Peruvian-born painter Diana De Los Rios has created murals in the homes of professional athletes, philanthropists, and award-winning musicians. However, it’s her work with lesser-known names that she finds most meaningful.
“My saying is ‘art made with love for the children of the world.’” she says. Indeed, Diana has honored this sentiment by applying her artistic talents as a volunteer at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.
As a volunteer, Diana has filled the hospital’s walls with bright, colorful paintings. She’s also engaged the hospital’s patients in enriching art projects, such as the Food Made With Love project, in which she helped patients paint still lifes of their favorite foods to hang on the dining room walls.
Diana’s work has brought immeasurable joy and inspiration to the patients, families, and workers of Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. It’s no wonder she was named our 2015 Outstanding Volunteer of the Year. Diana insists, however, that she has received the most of anyone.
“This is a place that brings pure joy and happiness to my spirit and full being,” she says. “When I get into my car on my way out, the satisfaction I feel is larger than words can express.”
The inspiring Diana shares more thoughts and stories from her work at the hospital in an interview below.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background in art and mural painting.
I have been painting for 18 years. I have painted for many important people in Miami, and today I paint in larger places, such as hospitals and clinics. I enjoy focusing my art with children because, when you paint something, everyone says, “wow, it’s beautiful,” and they can pay millions of dollars for that, but I don’t just want that level of recognition, I want it to go much deeper than that. I want the art to have a message and to reach children.
Q: How did this desire to create a deeper message guide your decision to restore the paintings on the hospital’s chapel wall?
The church is a small space where the families have a connection with their faith and ask, cry, pray. It didn’t seem just that we forget this space. When I was painting one day, a Muslim physician entered and prayed. He connected with God. The church is a small space where everyone can find their connection with God. It’s small, but extremely large.
Q: You also led the Food Made with Love initiative at Nicklaus. What was the inspiration behind this concept?
Throughout the hospital you will find color and printings. Yet the dining room did not have anything. And the dining space is an area where all of us, at one point, will need to be. We are in a hospital, and health begins with food.
All the kids here have a diet. One can eat meat, the other cannot. The kids painted the plate they could not eat and would like to eat. It didn’t matter if the food is not necessarily the healthiest option, because all the paintings were made with love. Just like the members of the dietary team who are cooking with love. This was an opportunity to combine the painting, the children, and the team, all in love.
Q: What was your favorite moment from working on the Food Made with Love initiative?
A: The best moment was to see the parents’ gratitude after, to have witnessed their child paint with so much happiness. The other moment was not the grand opening, but the night before with the team. Even though it was in the middle of the night, we all felt the happiness. The hours and the tiredness did not matter. We knew the happiness it would bring to everyone that would walk into the dining room the next day and days after.
Q: What other ways have you been able to see patients and families interact with your artwork at the hospital?
A: The families are purely happy to be integrated in the art. I am not a professional in therapy, but I am 100 percent sure that art is therapeutic. There is something in your brain, emotionally, that transmits to your body that can cause a healing process. Like receiving a hug during a difficult time, just the same way.
Q: What’s your favorite part about volunteering at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital?
A: My favorite part is when I enter a room and see the patient is not feeling well, soon after I walk in, they begin to brighten up. The smile and energy begins to change. The opportunity the hospital gives me to create a connection with the children and with the families is priceless.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.