Amri Studio Helps Dayton Children’s Donor Wall Take Flight

How can you artfully lift spirits and create wonder in an emotionally charged space while honoring the generosity of many donors? Amri Studio (Portland, Ore.) accomplished just that for Dayton Children’s Hospital, complete with a theme of taking flight.

Dayton, Ohio, now an aviation technology hub, has had a long history with flight, starting with the Wright brothers who called Dayton home. The city is also home to Dayton Children’s Hospital,which is the only pediatric hospital in the region, employing 1,950 staff and seeing over 280,000 patients per year.

The institution has grown and expanded in recent years, adding several new care facilities and realizing a major revitalization of surrounding areas including extensive landscaping, signage and wayfinding efforts.1 In the summer of 2017, the hospital put the final touches on another improvement plan that included an eight-story patient tower and a new donor recognition system.

An impressive, high-ceilinged atrium/lobby was built into the new tower with the intentions of being a light, airy and art-filled space. In particular, the hospital leadership wanted artworks and a consolidated donor recognition system that would embody the uplifting theme of “fly free” in a way both appropriate to scale and for viewers of all ages.

In pursuit of that goal, they sought the help of Amri Studioafter seeing the Studio’s donor recognition wall for Boston Children’s Hospital. “The client group had an art consultant and were equipped with many exciting ideas for artwork installations in the lobby,” remembers Christina Amri, Founder of Amri Studio. The existing donor recognition was signage based and spread throughout the facility in smaller pieces, without much room to add new donor names.

The hospital wanted something inspirational to blend the recognition of contributions from different historical donors and giving societies totaling over 900 acknowledgements into one unified philanthropic wall with plenty of available space for new names. Generosity and community building were values they wanted to express in addition to finding a beautiful and engaging way to say “thank you.” Additionally, they wished to provide some welcome distraction for patients and families in the space in concert with other art-and-play installations in the atrium, like the enormous “Dragonflyer” climbing sculpture.

The collaborative process between the studio and the hospital developed over a year, with the Amri team making site visits, mockups and models. Christina Amri found the commitment of hospital President and CEO Deborah A. Feldman and Vice President of Patient and Family Experience Cindy Burger MS, RN especially inspiring. “It was a really creative and engaged effort by the top echelon of the hospital, something quite rare for this type of project,” remarks Amri. They brought so much energy and spirit to the project.”

They also brought a little photo of a child wearing wings (found on Pinterest) that was inscribed with a poetic snippet of text, which the leadership team felt completely resonated with the theme and mood they wanted to convey: “There is freedom waiting for you on the breezes of the sky, and you ask, ‘What if I fall?’ Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?”

It served as a concise verbal version of the metaphorical role of the hospital in aiding sick children to become well and flourish that can be seen throughout the campus taking forms like dragonflies, butterflies, planes and hot air balloons. “It was such a touching little phrase and image,” says Amri. “To the worried parent, it gives hope about their child’s health and outcomes. For the hospital team, it expresses a vision filled with possibility for their young patients. To the Dayton Community, it is a statement of pride.”

The feeling of that image with its innocence, hopefulness and sense of wonder became a central part of the visual the design team was creating—a magical springtime view of local Huffman Prairie Flying Field, where the Wright brothers practiced with early planes. Luckily Amri studio found a close image of a small “universal” child that also charmed the Leadership team—and that struck the absolute right chord with them. Amri Studio team scoured the Internet for the author of the image, who happily gave them permission to use it for the project, but there was a problem: The arm position and the hair weren’t going to work.

As the artists and designers lavished hundreds of Photoshop hours on the painterly 30-foot-wide prairie imagery, the pint-sized answer to the photographic issue twirled right past the studio’s windows to the neighboring business—a dance studio for children. As fate would have it, the lookalike girl and her mother were willing to help by participating in a photo shoot that helped generate the needed composite of a small girl releasing a stream of butterflies and glowing fireflies from a “jar of possibilities.”

The completed image panels were printed directly onto Dibond using a four-color process. To meet the client’s important dedication dates the whole fabrication process was completed under a compressed timeline of less than three months, including the cabinet, programmed light fixtures and carved crystal glass. 

The Amri Studio team structured the 3-D wall installation in layers for artistic value and ease of updating. The oak cabinetry zigs and zags out at progressive angles from the center, creating a sort of “curving embrace” toward the viewer. The cabinetry holds three layers of graphics in multiple panels: a Dibond mural layer, a layer of crystal glass with v-carved and etched names and art (listing million-dollar-plus donors) and a layer of high polished acrylic panels with easy-to-update screen-printed names using a playful color coding of last name initials.

The different levels of giving are not separated; rather they are together, a strategy that Amri Studio champions. “One of the things we encourage all of our clients to adopt—we’ve developed it over years—is that [donor walls] are a message about generosity,” explains Amri. “So let’s put all the donors we can, big and small, in one spot to welcome visitors as they walk in, and express that all of ‘us’ are here for you and your family.”

The lighting, however, is what brings the wall to life in a dynamic way. Specially programmed LED lighting activated by a proximity sensor creates the illusion of several of the carved butterflies pumping their wings, changing color and quivering. The sequence was planned, built and hand-coded by Amri Studio’s engineer and artists and although it lasts only seconds, viewers of all ages love engaging with it. Effects like it are a signature of the studio, which has done similarly “interactive” installations at several children’s hospitals nationwide.

Something new for the team was the integration of 3-D sculptural elements. They created 16 iridescent Acrylite butterflies that “emerge” out of the top of the donor wall. Depending on the viewing angle, the appearance of color shifts from shiny clear to soft pinks and purples, giving the illusion of movement in accordance with the donor wall’s lighting effect.

The final result has been very well received and has been beneficial to staff and patient morale—even moving some to tears—while honoring the generosity of donors in a way that encourages further gifting. 


Project Name: “But what if you fly?” WISHES, HOPES, and DREAMS Donor Art Wall
Client: Dayton Children’s Hospital
Location: Dayton, Ohio
Open Date: May 2017
Budget: $450,000
Project Area: 300 sq ft
Design: Amri Studio
Fabrication: Amri Studio
Collaborators: Electric Algorithms, Figure Plant, Infinity Images, Center Pointe Signs, Kirsten Westlund, Tenaya KJ Wallach, Rebecca Humes

Photos: Amri Studio, Dayton Children’s Hospital