‘Bluhm’ing hearts in winter

By Katy Nielsen

Columbia is teaming up with Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute for an ambitious consumer education and awareness campaign, involving 100 large acrylic hearts designed by artists in the Columbia community.

The campaign titled “Hearts a Bluhm” will take place along Michigan Avenue for one month, starting February 1, for National Heart Month with the intent of generating widespread awareness about the leading cause of death in America. Five-foot-tall hearts will be painted and embellished by students, staff, faculty and alumni. Each sculpture will be paired with a plaque containing a healthy heart tip.

Individuals and corporations will sponsor the heart sculptures. Sponsorships range from $2,500 up to $20,000. Not only will the funds contribute to heart disease research, they will also go to Columbia student scholarships.

Paul Chiaravalle, associate vice president and chief of staff and liaison between Columbia and the Bluhm Institute, said 25 percent of sponsorship money from the hearts the college works on will go to Scholarship Columbia.

“When we see the sculptures on Michigan Avenue it’s going to be evidence we’ve helped someone go to college,” said Julee White, president of Testarossa Entertainment and co-founder of “Hearts a Bluhm.”

Columbia artists who chose to submit their designs are encouraged to consider the meaning of heart health while creating their sculptures, White said. She wants artists to create something everyone can appreciate in a public space.

“It’s an opportunity for Columbia students to express their creativity, [especially] if they have a personal story to share about heart health,” said Kathleen Henson, president and CEO of Henson Consulting, as well as co-founder of “Hearts a Bluhm.”

Columbia’s partnership with Northwestern shows the extent the college has connected with the city, Chiaravalle said.

“It’s important for Columbia to have ongoing relationships with different parts of the community,” he said.

Both White and Henson said they are honored to be partnering with Columbia. White said she chose Columbia over other art schools in the area because of the wide range of talented students.

There’s a lot of artistic ability here, said Louise Love, vice president of Academic Affairs at Columbia. She said she is thrilled to be partnering with Northwestern.

“We see this as a real win all around,” Love said. “It’s a great cause …  and opportunity for students to show their work.”

The architects of the campaign, White and Henson, came up with the idea for “Hearts a Bluhm” during a lunch meeting in August. From the beginning, there has been tremendous support.

“Everyone understood it and immediately embraced it,” Henson said. “It’s a big idea, and it’s something that resonated with a lot of people.”

White said “Hearts a Bluhm” is a project that aims to educate everyone about cardiovascular disease through art regardless of age, race or gender. She also said the campaign needs to reach younger people so they can make healthier choices earlier in life.

“Maybe if [the campaign] reaches older people they can still make some changes,” White said.

Heart disease is an epidemic in America. Dr. Patrick McCarthy, chief of the Division of Cardiac Surgery for Northwestern Memorial and executive director of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute, said the United States spends $500 billion a year on heart disease treatment.

“When ‘Hearts a Bluhm’ was brought to my attention, it seemed to be a tremendous opportunity to increase awareness of heart disease and the ground-breaking research we have to treat it here in Chicago,” McCarthy said. “And [this is] a message we hope to extend around the globe.”

According to Jane Kruse, a registered nurse at the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute who has worked at Northwestern for more than 20 years, anytime awareness is increased it’s possible for more people to take action.

“Taking little steps toward a healthy lifestyle is really the first step in the right direction,” Kruse said. “This campaign is a creative way to get people’s attention.”