Piecing It Together: The Art of Group Projects

Group projects are periodically introduced in the Inova pediatric oncology outpatient clinic as a way for patients to work together toward a common goal: to create one piece of art that represents all of the patients that come to clinic every week for treatment. These projects provide a way for patients to connect with one another, even when they don’t see each other at the clinic. Making art with multiple artists creates a sense of mystery. Each artist completes a piece, not knowing how it will contribute to the end result,  and others are added to it until the artwork is whole. The patients and family members know that the piece will hang in the clinic when it is completed for all to enjoy and everyone becomes invested in contributing to this community art piece.


Two multi-panel paintings were created recently;  a 24 panel zebra and a 9 panel butterfly. The images were drawn in black on a series of 4″ white canvas boards and individuals chose the panel they wished to work on. The only direction given was to use one color that was used in neighboring panels, understanding that the color could be incorporated in any way they chose. The intention was to create some continuity between the canvas panels. The butterfly and zebra came to life with each completed canvas. Everyone approached their piece in a different way and it was interesting to watch that process; to note which panel they each chose to work on, the colors they chose to use and the many different ways the canvases were painted.

These projects took some time to complete, but there was anticipation and interest throughout the process–and a sense of belonging and ownership for the many children, teens and adults who had a part in creating the final art piece. Although this work does not have the same therapeutic expression as an individual piece of art, there is power in the connection between those who contributed as they worked to create this piece with people they did not know or may not see any more in clinic due to treatment schedules. There was noticeable delight for some in learning who else had contributed to the butterfly and /or the zebra and for others in knowing that these were both a group collaboration.

There was excitement and surprise when the finished pieces were viewed for the first time. Patients and family members who worked on the butterfly or the zebra were surprised and delighted by what they had created and those who did not participate were excited about the finished piece as well. There continues to be much interest and investment in where the pieces will hang in the clinic and that perfect spot will be chosen soon.

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