Artist's brush with health care, creates medical murals - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Artist's brush with health care, creates medical murals

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With each stroke of her paint brush, Regina Holliday reveals a story. She works meticulously, on each painting and the meaning behind it. She started with painting murals on walls. Now she's expanding her canvas to something much bigger. The DC artist turned her talents into a passion for better health care. She created The Walking Gallery, spreading the message worldwide on people's backs. She is working on a mural for a doctor, who struggled as a medical student to get enough sleep. There's an hourglass in the middle. "It doesn't stop and the time is running out," she explains.

Holliday knows everyone has a story about the medical system, and she is telling their stories one mural at a time. She doesn't use the typical canvas. Her canvas is a business jacket. "It's a lot of hours and a lot of labor. It's a labor of love," she says.

Every painting is about health care, whether it's an illness or the unfairness her own son feels paying to park at a hospital to visit his dying father. She sometimes spends hours researching a disease before getting a vision of what she wants to paint. They are meant to be provocative. "Part of this is when you're explaining your jacket, you want people to stop and ask what's the story," says Holliday.

Anyone can send in a jacket, give Holliday their story and she paints them for free. The only rule is you must agree to walk around and wear the jacket two or three times a year to a public event or conference. That's why she calls it The Walking Gallery. Other artists help but Holliday does most of the work. She's painted all but 25 of the jackets in the gallery. The one she is painting on this day is her 227th. "Our goal is eventually we're going to march because we've got to change things," Holliday says about the motivation behind her work.

FOX5 first met her in 2009, telling her own story during the heated debate over health care reform. She painted her husband's medical chart in a deli and then came a giant head turning mural on the wall of a gas station. Holliday and her husband Fred could not afford health insurance, despite working five jobs between them. He died of kidney cancer. The mural is called 73 cents because that's how much it costs for just one page of her husband's medical records. "I speak about Fred and how he was treated and every single time I speak someone gets up and hugs me afterwards and are crying because the same thing just happened to them," says Holliday.

In 2011, inspiration struck for The Walking Gallery. She was with a friend preparing for an upcoming medical conference at Kaiser Permanente. She started describing all the murals she imagined, but her friend told her there was no way Kaiser would allow her to put all those paintings on the walls. "I said 'oh it's not on the walls. It's on the people,'" she laughs recalling how she started.

It takes between six and 16 hours to paint just one mural on a jacket. She has walkers all around the world, including Amy Gleason. Her daughter Morgan suffers from an autoimmune disease. "My daughter doesn't want to be a patient. She just wants to be a kid. She rides horses now so she just wants to be on her horse or hanging out with friends," says Gleason.

She met Holliday at a medical conference and asked for a jacket, representing her daughter's battle with the disease. The jacket shows Morgan, who was once a competitive gymnast and cheerleader. Pieces of the pom poms are tearing away. It is a symbol of how her illness and the medical system tried to steal her life one pom pom at a time. "People ask what's your jacket about and you tell your patient story and it kind of reminds people why you're there," Gleason says.

People learn about the walking gallery at medical conferences, by word of mouth and through social media. Usually it starts when someone sees a jacket and asks about the story behind it. Holliday has done jackets for herself and her two sons. Hers is a deep red, with a giant "A", which stands for little miss type A personality. Doctors coined the nickname for her, during her husband's battle with cancer because she constantly asked questions about her husband's condition and treatment. She decided to make it a positive, by turning her type A personality into art and advocacy for better healthcare. "I think we've forgotten to treat people like human beings," she says.

Holliday hopes to expand from the few hundred jackets in The Walking Gallery now, to thousands more. She's gotten calls from artists across the country, who want to start local chapters. She has no plans to branch out, but does welcome any artists who wish to work with her and join the cause. Eventually she'd like to one day walk down the street and see her walking gallery on the backs of people, telling their health care stories, everywhere she goes.


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