The former Saint Agnes Hospital has not been used in a long time and, although plans have been floated to renovate the facility, it has been a vacant shell on the edge of Saint Augustine’s University’s campus for years. However plans to beautify the site by installing public art at the site are moving forward.
On Oct. 25, an artists’ reception was held in downtown Raleigh to celebrate completion of Phase Two of the project. The public art installation is in Phase Three and is planned for the spring of 2018, according to Ms. Linda Dallas, a professor of visual arts who is spearheading the project.
The project is called Envision Saint Agnes Hospital. Its goal is to create a public art installation on the site, designed by Saint Augustine University students that acknowledges the importance of the historic landmark.
“The shell of Saint Agnes Hospital, a beautiful stone structure full of sky, is one of the first things you see when you visit the Saint Augustine’s campus,” Prof. Dallas explained. “As an artist, it sparked my imagination and, of course, my first impulse was to create a painting of it. However, it was not until I met Irene Clark, retired Professor of Biology at Saint Augustine’s University, and heard her speak about Saint Agnes that I began to understand the profound connection the Hospital had and continues to have to the surrounding community.”
Prof. Dallas recalled that Ms. Clark held her and other guests “spell bound” as she “told story after story that brought the struggles and triumphs of the hospital patients and staff to life.”
Built in 1909 from stones quarried from Saint Augustine’s campus, the four-story structure was in use as a hospital from 1896 to 1961. Saint Agnes Hospital provided both nurse training and medical care. In the early 1900s it was once the only well-equipped hospital that treated African Americans between Washington D.C. and New Orleans.
“Today, the empty shell remains a beautiful edifice that reminds us of its valuable past and beckons toward a vital future,” states a fact sheet for the Envision Saint Agnes project.
Phase Two began in April, when artists from the surrounding community came out to enjoy the old hospital for a day of making art that honored this historic landmark. The results are the works of over 30 artists in the Envision Saint Agnes Hospital exhibition at the Block Gallery. The event included an African American History Walking Tour of the community, a presentation on the history of Saint Agnes Hospital, hands-on activities and art workshops. Twenty-five percent of the event participants were born at Saint Agnes Hospital.
The exhibition in the Block Gallery, 222 W. Hargett Street, began Sept 27 and runs until Jan 5. “The imagery in this exhibition honors the past, celebrates the present and invites us to envision a vital future for Saint Agnes Hospital,” according to a press release about the exhibit.
The artists have agreed to donate 30 percent of proceeds for a public art installation designed by Saint Augustine’s students to acknowledge this landmark, the release stated.
Ms. Dallas said this project is rewarding many ways. “I’ve met such wonderful people and learned amazing things about the history of Raleigh,” she said. “This exhibition and the funds raised through artwork purchases, reflect the community support for this Saint Augustine’s University public art project. I’m very pleased to live and work in such a generous community.”
Anyone who wishes to donate to Envision Saint Agnes Hospital can contact Ms. Dallas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Sterling Raynor