The Arts in Healthcare

Gabriel Works
Frey Foundation

This past April, physicians, hospital administrators, therapists, artists, and healthcare designers from all over the country arrived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the ninth annual meeting of the Society for the Arts in Healthcare, being held this year at Spectrum Health. This year's conference, The Art of Becoming, drew 124 participants, including twenty-seven speakers.

The Society for the Arts in Healthcare (SAH) was founded in 1991, and is dedicated to the arts as an integral component of healthcare by demonstrating the value of the arts in enhancing the healing process. More than 100 years ago, Florence Nightingale noted: "The effect in sickness of beautiful objects, and especially of brilliancy of color is hardly at all appreciated. Little as we know about the way in which we are affected by form, by color, and by light, we do know this — they have an actual physical effect.”

According to Lois Temple, co-director of the Cultural Arts program at Spectrum Health and SAH board member, arts-in-healthcare programs today fall into three categories: the arts as part of the healthcare environment, the arts as an adjunct to therapy, and the arts used for educational purposes. The environmental use of the arts in healthcare includes not only the display of paintings, prints, sculpture, and photography in a hospital or ambulatory care facility, but also performances in those settings by musicians, orchestras, ballet, choral groups, and theater groups. The arts as an adjunct to therapy, on the other hand, involves demonstration or the active participation by patients in the creation of artworks (paintings, music, poetry, and drama).

In response to the growing awareness of the value of the arts in the healthcare environment, supported by a growing body of scientific research, hospitals throughout the Western world are expanding their collections of patient-friendly artwork. These programs are exemplified by the cultural services program at Duke Medical Center, and the therapeutic Arts in Medicine program at the University of Florida Shands Hospital. Locally, Spectrum Health has a collection of more than 580 paintings, prints, and other works of art. It additionally sponsors musical performances in its hospitals and ambulatory care facilities, and major art exhibitions six times every year. In the future they are planning poetry readings and dramatic performances. On the therapeutic side, Spectrum Health has visiting artists who work with the child life therapists to help patients, especially in its pediatric oncology unit and other parts of the DeVos Children's Hospital.