Got Art?

It might be visually stimulating, but can it improve your health?

Relief for frazzled nerves, hypertension, stress, and other ailments might be as close as a Walgreens, but at two Miami Beach stores you don't have to comb the shelves to find it.

The Windows at Walgreens public art project, organized by ArtCenter/South Florida, is playing an unheralded role in helping customers at the 74th Street and Collins Avenue store as well as the Lincoln Road and Collins Avenue location stay healthy — not to mention pacifying some souls in the process.

The notion that shoppers can decompress and unplug by viewing the works of artists such as Alekxey Sabido, Diane Hanson, and Pablo Constriciani might have stemmed from studies that suggest art is therapeutically beneficial for all kinds of illnesses.

Not everyone notices drugstore art
Not everyone notices drugstore art
Snapshots of mayhem
Snapshots of mayhem

Swedish researcher Britt-Maj Wikstroem of the Ersta Skoendal University College in Stockholm has been examining the effects of art in different settings since the Eighties. Over a period of four months this past summer, Wikstroem observed twenty elderly women viewing and discussing art. Results show that members of the group experienced various medicinal benefits from the stimulating cultural exercise.

"Their attitudes became more positive, more creative, their blood pressure went in the right direction ... and they used fewer laxatives," reports Wikstroem. "It's all about using art in a structured way."

The novel alliance between the retail chain founded in 1937 and ArtCenter is providing local artists with not only a unique venue for exposure but also an unlikely opportunity to interact with a pedestrian public, says ArtCenter curator Claire Breukel.

"Our 46 artists in residence show at both Walgreens in rotating exhibits throughout the year," says Breukel, adding that those involved in the project have sold quite a bit of work.

Others seem to share the idea that working and living surrounded by art is a positive way to break away from the rat race, while some have opted to set up their art businesses in off-the-beaten-path environments where they believe a cozier venue helps seal the deal.

Miami orthodontist Arturo Mosquera converted a house on SW 87th Street into a dental office. In a popular project he calls "Art@Work," he organizes four exhibits each year, showing the works of top locals, including Glexis Novoa, Liz Cerejido, Eugenia Vargas, Jorge Pantoja, and Edouard Duval-Carrié.

"My wife and I started collecting in 1989 and experienced a powerful transformation living with the art in our home," mentions Mosquera. "I wanted to share what we felt with my patients and started bringing art from my collection to the office and then began organizing exhibits a few years ago."

Mosquera laughs when I relate the story about the backed-up biddies grooving from a culture fix, but agrees with the research findings and swears that engaging with art is a powerful tonic, mentioning that his patients enjoy exposure to the works when receiving treatment, and art has helped him combat stress.

"I can give you personal testimony that the last couple of years being surrounded by art at home and at work have lowered my stress levels," Mosquera affirms.

Ramon Williams's digital prints are currently on display at the dental practice, and the artist's epic movie, Open Mongo Napoleon, is screening in the doctor's lobby through December.

Wynwood pioneer Brook Dorsch ran an alternative mom-and-pop operation from the living room of his modest Coral Way apartment for nearly a decade. He walled up the windows of his space above an old drug store, cleared out the furniture, and converted it into a gallery to give all of those suffering from indigestion due to a souring Gables scene the opportunity to fill their prescriptions for a funky art experience.

His kitchen pulled double duty as a bar, and the joint was a favorite haunt for art lovers during most of the Nineties.

"I was the gringo anchoring Cuban Memorial Boulevard," Dorsch quips. "We had over 50 shows at the place."

Nowadays he owns a spot in Wynwood but occasionally features exhibits in the gallery's neighboring building — a former crack house he also owns — including two wildly popular shows, David Rohn's "Le Chateau del Pueblo" and Julie Lara Kahn's "Crack House."

"This is not a new concept," explains A.J. Japour, a former professor and AIDS researcher at Harvard Medical School who now runs an Internet art business and often exhibits work at his chichi pad at the Murano Grande in South Beach. "People sold work from their homes in the 1900s until galleries began cropping up later."

A few years ago Japour went on sabbatical, during which he was gunning for a post with the Bush administration and basically waiting for his phone to ring. He took a relaxing cross-country road trip, stopping at museums and galleries along the way, when he caught the art flu.

"I had an epiphany and felt like I wanted to promote artists but I didn't want to open a commercial space," he says.

Instead, from his 33rd-floor crystal palace, Japour curates four shows a year under the banner Art with a View. His next exhibit, "Cosmic Oasis," opens December 2 and will feature the work of glass sculptor Henry Richardson. Japour says he'll be hosting an exclusive hoity-toity soiree for Washington, D.C.'s Corcoran Gallery during Art Basel.

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