We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Mark Lombard. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Mark below.
Mark, appreciate you joining us today. If you had a defining moment that you feel really changed the trajectory of your career, we’d love to hear the story and details.
I registered into a Leadership Program and belatedly found out I had to do a project in service to the community. The thought of this was upsetting; after all, I’m a busy enough fellow and this exercise seemed like an intrusion into what free-time I enjoyed. Caught off guard and somewhat resentful, I considered withdrawing from the course.
The defining moment came when I took a step back, looked at my life, and asked myself the question, “If anything were possible, how would I like to spend the rest of my life?”
I thought back on a recent episode of showing a souvenir art postcard from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art to my beloved hospice patient, Miss Billie. She marveled and awed, then seemed to be transported to a world far away from her background worries of the present and the future, and into a world of spending quality time with the family idling away the hours by a lake. I recall saying to myself, “Wow, this is the Art Experience being made real.”
Upon this incident I based my project, marrying my love for people and fine art, to one of “bringing the Art Experience to those with limited mobility.”
Ultimately, this “unwelcomed” project became my life’s mission. I spend my life bringing beauty and causing joy for people, and having them reclaim their beauty and youth. Their gratitude is enormous, I make an enormous difference in practicing and refining what has become known as “therapeutic art,” I enroll others in bringing this practice into their communities, and I am fulfilled beyond measure.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
As I see it, I was born a sensitive soul.
I cried at Lassie episodes but ran into the kitchen’s cubby-hole to hide my tears from my teasing brothers and sisters. I was frequently bullied in my childhood and remember being exceptionally prone to burst into nervous laughter at the slightest instigation in high school. Turning beet red was at least a daily occurrence. My tension may well have resulted from hiding being so different, perhaps the pressure of being gay in a household of solid Catholicism and conservative Republican leanings. My father, after all, was a beloved pillar of the community, having delivered half the population of small town Columbia, Pennsylvania. Love of family, intellectual pursuits, and charitable works consumed my mother’s life. My parents are among the most exceptional people I have ever known. My life is filled with extraordinary people, too numerous to enumerate but a few.
I thought art and its history were among the minor essential subjects in college. Conversely, science provided the gateway to “the Truth” and was worthy of study. My major, “Psychology as a Natural Science,” steeped me in scientific method and experimentation and culminated with a B.S. in 1978.
I come from a long line of physicians. Although I’d applied to medical school at my father’s counseling, I never really wanted to be a doctor, nor had any clue what I wanted to do.
After graduation, I studied an emerging medical modality, “hyperbaric oxygenation,” and worked in my father’s clinic for several years.
These were great, enjoyable years of my life. My dear friend, Gary Lee Boas, introduced me to celebrity photography. We often went on excursions in New York, Washington, DC, and Hollywood. I owe my emergence from a somewhat sheltered life in the rich, pastoral ground of Lancaster County to walking on the wild side of glamor and glitz, meeting and photographing hundreds of celebrities, both major and minor.
In 1987, an acquaintance, Eric Jackson, invited me to Philadelphia to work in a dental school failing in enrollment. I was to contact applicants that had chosen to enroll at another school and identify weaknesses in our application process. Together, we formulated an enrollment plan that focused on attracting students suitable to meet the challenges of mastering high-quality care in an economically depressed section of the city. We met our goal of filling the class and saving the school from closing its doors. To my surprise, the administration offered me the job of “Admissions Officer,” which I accepted. After repeating the success the following year, I became its “Director of Admissions,” the youngest Director of any professional school in the country.
Over my years directing admissions at Temple University School of Dentistry, I took a course in art history at my colleague Bonnie Graham’s, urging. Bonnie was an instrumental figure in my life and may have been psychic; she sensed something about me hidden from my view and led me to a passion I didn’t know I had.
I enrolled in an art history course as a 33-year-old man and immersed myself in art’s awe and grandeur. I discovered that art didn’t try to define truth as fickle science had; it was what it was and, subject to one’s interpretation, had value. Smitten, I excelled exceptionally well, much to the dismay of my college-age classmates. The professor confided in me that he wouldn’t have done as well on the exams as I had.
