Making a visit to Children's Hospital more than just a healing experience is one of the goals of its staff. They feel that any visit, regardless of length, should also be a learning experience for the visitor.

During the past several years, doctors and researchers have realized that environment plays a large role in the convalescence of patients. At Children's, an effort is made to make the hospital environment as natural and benevolent as possible. Part of that effort is a very evident emphasis on color and art in the building. It's hard to find a barren wall anywhere.

The experience starts almost as soon as a visitor or patient arrives.To enter the main lobby, people use a specially-designed zigzag escalator from the parking lot. As they approach the end of the ride, their eyes are greeeted by "Periwinkle Shaft," a huge collage created by world renowned artist Robert Rauschenberg.

"The purpose of making 'Periwinkle Shaft,'" wrote Rauschenberg, "is first of all, my esteem for the accomplishments of Children's Hospital and secondly, my almost religious belief in the healing power of art and the creative influence on the body and spirit of the positive environment."

The creation, which uses familiar images such as men raking fields and a stuffed fish, was funded by private donations and a matching grant from the Arts in Public Places program of the National Endowment for the Arts. Angled mirrors form parts of "Periwinkle Shaft," allowing viewers a sense of participation in the work. The hospital wanted something children could relate to, but Rauschenberg took their suggestions one step further, designing an artwork anyone can enjoy.

The experience continues as one enters the main lobby, which is actually a large atrium. Right now the spacious area is dominated by a beautifully decorated 18-foot-tall Christmas tree. The tree is crowned by Clipper the Clown, one of the make-believe friends that inhabit Children's Hospital. Around the lobby, walls are brightened by 54 award-winning original paintings done by children from all over the country for the national Christmas Seal campaign.

Another aspect of Children's emphasis on the arts was the establishment in 1977 of New Horizons, a cultural enrichment program reflecting the hospital's "traditional concern for the physical, emotional and intellectual needs of its patients." New Horizons also tries to expose patients to the humanities and sciences during their time there.

"Since children have no control over what's being done to their bodies," explained program director Susan Eidenberg, "they need to have some control over their environment."

The goal, once again, is to provide a learning experience for children and give them an opportunity for self-expression. Hospitalization is often one of the most traumatic situations a child may have to face.New Horizons attempts to help patients deal with their feelings in a creative way while at Children's and helps make the days go faster by coordinating several different programs.

Children can explore history and nature through special "Discovery Packets" developed in cooperation with area museums. These kits contain models to be assembled, designs to color, and thought-provoking games. Well-planned exhibits and displays provide education as well as diversion. New Horizons also arranges visits by touring dance companies, theater groups, mimes, musicians and other entertainers. A closed circuit television system is used to tape performances which can then be shown to patients unable to attend.

To top it all off, New Horizons administers a residency program for a creative writer, dancer and painter. These three resident artists teach the patients to express ideas and feelings through writing, movement and visual arts.

Art and color is visible on every floor at Children's Hospital. The color-coordinated corridors hardly hint that they enclose one of the finest pediatric hospitals in the world. Many individual rooms have framed paintings outside their doors done by patients. And inside the rooms, posters, paintings, and windows make the atmosphere less threatening.

During the Christmas season the entire hospital is even more colorful than usual. Decorations created by patients adorn the walls and doors. Children's Hospital is a happy, colorful place to get well.