When the Massachusetts Mental Health Center (MMHC) was destined for demolition in 2003, artist Anna Schuleit created 'Bloom' - an extraordinary living installation that celebrated the building. Commissioned with the task of memorializing the MMHC's 91 years of service - in which it had touched the lives of thousands of patients and employees - Schuleit wanted to inspire reflection on the building's history while providing a positive sign for the future. Injecting life back into the derelict hallways, she filled each room with fields of 28,000 colorful potted flowers.
With just three months to plan and a small budget, Schuleit studied the building’s rich history and architecture and decided to create a stunning work of “imagination” that would be open to the public. At the time she had been working as a visiting artist in a different psychiatric center, and she reflected on how flowers are a symbol of healing when they are given to the sick, yet patients of psychiatric institutions rarely receive flowers. She decided to counteract this absence of color and life.
In preparation for the opening Shuleit ordered 28,000 flowers, which she watered, carefully unwrapped, placed in their designated spaces, and watered again. Luckily a spontaneous team of 80 volunteers lent a hand with placing the growing plants in almost every area of the building; each hallway, stairwell, and office was filled with the flowers. The center was then reopened for four days, over the course of which thousands of visitors – including former patients and employees – came to say goodbye to the building, which was filled with memories and hope.
But Schuleit’s work did not end there – when ‘Bloom’ closed after the public memorial, each of the 28,000 flowers were delivered to psychiatric hospitals, shelters, and half-way houses across New England as a social artwork. Since she worked with potted plants instead of cut flowers, Schuleit’s piece will continue to live and touch people long after the end of the installation and the closure of the center.
Images courtesy of Anna Schuleit