Southside hip-hop artist’s painting brightens teens with cancer rec room

A painting by graffiti artist and muralist Hebru Brantley hangs on the walls of a lounge created recently for teen patients and their families, with input from the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital Teen Advisory Board, at the hospital, 5721 S. Maryland Ave., Friday, March 10. – Marc Monaghan

By Christopher Amati
Staff Writer

Comer Children’s Hospital has created a new recreational room for teens with cancer. Comer, 5721 S. Maryland Ave., put a special touch on the room by adding a painting that speaks to the experience of urban youth.

Chosen through a design charrette, or art ideas meeting, the artwork by south-side graffiti artist Hebru Brantley is featured on the wall of a lounge on the second floor dedicated to young people in the University of Chicago Medicine Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology Program (AYA).

“It was designed with a local presence in mind,” said Natasza Naczas, facilities director at Comer. “We put a lot of pictures, even words, on the wall. There was a focus on graffiti, on urban scenes.” The lounge also features stations for gaming systems, contemporary furniture and access to an interactive patient care network.

Being a teen with cancer presents a special set of problems. Those between the ages of 15 and 30 often find themselves falling between pediatric and adult specialists and in need of specialized care on both a clinical and psychological level that is not always provided for. The lounge is designed to be part of the solution to that, with Comer’s Teen Advisory Board, made up of current and past patients of AYA, having a good deal of input. The room is bright and colorful with Brantley’s lively painting.

“One of the teens (on the advisory board) knew of his art and one of our art consultants knew him,” Naczas said of Brantley, whose art is well-known in Chicago and across the country, having been collected by the likes of Matthew Pritzker and rapper Jay-Z.

One of Brantley’s most visible pieces, Flyboy, is on the side of a building on Wabash Avenue just north of Roosevelt Road.

The lounge was created in collaboration with Teen Cancer America, an organization dedicated to addressing the needs of teens with cancer across the country. The AYA is the first of its kind in the Midwest and is based on studies that showed that adolescents and young adults were lacking support in areas critical to diagnosing, treating and surviving cancer, the program was set up to provide treatments specific to those in that age range with their special needs in mind.