Exemplary Arts Programs in Healthcare

“Rome fell because of a leaching away of meaning and a loss of faith.” ~lewis mumford

A few years ago, I spent many hours researching periodicals  and other sources to glean information on scientific research supporting the arts in healthcare systems.  The research was in preparation for a proposal I was writing for developing an arts program for a metro-Atlanta healthcare facility.

While researching, I learned of a plethora of hospital systems with arts programs mhand_bodymindsoulemotionvarying in degree of comprehensiveness, from small galleries to well-developed arts programs that spoke volumes of the mission and values of those organizations and their leadership.  Clearly, these hospital systems valued and believed in holistic care, and created an environment conducive to healing on multiple dimensions: body-mind-soul-emotion.  They were the pioneers, believing in the benefits of the arts and implementing such programs without needing scientific data.  Those who managed these organizations gave their hospitals – souls.

Although there are a number of healthcare organizations with arts programs here in the US, there are 3 worth mentioning because of their early vision and date of inception.  What started off small led to developing other forms of arts programming for patients, staff and local communities, thereby, fostering goodwill and unity with oneself, families, healthcare staff and local commUNITIes.

“We know too much and feel too little. At least, we feel too little of those creative emotions from which a good life springs.” ~bertrand russell

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Project Art, Iowa City, Iowa

Starting as early as 1976, prints were purchased for public areas in an effort to humanize the hospital.  The positive response from patients, visitors and staff to the paintpalette1increased presence of visual arts led to conducting a feasibility study in 1977 which recognized an interest in and a need for art in the health care environment. Project Art was inititated in 1978.  Project Art started with small, temporary, monthly art exhibits and leasing of art to adding other creative activities such as the Art Cart and Art Supplies for Patients.  Performing Arts events feature music, dance and theater.

In 1997, JCAHO (aka Joint Commission) upon reviewing UIA stated the following…

“Throughout its development and to its core, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics believes that it must not only assemble the human expertise to make the healing, education and research components of its mission possible, but also must create an environment that promotes both healing for the patient and respite for the family. Call it the ‘environment of care…’ (Doing The Right Things Right, Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, 1997.  UIA Project Art website).

janet2(self-portrait by participant in Creativity Workshop for People with Cancer, 2007)

Duke University Medical Systems Cultural Services Program, Durham, NC

Duke University Hospital’s Cultural Services Program is another pioneer in integrating the arts. Established in 1978, initial projects began with installing original North Carolina artwork in patient rooms; an exhibition program; and performing arts events booksfor patients, visitors, and staff.  Employee specific programs including dance workshops, annual arts and crafts festival, an annual stage production, and weekly literary meetings.

Duke’s mission is to integrate the arts and humanities into the life of the Medical Center, bringing the healing power of the arts to people who are suffering and to those who care for them, including staff and students.

Shands Hospital, University of Florida, Gainsville, FL

The Arts In Medicine program (AIM) at the University of Florida, Gainesville, was co-founded by nurse-artist, Mary Rockwood Lane and physician-poet, John Graham-Pole. The AIM program was created in 1991 in response to perceived needs of caregivers to re-humanize medicine.  The first arts program began with community artists, carefully screened by Lane, to work with patients on a one on one basis at the bedside in the bone marrow transplant unit. 

The program was well-received by the entire hospital ultimate_creativity_for_siteand expanded to other units serving a broad spectrum of patients. The artist in residence (AIR) program has become a model to incorporate the arts into the mainstream of clinical practice. The purpose of the artist-in-residence was to integrate the arts into the care giving of patients as well as to educate staff and students into the new approach of caring.

According to Dr. Graham-Pole (co-founder), the AIM program brought creativity into his own life. He believes “the release of human creative expression among children and adults in various stages of pain and physical ravage is a unique tool to be used alongside the medicines and treatments that accompany any serious illness”.

Other noteworthy U.S. arts programs in healthcare are:

  • Vanderbilt University Medical Center Cultural Enrichment, Nashville, TN
  • Stanford University Medical Center Hospital and Clinics, Stanford, CA
  • Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University, Washington, DC
  • Hasbro Children’s Hospital, Providence, RI
  • The Creative Center: Arts for People with Cancer, New York, NY
  • Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Boston, MA 

How is the soul of your healthcare organization manifested?


(‘STILL pondering infinity’  Marti Hand, 2008)

To read about ‘STILL pondering infinity’ click here

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