very symbolic to the cancer journey.  There’s growth and transformation through different seasons, or what we can refer to as different treatments a patient may go through,” said Erin.  “I created this piece in reflection of my experience as an art therapist at Karmanos. My goal is to nurture and provide a safe space for growth and emotional healing. This process can be delicate and unique to each individual as they walk their own path.  It’s a privilege to be able to walk that path with them and be part of their journey.”

The Petals That Shape Me, acrylic painting by Erin Simonetti

Lastly, the staff at both the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint and the McLaren Proton Therapy Center painted In Bloom. This piece is displayed on the wall directly in front of the nurse’s station. It uses many colors to create a blooming bouquet of flowers.


“We get a lot of feedback on how colorful and how warm the pieces are,” said Erin. “It’s neat because the difference of regular artwork versus this community’s artwork is the uniqueness of the pieces – each one grabs your attention in a different way.”

In Bloom, acrylic painting by Karmanos staff

Due to the restriction on visitors in the cancer centers, to view the art pieces for purchase at the McLaren Proton Therapy Center, contact Erin Simonetti at


The Healing Through Art program is offered virtually every week for both group and individual sessions. The program is open to anyone touched by cancer, including patients, caregivers, family, and friends. Art experience is not needed to participate. Learn more about the art therapy program at McLaren Flint by visiting


The Healing Through Art program at McLaren Flint is supported by Genesee Health Plan; The Gayar Foundation; Diagnostic Radiology Associates of Flint, P.C.; Singh and Arora Oncology/Hematology, P.C.; and the Stella & Frederick Loeb Charitable Trust.