New grants program to help create healing environments in hospitals through art

August 29, 2000

Washington, DC -- In response to the public's demand for more compassionate care in the art of medicine, hospitals and other healthcare providers nationwide have been creating new ways to enhance the healing process through the arts. Recognizing that music, paintings, poetry, and dance can touch the spirit and give respite to patients, families, and staff, the arts in healthcare movement has taken root all across the US during the past twenty years.

The National Endowment for the Arts is aiding this effort by designating a $50,000 Leadership Initiative grant to establish professional arts programs inside healthcare institutions. The grant was awarded to the Society for the Arts in Healthcare, a national service organization founded in 1990 to encourage the incorporation of the arts into healthcare environments of all kinds, from hospitals and hospices to nursing homes and public health programs.

The Society's 550 members include arts administrators, artists, therapists, doctors, nurses, medical students, designers, architects, and patrons, most in the United States but some in Canada, Great Britain, Europe, and Japan.

"The arts are but one of many arrows in a doctor's quiver. They can be used effectively to support the process of healing, enhance communication, improve patient satisfaction, and build community," says Naj Wikoff, Program Director of Healing and the Arts at the C. Everett Koop Institute at Dartmouth College and President of the Society for the Arts in Healthcare. "They can uplift the spirits of patients and provide them a respite from pain, enhance doctor patient relations, and communicate health information."

In the first phase of the new NEA-funded training and consultation initiative, the Society is collaborating with Arts Extension Service at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to develop an advanced leadership training program for selected arts-in-healthcare specialists. The training will take place at the University of Michigan, one of the society's founding member institutions and home to the Gifts of Arts program.

In the second phase, healthcare organizations throughout the country will be invited to apply for funding for an on-site visit by one of the Society's specialists. The specialist will provide guidance in developing a plan, tailored to the organization's resources, to take a wide variety of arts programming into the institution.

For example, the plan might enlist community artists to transform patients' medical experiences through hands-on art, music, or writing. A public health agency could employ an actor to help develop an HIV education program by involving teenagers in role play. A community hospital could collaborate with their local arts council to place an artist in an extended care unit to start a sculpture class or to organize rotating art exhibits. A hospice could create a healing garden where families may be refreshed and consoled.

Patients and staff across the country value their first-hand experiences in the arts as an adjunct to their medical care. They often share their reaction afterward with arts programs organizers, as in the case of a patient at the University of Virginia Medical Center who, minutes after hearing her cancer diagnosis, was drawn towards the sound of a piano being played in the lobby by a medical student.

She later wrote: "So lovely and poignant was the sound; it drew my disengaged spirit back into my emotionally battered body." After the student drew her in to sit beside him as he played, the patient wrote: "I experienced a healing of my entire being. The music restored to me the will to live and infused me with a peace that extends far beyond my own comprehension."

This kind of reaction has spurred outside funding such as the Society's new grant. As NEA chair Bill Ivey said at a recent Department of Health and Human Services meeting in Washington, DC, "The beginning of the new century presents a wonderful opportunity to explore ways in which we can connect the arts more deeply within the healthcare experience. We have the opportunity to expand what the NEA and others have already done, to replicate successful projects, and take on new challenges -- using the arts to enhance the quality of life within the entire medical setting."
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The Society for the Arts in Healthcare maintains a Web page at societyartshealthcare.org.




University of Michigan Health System

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