My art education continued during the ’90s with additional courses in art and jaunts to big cities, photographing celebrities, and juggling boyfriends along the way. A significant failed personal relationship resulted in my moving into a grand brownstone in Center City, owned by antique dealers and enthusiasts Jack Dewaele and Bob Heitz. Here, beauty and luxury surrounded me; camaraderie and an appreciation for the finer things in life inured themselves into me.
Along the way, I took up bridge, a somewhat complicated card game that dissuades you from playing any other once you succumb to its charms. I was eager to achieve “Life Master” status, similar to getting a black belt in karate, by the time I was 42. At the bridge club, I met Mark Hupert, MD, who was completing a fellowship in Infectious Disease at Penn and, like my father, excelled at playing bridge. We created a formidable partnership and came in first playing in the yearly international game, triumphing over the players from China, France, Russia, and everyone else in the world. Winning this global competition was a highlight in my life and bonded me in an exceptional relationship with my bridge partner.
Dr. Mark left Philadelphia and started practicing medicine in Louisiana. Even though I stayed at Temple, we played in national and international tournaments whenever our schedules meshed. When Doc moved to Dallas and invited me to come and live with him in 2003, I made the tough break from my beloved school and joined him in a life partnership. Ten years later, we married (a guerilla wedding) at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in a corridor peppered with stained glass windows from churches through the centuries.
What a haven for museum nerds the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is! I spent my first few years in Dallas taking additional art coursework at SMU and studying art history with “The Great Courses.”
After a failed business venture in Bishop Arts in 2005, I started hospice volunteering and soon discovered that people were not so much interested in dying but in squeezing the life out of what time they had left.
I discovered that I could consistently elevate people’s quality of life by listening intently to what they were saying, the details of each story they told, and viewing all as their contribution to me. Ultimately, being human encompasses a desire to contribute and make a meaningful difference for people. So, I listened and heard the love they were sharing and basked in the glow of their spirit ablaze. I blog about these encounters on our website and invite the curious reader to read them.
Over time, I realized that art triggered conversations that people wanted to express but had little opportunity to do so. My interactions with Miss Billie, a nonagenarian, inspired me to create the “For Love & Art: Sharing with Seniors” project in 2010.
While in the Landmark Education Self-Expression and Leadership course, the possibility of bringing the Art Experience to people with limited mobility blossomed. In eighty days, with the help of museum educators like Katherine Moloney at the Amon Carter Museum, our project partnered with the museum outreach programs of ten prestigious museums across the country and endowed thirteen Virtual Museum ArtBooks to hospices in the Metroplex, to be used by caregivers as engagement tools with those they serve.
As the project grew, I was awarded the “Volunteer of the Year” award by the Texas/New Mexico Hospice Organization. The same year, “FOR LOVE & ART®” achieved nonprofit status.
During these past dozen years, we’ve endowed 365 Virtual Museum ArtBooks to hospices, hospitals, and senior service organizations across the country (two abroad) and conducted nearly 4,000 hour-long therapeutic art sessions (“Celebrating the Art Experience”) to 40,000 participants in senior care communities. Our group has also worked extensively with the National Association of Activity Directors, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, and the Dementia Action Alliance.
Indeed, we are generating a renaissance for art, not viewed from a context of education or aesthetics, but therapeutic love.
How about pivoting – can you share the story of a time you’ve had to pivot?
Prior to Covid-19, we were regularly visiting over 70 senior communities in the DFW Metroplex, San Diego, Austin, Tulsa, and New York City and adding 3 new communities each month.
The pandemic lockdown barred us from all visitations. Please understand that sharing the Art Experience engenders great intimacy among participants. We view our client’s residents not as customers, but members of our family. Being separated from them with no certain future devastated our volunteer body, especially our Community Docent Art Angels.
Thanks to our technical board, we were able to pivot to ZOOM presentations within a month. Advertising on Meet-Up Groups across the country, we were able to lead nearly 700 three hour-long sessions a day to thousands of isolated individuals across the globe, generating community and elevating their quality of life for people in severe crisis.
Thankfully, in spring of 2021, senior communities started opening up again, with obvious restrictions. My point here is that even in the most severe circumstance imaginable, we were able to continue our mission of bringing the Art Experience to people with limited mobility.
Can you tell us about what’s worked well for you in terms of growing your clientele?
Word of mouth by providing consistently high quality engagement content and producing the desired result.