Art for Healing

Designing hospitals as centers of healing is an art. Not only can a hospital provide a comforting environment for patients, but a well-designed medical center remembers to take care of the caregiver, who can convey a sense of wellbeing to patients and families. And the arts play a central role in hospital design, as the medical profession grows increasingly aware of the importance the arts play in healing. (Pictured at left: “Little Lila” by Beth Livingston, an artist and Paralympic athlete who frequently exhibits in Art First! at the University Medical Center at Princeton.)

Research dating from the 1970s shows that patients recovering in a room with a view of trees, vs. patients recovering in a room with a view of a brick wall, not only got better more quickly but required less pain medication and suffered fewer complications from surgery.

The current thinking in hospital design is that not only visual arts but all the arts can help patients forget they are sick.

“Artists are working at the bedside drawing, painting and dancing with patients,” wrote Annette Ridenour in an essay in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “Storytellers, poets, strolling musicians and clowns are becoming more common in hospitals across the country. Art programs bring artists into the recovery facility to provide experiences that counter stress and humanize the environment. Interactions between patients and artists provide positive distractions and lend social support in environments that otherwise may be isolating and frightening.”

“In an atmosphere where the patient often feels out of control, the arts can serve as a therapeutic and healing tool, reducing stress and loneliness and providing opportunities for self-expression,” according to the Society for the Arts in Healthcare website. “Art also has the power to communicate and educate, giving it a growing role of significance in healthcare institutions.”

And so while the University Medical Center at Princeton is undergoing construction on a 171-acre campus in Plainsboro, scheduled to open in 2012, plans are well underway for creating a healing environment both inside and in the surrounding gardens and park setting. The new hospital will have light-filled space and the education center will have rotating exhibits. Waiting rooms, public areas and patient units will have art, and there will be sculpture outdoors.

“The newly launched ‘Art for Healing’ program at UMCP will… transform an already efficient and effective interior,” says Barry Rabner, president and CEO of Princeton HealthCare System. “Studies show that appropriate art has the power to lower stress, anxiety and pain.  Recent studies conducted by Frank Becker at Cornell University found that well-appointed interiors increase patient satisfaction through improved perception of the quality of care delivered.  Using this baseline of knowledge we hope to create an environment embellished with artwork that promotes healing.”

The arts create safer, more supportive and functional environments in healthcare facilities, according to the Society for the Arts in Healthcare. “From architectural design to art on the walls, from access to natural lighting to the inclusion of nature through landscape and healing gardens, the physical environment has a significant impact on reducing patient and caregiver stress; improving health outcomes; enhancing patient safety and overall quality of care; and reducing costs. The physical environment also plays an important role in improving the health and safety for staff, increasing effectiveness in providing care, reducing errors and increasing job satisfaction.”

Caregivers, who face human suffering, illness and death daily, can benefit from arts programming and the opportunity for self-expression. For physicians, observational and empathic abilities can be enhanced through the arts, and they may learn to understand and connect with patients in a more humane way.

Vice President of Marketing and Public Affairs Carol Norris has been on a mission to create this healing environment, attending SAH conferences over the years. In fact it was at a SAH conference that she met Andrea Honore, director of fund development, Arts Council of Princeton. Ms. Honore honed her interest in healing arts while working in the corporate arts program at the world headquarters of Johnson & Johnson, where she promoted arts in a health care setting.

Ms. Norris has paid visits to other medical centers with successful art programs, such as Yale-New Haven Hospital and Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and has been talking to consultants. She recollects a SAH presentation of women playing the harp for patients in their last days. “The harp was put on the patient’s chest, and it was so healing, both for the patient and the family members who want to help but didn’t know what to do,” Ms. Norris says.

She and Ms. Honore formed the Art for Healing Committee, made up of Princeton University Art Museum Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Kelly Baum; architect/publisher J. Robert Hillier; collector and hospital board member Kim Pimley; Mercer County Community College art professor Michael Welliver; and others, including hospital employees, physicians and members of the hospital auxiliary as well as the general public. At this time, plans for only visual arts are in the works.

The goal is to help PHCS to become a destination for viewing art, as well as to create a sense of community and familiarity.

The Healing Arts Committee drafted a mission statement that establishes criteria for selecting art: it will do no harm, have a high likelihood of positively affecting viewers and foster inclusion and diversity.

“There will be no political or religious statements made by the art, because it’s not like a gallery where you can choose to walk in or out,” says Ms. Honore.

The guidelines will help in determining whether donated artwork is suitable. Sal Panasci of Devon, Pa., a former graphic designer who suffered mild traumatic brain injury in a 1995 taxi accident, has been a long-time exhibitor in UMCP’s Art First!, an international juried exhibit and sale of artwork by professional artists with disabilities. He has donated artwork that already enhances the environment of the cardiac care and physical rehab areas.

“In my work as an occupational therapist, I have seen patients respond positively to artwork because it stimulates their senses,” says Jason Barnette, senior occupational therapist. “It can also lead to interesting conversations with their therapists. Artwork can help patients to reduce their stress level and increase their sense of calm and well-being.  It can also be beneficial to family members and visitors because it provides a bit of a positive break from worrying about their loved one.”

While undergoing care at Bryn Mawr Rehab, Mr. Panasci  became acquainted with Mr. Rabner, who started the Art Ability program at Bryn Mawr, bringing the successful concept to UMCP with him and naming it Art First!

“Mr. Rabner and his wife are big patrons of the arts,” says Mr. Panasci, who had no interest in painting before his accident; it was part of the therapy so he went along. Now, “I try to paint as frequently as I can. It gives me a sense of identity, and I hope what comes out of my painting is inspiration for other disabled people. It’s important to me, and I hope through my donated artwork patients can feel a ray of hope for themselves.”

Mr. Panasci says having a sense of purpose in painting helps him avoid the depression his disability might otherwise lead to. He had overheard viewers exclaim how wonderful the work made by people with disabilities is. “There’s positive energy that comes out of it and it is a way to give back to the people who helped to heal me.”

There is also an opportunity for the performing arts in healing. Last spring, for Nurses Week, “Hey, Florence: A Nurse Musical” by Craig Christie, was performed in the cafeteria for nursing staff and patients. Described as “hilarious and poignant,” the 60-minute show highlights the courage, humor, hopes, needs and frustrations of today’s nurses.

Originating at Vanderbilt UMC, the revue starred active-duty nurses reflecting on their work. Playwright Christie shadowed nurses to write such songs as “Someone’s Gotta Do It,” about the messy jobs nurses must do, according to Julie Mathew, UMCP associate director of annual giving; “I Need Chocolate” and “Another Goodbye,” about the pain of losing patients after getting to know them and their families.

“It’s a nice way for the hospital to show its appreciation for nurses, and we will try to do it again, maybe at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts,” says Ms. Mathew.

Plays like this are a good vehicle for talking about issues in an armored way, says Ms. Honore. And it is an opportunity for self-expression among nurses. With the ACP’s new building being ADA compliant, she is writing grants for programs that will engage seniors and others in health care settings to create opportunities for artists.

Ms. Honore recounts a play put on at the ACP’s Robeson Center, “I Got Sick and Then I Got Better” a one-woman show by Jenny Allen, recounting her experience with ovarian cancer. “Her family got sick of her suffering, and the play was a great outlet for her,” says Ms. Honore. “Drama is a great way to get people to talk about what is awkward.”

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3 Responses to Art for Healing

  1. mark mcclean says:

    hi just sending you this email to see if you could help me get my art seen many thanks mcclean art

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